Last night, for those of us interested and “in the know”, BBC2 Northern Ireland (Sky Channel 972) broadcast it’s monthly gem, The Arts Show. The subject was singer/songwriter Paul Brady, profiled and interviewed by the excellent Marie-Louise Muir. This show, to the best of my knowledge, is a rarity on BBC and ITV arts and culture output. Sky Arts channels lead the pack, producing some excellent films and concerts (oft-repeated, but nonetheless welcome) but it annoys me that the UK’s two oldest television broadcasters appear to relegate “culture” to the nether regions of the schedules. News, weather, sport and assorted dross are clearly much more important than the wondrous marvels from the world of creative arts.
The BBC gives us short bursts of the series Imagine and The Culture Show and a few other smatterings across the year. ITV, having ditched The South Bank Show (scooped by Sky Arts, but only six at a time), seems to be more interested in celebrity over content and attempts to dupe us into thinking they are making Arts programmes and documentaries. Sky dumped The Book Show a while ago and, whilst there have been some half-hearted attempts by broadcasters to produce book-themed output, celebrities, rather than writers, seem to occupy the studio sofas.
BBC NI’s The Arts Show (and other regions may well have similar programmes that I’m not aware of) is the perfect template for intelligent, well-crafted, beautifully produced showcases and in recent months it has been a delight to watch poet Seamus Heaney, piper Liam O’Flynn, novelist Colum McCann, painter Colin Davidson, dancer Melissa Hamilton, music producer David Holmes, actress/singer Bronagh Gallagher, actors James Nesbitt, Adrian Dunbar and Richard Dormer, as well as specials about the Ulster-influence on the New York arts scene, Derry’s City of Culture and so much more – a menu of goodness and positive vibes from a wee part of the world that gets more bad publicity than it deserves.
The downside of The Arts Show is that it is monthly and only 30-minutes long. The upside is that it exists as a shining example of what arts programmes should be and can be across the UK. In a week of news that literacy levels are alarmingly poor, television has an important role in producing exciting, entertaining and, yes, educational programmes that stimulate creative thinking and nurture an appetite for arts-related activities.
I am from Northern Ireland and I am of there but I live in England. For many reasons I am drawn to the media output of BBC NI, Radio Ulster, Belfast Telegraph, News Letter and Irish News, as well as keeping myself updated with the vibrant arts scene. So, thank God for the Internet. And for satellite TV. And for programmes like The Arts Show. Long may it reign.