With the death of Ken Russell, one of the last links to the golden age of arts broadcasting has been broken. Russell cut his directorial teeth on Monitor, the groundbreaking series with which the BBC brought the arts to life in the 1950s and 60s, triumphantly fulfilling the Reithian mission to inform, educate and entertain. Series such as Arena, The South Bank Show and Imagine are Monitor's direct descendants.
Those who made films for Monitor – others included John Schlesinger and John Berger – enjoyed the kind of free hand that later directors could only dream of; their work was all the better for it. Arts documentaries were at the heart of the schedules, not shunted off into the twilight zone.
Russell was a true British maverick whose problem, his critics would say, was the very freedom he enjoyed. But better the freedom to go over the top than to have arts programmes hemmed in by the need to play safe.