One thing the BBC used to do superbly was classic drama. I don't mean classic serials - though it seems to have lost the knack of those, too - but single classic plays. The decline of the single new television play is frequently and rightly lamented; but the rich repertoire of classic European theatre is just as important, and just as seriously neglected. Just as music lovers regularly give thanks to the Proms for their musical education, I reckon that I gained a solid grounding in theatre from Play of the Month productions of Ibsen and Chekhov, Moliere and Racine, Pirandello and Brecht, as well as Webster and Sheridan, Wilde and Shaw, Osborne and Pinter.
Where is this tradition now? It seems to have overreached itself with the BBC Shakespeare and never recovered. As a result, the BBC has abdicated one of its major roles as the nation's repertory theatre. It is as though Radio 3 never played Beethoven and Brahms any more.
The usual excuse that classic plays are too expensive surely cannot apply. There must be a huge American and worldwide market for British actors in first-class productions of great plays. It must be the will that is lacking. Whatever the reason, it is one aspect of a general decline which a BBC management with a proper sense of the obligations of public service broadcasting should act quickly to redress.
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