Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Reports of BBC Four’s demise…

Can there be such a thing a cult TV channel? If so, could that beast emerge from an establishment body such as the BBC? One definition of a cult is something that relatively few people pay attention to, but which …

Sun, Aug 21, 2011, 21:53

   
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Can there be such a thing a cult TV channel? If so, could that beast emerge from an establishment body such as the BBC? One definition of a cult is something that relatively few people pay attention to, but which generates wild, uninhibited enthusiasm from that small band of admirers. BBC Four certainly fits those criteria. The channel achieves a fairly tiny 1.3 per cent share of primetime viewers. But, with 85 per cent, its “audience appreciation” figures are the highest of all the BBC stations. Quite right too. The combination of first-class documentaries, quality comedies and dramas about drunk, sexually repressed 1950s TV personalities offers endless delights for the discerning viewer. Did you watch Great Thinkers: In Their Own Words the other week? It was great. You don’t encounter much rare footage of Marshall McLuhan making a fool of himself on, say, The Good Food Channel. It costs relatively little. It has won awards. The BBC must be delighted with its achievement.

Maybe ┬ánot. It has emerged that, facing cuts of some 20 per cent, the corporation — rather than culling Cash in the Attic or cutting down on programmes featuring Bill Oddie looking at stoats — is to considerably scale back the channel’s operations. The initial news is not so terrible. The biggest money drain is drama and the likes of Hattie or Twenty Twelve could — I said “could” — still emerge on BBC Two. Even with those levels of cuts, we might still, quite reasonably, expect to see talking-head documentaries about post-war poets and the role of the theramin in 1960s pop music. Still, why tinker with something that people (albeit not so many of them) love quite so much? The British license fee exists to allow just this sort of mid- to high-brow indulgence.

The real worry is, however, that the whole station might ultimately find itself in the firing line. I guess there’s not much we can do about it on this side of the Irish Sea. If you can be arsed, you can sign one of those online petitions that do so much good. But, given that most of you don’t pay the license, Auntie would be within her rights to tell you to sling your foreign hook. Boo! Boo!

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