Today the BBC is announcing significant new TV commissions as we reshape our Arts and Music content teams to drive bigger reach and impact across the UK. BBC Two will increase its resources for arts and music, whilst BBC Four becomes the home of arts and music performance and will bring together collections of the most distinctive content from the BBC’s rich archive. The BBC will also open up its entire BBC Local Radio network to local arts organisations.

The BBC  will double investment in arts and music on BBC Two over the next two years and commit to up to eight major arts and music boxset series for BBC iPlayer each year – this will be an important element of our soon to be published annual plan.

At the core of these changes is the desire to back British creativity by supporting the wider arts and music sectors, and to showcase the best of UK talent. We want the BBC to be the UK’s creative partner.

Highlights of the new commissions include:

  • Landmark documentary series tells the history of British creativity through iconic artworks and artefacts featuring leading UK artists and Mary Beard returns with a documentary exploration of the forbidden in art for BBC Two
  • Impactful singles exploring the most vital works of arts and challenging cultural issues including David Harewood on Blackface minstrelsy for BBC Two
  • Extraordinary profiles and biographies including Daniel Barenboim, Sir Quentin Blake, Brian Catling, Jackie Collins, Delia Derbyshire, Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, Kae Tempest and Andy Warhol and new commissions to mark key anniversaries for T.S. Eliot and James Joyce for BBC Two
  • And at the beginning of April, the BBC will hand over its entire Local Radio network to local arts organisations to showcase their content and performances

Charlotte Moore, BBC Chief Content Officer, said:

“The BBC has always prided itself on having a world class arts and music offer. The BBC wants to build on that to expand the reach of Arts and Music programming and deliver even more unique, high impact content for the public.  Alongside that, we want to be Britain’s creative partner and platform for talent.  I am excited about the content we have commissioned and how our new approach will help that reach more people.”

A New Commissioning Powerhouse for Arts & Classical

The BBC needs to be in the best possible shape to drive forward these ambitions.  A new structure will see Arts and Classical Music TV commissioning fully integrated into BBC Content under the leadership of Patrick Holland.  As the Director of a new Factual, Arts and Classical Music genre, Patrick will take on an expanded remit.  He is a long-standing champion of Arts & Music at the BBC, as Controller of BBC Two & Four he oversaw and passionately supported Arts programming on television. Arts and classical music will align under this new television genre to bring specialist depth, modern storytelling and ambition resulting in a new commissioning powerhouse.  Integrating arts and classical Music within the factual genre will bring new opportunities for collaboration and programming of scale to help grow BBC iPlayer. Culture in Quarantine has demonstrated the vital role of the BBC in British Arts and this will build on that success to deliver Arts and Culture to licence fee payers everywhere.

Two new leadership roles have been created: a new Head of Arts and Classical Music and a dedicated TV commissioner responsible for the BBC Proms and classical music on TV to guarantee classical music specialism is retained at the heart of commissioning within the broader factual team. In recent years Patrick has reinvented history and documentary on BBC Two and he will bring the same editorial vision to Arts and Classical Music investing in high impact commissions to help grow BBC iPlayer.

Delivering for all audiences across our platforms, the TV and Radio commissioning teams will collaborate as part of the BBC Content division. Alan Davey will continue his leadership role in Classical music, including the commissioning of new music, as Controller of Radio 3, the BBC’s Orchestras and Choirs, and The BBC Proms, the world’s biggest classical music festival. He will work closely with Patrick and his team to ensure that classical music increases its impact for audiences using all the resources available to the BBC. Arts content on radio will continue to sit with the networks commissioned directly by the Controllers, as it does now.

Popular Music Recognised as its own Genre

Lorna Clarke, Controller of Pop Music, will continue to oversee the genre, with responsibility for our pop music stations (Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 1Xtra, The Asian Network and Radio 6 Music), as well as TV commissioning. With new classical music TV roles created in Patrick’s area, Lorna’s current music TV commissioning team will evolve so that it will solely focus on pop music, increasing its impact across all platforms to deliver a portfolio approach with our radio stations and increase habit with audiences.

The team will include a Commissioning Editor, a Commissioning Executive and an Assistant Commissioner – a first for music – providing an opportunity to draw on experience, strong music editorial credentials and bring in fresh talent. Lorna will harness her brilliant working relationships with the music industry and our partners to lead the vision for Pop music across the content portfolio to deliver the best music for audiences, fostering the BBC’s crucial role in developing new talent.

Separating Classical Music and Pop Music commissioning will bring new opportunities for collaboration and programming of scale to help grow BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds.

Charlotte Moore added:

“This simpler, more authentic system will create greater collaboration across the genres to deliver the most creative Arts and Music content for audiences, whether they want to watch or listen to them live or on demand. This new approach is the right one for the BBC, but more importantly, it is the right one for audiences.”

More details about new Arts & Music content announced today:

The Making of Us: A History of British Creativity is a landmark seven-part series for BBC Two. It tells the story of a thousand years of British creativity through a range of seminal cultural works from across centuries. A company of renowned creatives including working artists, actors, poets, commentators and curators explore works of art, literature, music and craft that take us to the heart of seven moments of historic flux, including the Black Death, the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. They trace a story of innovators and rule-breakers who, by daring to create something different, helped shape who we are now.

Mary Beard on Forbidden Art, a two-part documentary for BBC Two this spring, which sees the Professor exploring ‘forbidden’ themes and ideas in art. It will look at works from Classical times to the present day and consider the many ways artists have engaged with subjects which have been considered forbidden in some way, whether socially, politically or in their physical manifestation. It will also look at art from different periods and societies which some have argued the public simply should not see. From the ancient Laocoön to Anselm Kiefer, via Rembrandt and Michelangelo, this aims to be a nuanced and reflective exploration of a rich and often challenging subject, threaded through with discussions with key artists. Mary Beard also returns to BBC Two in May for a new series of the topical arts programme Inside Culture.

