Arts to be 'at very heart' of BBC, says director general

Gemma Arterton in The Duchess of Malfi The Duchess of Malfi saw Gemma Arterton play John Webster's tragic heroine

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The BBC is to boost its coverage of the arts in what its director general calls its "strongest commitment to the arts in a generation".

"The arts are for everyone, and from now on BBC Arts will be at the very heart of what we do," said Tony Hall.

Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota and National Theatre director Sir Nicholas Hytner are among leading arts figures appointed to key consultation roles.

Performances from Glyndebourne and Shakespeare's Globe will also be aired.

iPlayer coverage

They include The Duchess of Malfi, the first production at the Globe's recently opened Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, that saw former Bond girl Gemma Arterton play the title role.

The One Show will come live from the Hay Literary Festival in May, while the team behind The Hollow Crown will reunite to create filmed versions of Shakespeare's Henry VI and Richard III plays.

Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons in The Hollow Crown Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons were part of The Hollow Crown's star-studded ensemble

The BBC's coverage will be united under a single strand, BBC Arts at..., that will incorporate output on TV, radio and online via the BBC's iPlayer service.

The latter will host the premiere of BBC Two series The Story of Women and Art as well as news coverage celebrating the winners of the Man Booker and Riba Stirling architecture prizes.

The corporation's plans have been unveiled at BBC Broadcasting House in London, with actors Arterton, Lenny Henry and Tom Hollander all present.

Speaking about the televised version of The Duchess of Malfi, Arterton said: "We are thrilled to know that we have this copy of the play which we can show to the world and to people who couldn't make the performance. That's really what this is about - sharing the work."

There was innovation and ambition in Tony Hall's action plan for beefing up the BBC's arts coverage.

Bringing in the energetic and accomplished Alex Poots - artistic director of Manchester International Festival - to work on collaborations is a bold move. And a commitment to help amplify the work of the country's major arts institutions through partnership and programming should benefit all constituencies.

There is no doubting his desire to 're-energise' BBC arts.

The challenge will be making the sum greater than the parts: to harness all of the BBC's arts output - already greater than any other broadcaster in the world - in an audience-focused manner that provides a single entry point from which all arts programming - TV, radio and online - can be accessed.

"We're the biggest arts broadcaster anywhere in the world, but our ambition is to be even better," said Lord Hall.

"We'll be joining up arts on the BBC like never before [and] working more closely with our country's great artists, performers and cultural institutions."

The arts "really matter" and are "not for an elite or a minority," he added.

"I want BBC Arts and BBC Music to sit proudly alongside BBC News," continued Lord Hall, previously the chief executive of the Royal Opera House.

Other aspects of the corporation's augmented arts coverage include:

  • Alex Poots, artistic director of the Manchester International Festival, to become a "creative partner" with BBC Arts
  • Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of the Royal Court in London, to join a group of "creative leaders" who will act as "a sounding board" across the BBC
  • A celebration of Museums at Night, an after-hours festival involving more than 500 museums, galleries and heritage sites
  • "Major" coverage of the Edinburgh Festivals, including a performance every day online
  • An "online partnership" with the Royal Academy in London focusing on its 2014 summer exhibition
  • A relaunch for The Space, the BBC's collaboration with Arts Council England
  • The appointment of Jonty Claypole as director of arts and Bob Shennan as director of music.

Programmes planned include A Knight at the Barbican, a BBC Four evening dedicated to the work of English conductor Sir Simon Rattle, and Dialogues, a new drama strand for BBC Four focusing on just two characters.

Sir Simon Rattle Conductor Sir Simon Rattle received the Order of Merit in the New Year Honours list

There will also be a "new take" on Civilisation, the landmark 13-part series about the history of western art that originally aired on BBC Two in 1969, and a two-part Imagine documentary on BBC One on US novelist Philip Roth

Other programmes include an animated film by War Horse author Michael Morpurgo and a Northern Ballet version of Three Little Pigs for the CBeebies channel.

On radio, offerings will include a night of drama on Radio 3 celebrating the touring theatre company Paines Plough and a dedicated two weeks of dramas by first- or second-time writers on Radio 4.

The full text of Lord Hall's speech is available via the BBC's Media Centre.

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