Pots and kettles

Pots and kettles


norman lebrecht

October 21, 2009

The BBC’s Culture Show is making a film about the decline of arts criticism in print media. It starts from the premise that the Daily Telegraph sacked some critics nine months ago in a cost-cutting drive and now pays freelances a pittance for their reviews.

The story is neither new, nor confined to one newspaper, but it takes BBC television a very long time to wake up to what’s going on in the arts world and the Culture Show, its supposed monitor, is not only off the pace but absurdly ill-equipped to discuss the topic.

The Culture Show was created five or six years ago in response to criticisms, led by John Tusa and myself, that BBC TV had abandoned its chartered duties to ‘reflect the nation unto itself’, by failing to report the arts.

Instead of a hands-on arts current affairs show, like Front Row on radio 4, or a high-pressure think tank, like Night Waves on radio 3, what we got was a critic-free zone, dedicated to ‘celebrating’ all that is PR-driven and media-friendly in the creative industries.  

The Culture Show is a travesty of the real world of creative decisions, a puff pastry fronted  by occupational presenters that is deplored and ignored by arts professionals. For BBC TV to moan that newspapers are cutting critics when it has abandoned arts criticism for more than a decade is a matter of blatant hypocrisy. Is there an arts critic on BBC staff? Not one.

The BBC has just appointed yet another arts ‘supremo’ to its top-heavy executive layer, but at roots level it has no clue what goes on canvas or on stage, day in, day out. Nor is it in any position to comment on unsubsidised newspapers that are forced to reduce their arts spend.

The Culture Show is years behind the real story and the BBC undermines its own future by such feeble and belated half-stabs at arts journalism.




  • Couldn’t agree more Norman.
    See my previous blogs:
    I went for one of the presenter jobs when The Culture Show first started and knew immediately, from the initial interview in front of the exec producers, that it was heading for a confused mess of a format and content. I’m honestly very glad I didn’t get selected as the programme is nothing like it should be, or could’ve been.
    Lauren Laverne (who I like in other shows) is completely out of her depth, and her moaning in the Guardian about people not liking her on the Culture Show because she’s female is just crap. Her style is simply wrong for the programme.
    I still see BBC2’s majestic Late Show as the benchmark – edgy, serious, often silly and pretentious of course, but a decent stab at reflecting modern culture and arts with people who might actually know what they’re talking about. And those involved in the arts respected it too.
    It’s hard to imagine BBC TV doing anything serious about the arts now. And now that the Proms are over, where’s all the classical music output gone?

  • The BBC famously asked Dame Mira Hess to audition for a solo recording of Beethoven, long after she was regarded as the world’s most outstanding lady concert pianist, and patronised by members of the Royal Family!
    They have never supported outstanding British classical performers with a chance to be recorded and heard nationally on radio or TV, an inexpensive and easy operation.
    The BBC should follow the excellent example of the Australian ABC and now the Chinese National Broadcasting system, in encouraging the finest classical performers to audition and be heard and seen internationally.
    In my opinion, those regional accents and awful, teenage,trashy female voices on the BBC world service news and heard by me in California, are a laughing stock.