April 5, 2013

The BBC is axing arts coverage, but Lily Cole and Harry Styles will save us all


These people are happy because they’re saving the arts. (Left to right: Harry Styles, Jemima Khan, Alain de Botton)

As Tony Hall settles in to his new job as Director General of the BBC, he should have two things on his mind: placing arts programing at the centre of the corporation, and the supermodel Lily Cole.  That’s according to Melvyn Bragg, who has urged the new Director General to “fight” to ensure that programs focusing on the arts do not suffer as the corporation cuts £700m of its budget.

Bragg, who is best known for presenting “The South Bank Show” on Sky Arts and BBC Radio 4’s “In Our Time,” says, “I think they should make more arts programs, particularly on BBC1. I’m disappointed at the way the arts seem to be shrinking on the BBC.”

He’s not the only one who is disappointed. The BBC’s shaky commitment to the arts caused alarm in February when the corporation announced it was moving the weekly BBC2 “The Review Show” to BBC4 — where it would only be shown monthly. The program, which features authors, journalists, and cultural figures discussing the week in arts could be counted on as a regular dose of focused criticism. And it has brought serious books to television audiences — a rare occurrence. But alas, it was the first victim when the BBC slashed arts coverage on BBC1 and BBC2 in order to meet the new budget.

Once a month on a channel most of us here in Britain forget exists is not good enough, and tells us all we need to know about the BBC’s priorities.

Bragg isn’t the first to speak out. Last month, Sir Nicholas Hytner, Artistic Director of the National Theatre lamented the failure of the BBC to engage with the performing arts and said that the BBC had to “detach themselves from this Downton ratings mentality.” Bragg’s believes that the BBC needs “a few people determined to fight for the arts and a greater variety of programming. That way they can turn it around.”

So where does Lily Cole come in?

Well, Bragg suggested that the supermodel turned Cambridge graduate turned Sky Arts presenter could become the new face of arts programming. Or, as Bragg put it, she’s “the new person on the block.” This is, of course, yet another entry into the recent trend of cultural figures putting forward wacky ideas for new patrons of the arts. Let us be reminded of Alain de Botton’s recent run-in with One Direction heartthrob Harry Styles, and his subsequent comments:

“My plan is to shut the Arts Council and get people such as Harry Styles to go on TV and recommend to everyone they read Proust and Hegel David Beckham could do Aristotle and Plato, which would achieve more in five minutes than the Arts Council achieves year in, year out … The cause of intellectual life in this country would be helped immeasurably.”

So that’s Lily Cole, Harry Styles and David Beckham on television shouting about literature, philosophy and art— just a few people determined to fight for the arts. Yeah, that could work.


Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.