Monday, 1 February 2016

332 The South Bank Show

First  viewed  : 28  January  1978

This  is  a  real  mystery. I  definitely  recall  watching  the  first  few  minutes  of  this  edition  of  The  South  Bank  Show,  which  featured  this  great  Shakespearean  actor  Alan  Howard  of  whom  I'd  never  heard,  but  can't  think  why  I'd  be  up  so  late. The  adjacent  programmes  give  no  clue,  in  fact  they  deepen  the  mystery. If  I  was  up  past  ten,  why  wasn't  I  watching  Match  of  the  Day   (  South  Bank  Show  started  out  on  Saturday  evenings  before  moving  to  its  customary  Sunday  slot )  on  BBC1  ?

The  Howard  edition   was  actually  only   the  third  to  be  broadcast. The  South  Bank  Show   was  replacing  the  long-running  Aquarius  as  ITV's  main  arts  programme . It  aimed  to  be  more  accessible  than  its  predecessor  and  chief  weapon  in  this  was  the  presenter  Melvyn  Bragg  who  was  poached  from  BBC2. The  adenoidal  Cumbrian  was  the  most  likable  presenter on  TV  , the  perfect  bridge  between  the  high  brow  content  and  the  average  viewer  with  his  air  of  unruffled  intelligence  and  assured  handling  of  temperamental  artistes.

I'll  declare  straight  out  that  I  don't  have  high  brow  tastes . I  don't  have  the  slightest  interest  in  opera ,ballet  or  classical  music  and  only  moderate  interest  in  art  and  the  theatre  so  most  of  the  time  the  show's  content  was  of  no  concern  to  me. On  the  other  hand  I  really  liked  the  theme  music  ( Andrew  Lloyd  Webber's  Variations  )  so  the  usual Sunday  night   pattern  was  to  wait  for  the  music, listen  to  Bragg's  introduction  and  then  go  to  bed.

I  did  sometimes  watch  it  through  when  they  were  profiling  a  rock  artist. I  remember  the  one  about  The  Smiths  in  1987  which  was  rendered  slightly  redundant  by  the  announcement  of  their  split  shortly  before   it  was  broadcast. It  was  also  notable  for  the  contributions  of  a  rather  embarrassing  teenage  Morrissey  wannabe  called  Shaun  Duggan  but  he's  subsequently  proved  himself  as  a  prolific  TV  scriptwriter. Others  I  recall  were  one  on  Suzanne  Vega  the  following  year  and  a  rather  arty  one  on  New  Order  in  the  mid-nineties  which  I  think  I've  still  got  somewhere.

The  series  was  finally  axed  in  2010.  The  word  was  that  the  70-year  old  Lord  Bragg  ( as  he  has  been  since  1998 )  wanted  to  retire  but  he  denied  that  and  has  participated  in  Sky's  resurrection  of  the  show  from  2012.

As  for  Howard  his  name  remained  largely  unknown  to  the  non-theatre  going  public. Such  was  his  dedication  to  the  stage  that  he  only  made  one  film  of  note, Peter  Greenaway's  The  Cook, The  Thief,  His  Wife  &  Her  Lover  and  irregular  appearances  on  TV  in  character  roles.
He  died  on  Valentine's  Day  last  year  aged  77. 

1 comment:

  1. As a Cumbrian, I've rarely had much time for Bragg, who only seems to play up his roots when he wants to appear a bit more "Northern" to his mates in the Smoke.

    Like you, the show rarely broadcast anything I had an interest in, and I much preferred Vic and Bob's piss-take of it, featuring a Bragg more interested in the accessories on his bike.