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Thursday 1 March 2012, 13:50
I am writing this blog while recovering from a dose of viral flu - a sudden attack that floored me for three days, left me shivering like a leaf and feeling as though I was in someone else's skin, hallucinating. Nice.
Bear that in mind, folks, while I tap out some thoughts about the past 10 years of BBC Four.
Well, 10 glorious years, of course. Indeed, if there is one thing that the channel has achieved over the last 120 months it is to prove that it is possible to attract decent audiences not only to thoughtful programmes but also to a broad range of subjects all on the same channel. I think people understand now that Four is an entertainment channel, only we entertain differently, thinking outside the box, through discourse, wit and proposition.
Michael Sheen stars as Kenneth Williams in the BBC Four drama Fantabulosa.
BBC Four is unique in the digital world. It doesn't strip and strand or stack - run the same shows one after another, or play them out like clockwork across the same time slot during the week. It behaves like a mainstream terrestrial channel, mixed genre, moving from one subject to the other.
And now. Since its launch, the channel reaches nearly 10m people a week watching at least three minutes (an industry standard) and our share is hovering around 1.4%.
Some of the milestones? Well, winning four Baftas last year (including best Comedy Performance for Jo Brand and Best Single Drama for The Road To Coronation Street) stands out. As does having the most talked-about drama of 2011 (alongside Downton Abbey!) in The Killing. Having over one million viewers tune in each week to watch our series on The Story of British Musicals felt good, as did having over 1/2m people watch our extraordinary experiment to create an orchestra with instruments purely out of scrap. Afterlife, our 90 minute film that recorded decay and re-be-birth in a house full of rotting food was also a winner with audiences.
Jack Dee in BBC Four comedy Lead Balloon
Looking further back, stand out shows over the years at Four have been the breakthrough drama The Alan Clark Diaries, beautifully acted by John Hurt; the National Trust programme which won a Bafta for Best Documentary series; and the film that opened the channel's first ever moment on air, Michael Landy's extraordinary art happening where he destroyed all of his possessions.
Other wonderful stand-out moments have been a slew of great comedies - The Thick Of It, Lead Balloon, Getting On and Twenty Twelve. In drama there was the wonderful Fantabulosa, about Kenneth Williams, the Curse of Comedy series and The Long Road To Finchley, which told the story of Margaret Thatcher's early years getting into parliament. More recently Hattie, Lennon Naked and Holy Flying Circus have proved that drama is still alive and well on Four!
Stephen Fry on Wagner
One of the pleasures of running BBC Four is being able to bring new talent to the public, and because BBC Four is all about proposition and authorship there's been some great new faces telling new stroies as well as familiar faces telling unexpected tales. Stand-outs among the familiar for me include Stephen Fry's film on Wagner, Ian Hislop on the Beecham reforms, Richard Wilson on Britain's best drives, Jo Brand on crying and, of course, Julia Bradbury's walking programmes.
Less familiar but with real stories tell include Lucy Worsley's history of the house, Jim Al-Khalili's on-going films about deep physics and Robert Bartlett's insightful series on the medieval mind.
The cast of BBC Four comedy The Thick of It
Of course one name also stands out for me - Andrew Graham Dixon, who over the past five or six years has been building a body of work desrcibing the art of various countries. Andrew's take is effortlessly propositional and his last series, on American art, was masterful.
So, going forward, what now for the next 10 years? Well, be in no doubt that it will be tougher here. Following the government's decision to freeze the licence fee, BBC Four is facing some quite serious cuts in originations - ie new programmes, and I have no doubt that these will have an impact.
However on a more positive note I am determined to do everything that I can to ensure that the quality and tone of BBC Four programmes remains as high as ever. And to ensure that the spirit of Four - witty, knowing, curious, having something to say, propositional - will be maintained. And expanding the channel's role as the curator and leader of the BBC's Archive project - rolling out as much of the archive as we can in a way that is both entertaining and financially sensible - will also form a new part of the channel's activitities.
Stephen Mangan and Darren Boyd star in three new episodes of Dirk Gently.
Coming up this year will be the final series of The Killing, and a terrific new police murder mystery called The Bridge. There's our new series on Catholics, a gorgeous new series on Art Nouveau and our new drama series inspired by Douglas Adams - three more Dirk Gently episodes.
And now, enough - my head's spinning again, and I'll sign off before I start typing nonsense! Keep an eye on BBC Four and I very much hope you enjoy what you see.
Richard Klein is Controller, BBC Four
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Wednesday 29 February 2012, 12:22
Friday 2 March 2012, 16:52