On the day that the Cezanne exhibition opened at the Tate, I found
myself sitting on the sofa at a loose end late at night. What I really
wanted to watch on TV was a live discussion of the show by critics. I
turned to the TV listings only to discover that at 11.15pm, in the very
spot that the Late Show occupied this time last year, BBC 2 was
screening snooker. Snooker! It seemed a travesty.
But does this not epitomise the cultural desert which late-night
television has become since the programme was abolished late last year?
It is true that BBC 2 placed its unhappy revival of The Brains Trust at
11.15pm. But my point is a larger one: viewers have lost a nightly slot,
dedicated to contemporary cultural and media events, where informed
people could hold live discussions and stimulate a dialogue.
The Royal Opera House has had a PR disaster. Newspapers are completely
Simon Rattle leaves the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and first
nights come and go. The Late Show was axed, apparently for ‘super
serving’ the metropolitan middle classes. But what I remember at the
time was former Heritage Secretary Stephen Dorrell nagging the BBC about
justifying the licence fee by ensuring its programmes were watched by
the broad mass of people. Judged by this depressing yardstick, the Late
Show seemed an indulgence. What dismays me is that, as 1996 gets well
into its stride, nothing has sprung up to fully take its place. The BBC
2 tradition of providing a constant, up-to-the-minute dialogue on modern
culture has been all but abandoned. Radio, to some extent, has been
consigned to the role, but is a poor medium for the visual arts, for
showing exhibitions, dance, film and some theatre.
This state of affairs is not good enough. Before the Late Show,
Newsnight, which preceded it, had regular arts reports but was then
moulded into an almost exclusively political programme. If the BBC
really can’t find the money or the justification for recreating the Late
Show (and with all the Lottery money around it should be keeping an
eagle eye on the subsidised arts at the very least) then it must adjust
other programmes to fill the vacuum.
The most obvious ploy would be to extend Newsnight, with a further ten
or 15 minutes Late Review devoted to live arts/media coverage. The slot
will need to find or reassemble some of the presenters/producers who
used to specialise in fast-response programmes. What is absolutely not
needed is more coverage sprinkled around the schedule. We’re busy, give
us a ghetto.
Even better, this simple change could be organised within weeks. In time
for an assessment of Cezanne in London - as the exhibition closes in