A movie show and a new weekly music program on Radio 4 will be part of a huge reshuffle to the BBC’s arts programming due to be unveiled on Monday.
Screenshot will be hosted by Observer film critic Mark Kermode – also co-host of the 5 Live movie show – and by Guardian writer Ellen E Jones, and he will, in Kermode’s words, “rummage through safes for unexpected connections and discoveries in the history of film and television.”.
The announcement comes just weeks after Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese and other prominent directors joined moviegoers in a dismayed call to rescue Radio 4 The cinema program. An angry letter, printed in the Observer and written by director Carol Morley, criticized the longtime show’s deletion and accused the BBC of further cutting its coverage of the arts.
The letter also garnered support from leading actors such as Liam Neeson, Rosamund Pike, Benedict Cumberbatch and David Oyelowo, who all argued that the series was a valuable resource for moviegoers.
The BBC says the changes it is making now will translate into more global airtime for the arts and involve an extension of established programming, in addition to the arrival of three new shows.
Alongside the movie show, a new weekly music show is to innovate on the radio station traditionally dominated by speech. Add to playlist will be hosted by Jeffrey Boakye and Cerys Matthews, who will invite their guests to build a selection of music from different genres.
And a new, longer artistic show will be broadcast as a podcast on BBC Sounds, as well as in a Radio 4 box on Saturday night. Called This cultural life and presented by John Wilson, it will also appear occasionally as a television program on BBC Four. This is intended to allow the BBC to make better use of its vast archive of fine art films and to link audio and visual coverage more closely.
When Tony Hall, the former BBC chief executive, took office almost a decade ago, he vowed to tackle the perceived decline in artistic programming, primarily by forming economically useful partnerships with major artistic institutions of the country. False starts followed, with repeated attempts to find the right format for mainstream television coverage of the arts.
The broadcasting of cultural information by Radio 4 has also been controversial. In 2017, there was an outcry from the dedicated listeners of Saturday Review after a first threat to its survival. The show, hosted by Tom Sutcliffe, got a temporary reprieve a few months later, but was eventually taken off the air last year.
It was considered by some BBC commissioners to be elitist and old-fashioned, but its fans inside and outside Broadcasting House cherished it as a place to hear critical opinions on new work.
Sutcliffe is now a regular presenter on Before Line, the flagship show of the BBC arts magazine and one of the winners of the planned schedule overhaul. It saves an extra quarter of an hour, by increasing the program to 45 minutes on weeknights. Sutcliffe will remain, as will current presenter Samira Ahmed.
As the host of the new interview series This cultural lifeWilson plans to examine the creative impulse that drives an artist or performer. “We have big names lined up, and we will be able to really deepen their work and their influences,” said the journalist, who will present his latest First row show Monday after more than 20 years behind the microphone.
“When I presented the new series, I wanted both ‘culture’ and ‘life’ in the title. Culture is a buzzword that comes and goes, but we’re going to look at the artist in the world, find out what drives them. However, the format will not be the same for a visual artist as it is for a grime artist or a classical musician, ”said Wilson, who cites the legacy of Melvyn Bragg’s television arts programs as inspiration.
“He is a giant and a pioneer. People often go back to the golden age of artistic programming, saying there was more time and space then – well, I would say podcasts gave us that space back.
Wilson will continue to make documentaries and cover art news, alongside other BBC art correspondents and the broadcaster’s new cultural editor, Katie Razzall, who takes over from art editor Will Gompertz in November.
While the BBC has come under fire for dropping the voices of informed critics with the disappearance of Saturday exam, Wilson said he believed First row has always had “journalistic ethics and an edge,” and that in the hands of Ahmed and Sutcliffe, he will do more than promote new releases and exhibitions. “With Tom you have a critical circus ringleader, and if the culture secretary comes to talk to Samira, you know he’s really going to think about what he’s going to say,” he said.