Lord Hall should raise the curtain on a new era for arts on the BBC

Plus, why the National Theatre job would be safe with Kenneth Branagh

Share

Last Tuesday the BBC’s director-general Tony Hall endorsed the arts in a way that few of his predecessors have ever done. In a landmark speech, behind which was a 20 per cent increase in spending on arts programmes, he promised, among other things, a new arts brand bringing audiences the best live music, theatre and arts events from around the country.

As I watched him deliver an often inspiring address at Broadcasting House, I was particularly struck by one image he offered. He said he had found it hard to forget a video he had seen some months ago of a child looking at a magazine: “She tries to swipe it – she tries to expand it – she bangs it to try to make it play. Nothing happens. And in frustration she throws it away. To a toddler a magazine is a tablet that’s broken. That’s how this generation is growing up. It will have a totally different set of norms and behaviours.”

I was sorely tempted to jump from my seat and say: “Well perhaps if the BBC had a books programme on television, it might inspire that child, as she gets older, to read the magazine.” But that’s no way to treat a D-G in full flow.

Spending more is great, and embracing and developing the latest in technology is crucial. But let’s also aim high. I was absolutely delighted that Lord Hall announced that the BBC would now be partnering some of the country’s leading venues and festivals to show live performances, not least of theatre. This is something I have campaigned for over many years, usually to be told by former heads of the RSC and National Theatre that stage performances translated imperfectly to the screen, and they were reluctant to do it. Thus were some of the greatest productions and performances lost forever. Well, thank goodness they have changed their minds. Thank goodness, too, that the BBC has changed its mind on ghetto-ising arts coverage on BBC4, and now realises that it has to be on the mainstream BBC1 and 2 as well.

When he spoke of filming stage performances, Lord Hall did not detail what sort of productions he wanted to broadcast. I hope that we will at last see some classic drama. Name if you can the last time the BBC did any Chekhov or Ibsen, Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams, Pinter or Stoppard. Actually even the BBC drama department can’t remember the last time they did a Chekhov, because I asked them. Unfashionable as it may be to say so, but it’s about time the BBC renewed acquaintance with the classics.

Tony Hall could be the man to make this happen. He is a believer not just in not in not dumbing down, but in opening new horizons to everyone. When he ran the Royal Opera House, he organised a performance solely for Sun readers. It proved for many of that rapt audience a transformative experience. His speech on Tuesday was rich on general promise, but at this stage lacking in detail. I hope that he will soon be able to pledge that the BBC will engage with classic drama, have a regular book show on one of its mainstream channels, and alongside its splendidly thorough commitment to televising Glastonbury, recognise a commitment to the country’s best theatre, art, opera, and dance.

I look forward to that speech.

The National job is not beyond our Ken

With celebrations for the National Theatre’s 50th anniversary approaching, the institution has still to appoint a successor to the excellent Sir Nicholas Hytner, who will leave in 2015. Most of the names being bandied about are directors, like the last four heads of the National. I think it would be rather exciting to see a change now, and have an actor run the venue, just as the founding head of the National, Laurence Olivier, was an actor. The board could do a lot worse than seek out Sir Kenneth Branagh, who seems to fit perfectly the bill of being first and foremost a great actor, but also an impresario, enabler, director and hyper-imaginative talent.

Take your seats for, er, taking your seats

A new musical called Ushers, about theatre front-of-house staff, is to open at the Hope fringe theatre in Islington, London, next month. No details have been given about the songs the front-of-house characters will sing, but I imagine there will be such titles as “You’re on the End of the Row But I’m Not Sure Which End”, “Would You Like a Programme, Cost You a Fortune?”, “The Toilets are Out of Order” and that singalong classic, “You Can Order Your Interval Drinks Now, But Don’t Expect to Find Them.”

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SEO Specialist

£21000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an e...

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: personality is so much more important than policies

John Rentoul
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat