Less than a month ago, Robert Harris used his position as head of the Costa Book of the Year Award judging panel to rail against the lack of airtime given to literature by the BBC’s televisual output. Whilst probably not a direct response to Harris’ particular grievances, it is, however, hard to feel that the Corporation’s newly announced slate of arts programming isn’t delivered in a spirit of recalibration, bringing as it does a poetry season for BBC Four and the latest iteration of the erstwhile Late Review.
Artsnight – a magazine show filling the post-Newsnight slot previously taken by (depending on when you first discovered it as a snooty teenager) The Review Show, Newsnight Review, Review and Late Review – will run for four episodes, each one guest edited by a different figure from the arts: actress Maxine Peake, The Thick of It/Veep/The Day Today/Come on you know who Armando Iannucci is’s Armando Iannucci, Tate Modern director Chris Dercon and journalist Lynn Barber.
Each editor will bring their own theme to their episode – Peake looks at the marginalisation of women and the working classes in the arts, Iannucci high art, Barber populism – but if prior incarnations of the programme are anything to go by there will likely be at least one insufferable conversation about literature per show.
BBC Four’s poetry season, meanwhile, includes programmes on Carol Ann Duffy, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen and Simon Armitage’s Black Roses, which receives a dramatisation. Radio 1Xtra will also partner with the Arts Council England to develop performance poets.
Further to all of that, June will see the launch of the BBC Proms Poetry Competition, inviting poetry submissions inspired by music featured in this year’s Proms season. The winners will have the opportunity to read their poems at the Royal College of Music for an event to be broadcast on Radio 3, and receive a commission to write a poem for National Poetry Day in October.
The Beeb’s director general, Tony Hall, says of the programme: ‘I want to put arts centre stage at the BBC. I strongly believe that arts should be for everyone with more prime time arts content on the BBC.’