Blackface with David Harewood exemplifies the impactful documentaries exploring challenging cultural issues. This new one-hour documentary for BBC Two explores the origins of Blackface minstrelsy in early 19th-century America and how it crossed the Atlantic to Britain. This was entertainment as a delivery system for racist tropes and became the most popular form of entertainment of the Victorian era and took the music of enslaved people and turning it toxic. David Harewood sets out to understand how it shapes ideas of blackness in popular culture and why it endured so long.

There are also extraordinary new profiles and portraits of a range of artistic figures of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries such as Daniel BarenboimBrian CatlingDelia DerbyshireKae Tempest and Andy Warhol among others across BBC Four and BBC Two, as well as major new commissions to mark key anniversaries for T.S. Eliot and James Joyce in 2022.

With access to some of the world’s most prestigious arts institutions we have the second series of Secrets of the Museum for BBC Two, giving audiences exclusive access to the treasures of the Victoria & Albert Museum – still closed due to the pandemic. Newly-announced is a behind-the-scenes observational documentary about the children the Royal Ballet school in Richmond directed by the BalletBoyz; and a three-part series about the New York’s Metropolitan Museum 150th year which follows the challenges faced from the global pandemic, the recent presidential election and rising momentum of anti-racist movements. 

New opera productions for TV signal the importance of partnerships with creative artists and organisations as they face unprecedented challenges and build on Culture in Quarantine, bringing arts, culture and performance into the nations’ homes. Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine, a new film produced with the Royal Opera especially for audiences at home, is conducted by Antonio Pappano, directed by James Kent and features Danielle de Niese in the powerful and highly topical one-woman drama. Britten’s Turn of the Screw, with a stellar cast and Sinfonia of London conducted by John Wilson is filmed on location at London Wilton’s Music Hall, directed by Selina Caddell and Dom Best and produced by Eliza Thompson and OperaGlass Works.

These follow BBC Lights Up, an unprecedented season of 18 plays on the BBC, involving partnerships with theatres across the UK, which began last week and culminates in April with, for the first time in its history, a Royal Shakespeare Company production – The Winter’s Tale, directed by Erica Whyman – getting its world premiere on BBC television. Together with the unprecedented drama series released last year, as well as filmed live theatre acquisitions from the RSC, Northern Ballet, Sadler’s Wells and many more, Lights Up marks out BBC Four as the biggest supporter of theatre during lockdown of any British broadcaster.

Also confirmed today is the Final of BBC Young Musician of the Year 2020 in May, delayed and reorganised as  result of the pandemic, as well the welcome return of  BBC Cardiff Singer of the World in June and The Leeds International Piano Competition in September, which will all showcase outstanding young talent and follow the rich stories of the participants in opera and classical music on BBC Four.

Other forthcoming classical music highlights include a specially-created concert of Handel’s Messiah brought to life especially for a television audience at home for BBC Two on Easter Saturday in partnership with English National Opera, and BBC Proms, the world’s greatest festival of classical music, will return this summer across BBC TV, radio and online.

A range of literature-inspired programming includes an imagine… with Alan Yentob inviting us into the compelling world of award-winning novelist and screenwriter Sir Kazuo Ishiguro (BBC One: 1×60); a warm celebration of one of Britain’s best loved artists, the illustrator and author Sir Quentin Blake (BBC Two: 1×60); a documentary about best-selling author, rebel, actress, millionaire Hollywood chronicler, mother, sister, survivor, and unlikely feminist, Jackie Collins (BBC Two: Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story 1 X 90); a new series of Between The Covers with Sara Cox and a stellar new line-up of books and guests (BBC Two: 6×30); and, a visually stunning series in which book and travel lover Richard E Grant visits places that have inspired writers across the centuries to explore how they have informed the writers’ experiences (BBC Two: Write Around the World, 3 x 60)

BBC Local Radio will go behind the scenes of some of the country’s best-loved cultural institutions as they prepare to reopen after lockdown forced their closure for more than a year. As part of Make a Difference, all 39 local stations in England will be at museums, theatres, performance venues and galleries in their area throughout Monday April 12. Listeners will hear how places they know so well are getting ready to welcome visitors again, hearing from everyone involved including curators, artists, and members of the public desperate for some culture. The places featured include the Museum of Liverpool, Opera North in Leeds, the Crucible in Sheffield, the Turner Gallery in Margate, and the Space Centre in Leicester.   

Pop TV on the BBC offers a huge range of world exclusive content, covering live performance and profiles on some of the world’s most popular musicians.  Programmes shortly to be broadcast include Later… with Jools Holland (BBC Two, Friday 26th March) which finishes its current run with performances from Olly Alexander, Griff, Nitin Sawhney and Ayanna Witter-Johnson.  More new live music from Alexandra Palace and the BBC Radio Theatre is featured within BBC Radio 6 Music Festival 2021 (BBC Four, Friday 26th March) with tracks from Michael Kiwanuka, Laura Marling and Bicep.  The following night on BBC Two, Paloma Faith: As I Am follows her emotional journey as she balances a make-or-break tour with being a mum, and Reel Stories: Dave Grohl sees host Dermot O’Leary interview Foo Fighters frontman about his career to date.  Further spring highlights include Britney (w/t) Viva La Diva (BBC Four), Paul Weller with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Jules Buckley (BBC TV), and a new series of Later… with Jools Holland.