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.