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

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

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test