The actor Sanjeev Bhaskar is at the forefront of a campaign to ensure the high-minded BBC4 is not threatened with closure, as the Corporation prepares to make deep cuts while still pumping millions into new drama.
Lord Hall, Director-General of the BBC, is expected to say that drama should form the “backbone” of its output but the cost of the plan is likely to lead to “tough choices ahead”, and BBC4 has been mooted as a potential victim of cuts.
The BBC must build on its reputation for “creative excellence” with “bigger and bolder” drama offerings, Lord Hall will say, following major hits for the Corporation for dramas such as Poldark, Wolf Hall and Peaky Blinders. His speech will not suggest where the cuts must fall to pay for the venture, however.
With new internet rivals such as Netflix and Amazon Prime commissioning their own major series, Lord Hall will reportedly argue that the market is changing fundamentally, meaning the BBC will have to run longer seasons of shows to compete. One of the options could be to close BBC4, which has an audience of some seven million a week, according to a report in The Sunday Telegraph.
But in a series of tweets, performers came out to defend the channel, which specialises in arts, music and science programming and has been the first to show foreign dramas that have become mainstream classics such as Borgen and The Killing. With the hashtag #savebbc4, Bhaskar, best known for his roles in Goodness Gracious Me, wrote: “The only channel that fits the Reithian principle of ‘educate, inform & entertain’ & I’m not saying that just ‘cos I’m on tonight.”
“Surely not,” tweeted singer-songwriter Marc Almond. “It’s one of the best Beeb channels. Soon there’ll be no Beeb for me to have a career on.” The actor Rufus Jones, who played Terry Jones in the Bafta-nominated television comedy Holy Flying Circus, said: “Owe so much to #BBC4. No other channel would have made #HolyFlyingCircus. Say it ain’t so.”
Meanwhile Mary Beard, who has presented programmes for the BBC on Pompeii and the daily life of Romans, said in The Times Literary Supplement: “Anyone who whinges about [the BBC] should try a few months in the USA and see what the commercialised world of TV and radio is really like.”
A BBC spokesman said: “We’ll be setting out a positive case for the BBC and what it can do, not announcing any closures. Drama is a priority and, of course, there will be tough choices ahead, but BBC4 is doing a great job as the recent Pop Art season showed.”
The Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, said last month that there was scope for cuts in directors’ pay at the Corporation without closing BBC4. More than 100 people earn above £150,000. Spending on BBC4 amounted to £66m last year compared with £1.3bn for BBC1, according to the Corporation’s annual report.
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