The Times - UK (2022-01-24)

(Antfer) #1

the times | Monday January 24 2022 7


BBC4 is at risk as the corporation
scrambles to plug a £1.5 billion funding
gap after the licence fee was frozen for
two years.
Several BBC sources have said that
the highbrow channel, which shows
arts programmes and foreign dramas
and was once home to comedy shows
including The Thick Of It and
Detectorists, cannot survive another
round of cuts.
BBC4 has been under threat for years
but instead of closing the channel and
risking an audience backlash, the BBC
has repositioned it as an archive ser-
vice. Nearly 90 per cent of its schedule
comprises repeats. “In a world where
you’ve got to make tough choices, it has
started to stick out like a sore thumb,”
one BBC insider said. Another said:
“I’m not sure how it will survive.”
The channel has a content budget of
£30 million, not a significant saving in
the context of a £1.5 billion funding
shortfall. There is increasingly a view,
however, that the days of “salami slic-

BBC4 could be scrapped to save

cash after freezing of licence fee

ing” are over and the BBC needs to re-
trench in certain areas to make better
use of its funding. What remains of
BBC4’s original programming, such as
The Sky At Night, could be used to bol-
ster BBC2, sources said, while archive
content could be shown on iPlayer.
Shows such as Digging for Britain, host-
ed by Professor Alice Roberts, have
already made the jump to BBC2 and
seen their audiences increase.
BBC4 and BBC2 have been brought
closer together over the years. Jo Smith
serves as the portfolio editor for both
channels after the BBC scrapped
channel controller roles last year and
handed greater powers to executives in
charge of programming genres, such as
drama and entertainment.
Tim Davie, the BBC director-gener-
al, was asked last week about whether
TV channels would be scrapped after
the government held the licence fee at
£159 for the next two years. “Every-
thing’s on the agenda,” he told Radio 4.
Davie added that the corporation
must reshape itself for a digital future,
in which audiences are increasingly

migrating online. He has previously
voiced ambitions to have “more impact
by making less”.
Any move to scrap BBC4 is likely to
be met with resistance. The last time
BBC4 came under threat was in 2020,
when a petition to save the channel
amassed nearly 80,000 signatures.
Stars including the historian Lucy
Worsley voiced concern.
There has also been speculation
about whether BBC2 can survive,
though employees believe it is too im-
portant to lose. Under its royal charter,
the BBC has to broadcast set hours of
public service content, including arts,
music and religious programmes.
Insiders want the BBC’s quotas
re-examined as part of the mid-
term charter review, which begins
this year. They argue that channel-
specific quotas are outdated at a
time when viewers increasingly
use catch-up services.
The BBC is yet to make a for-
mal decision on BBC4’s future.
Censors, leave our radio treasures be,
Libby Purves, page 27

Jake Kanter Media Correspondent

‘Give NHS staff

pay increase

to stop exodus’

Kat Lay Health Editor

Unions have demanded an “inflation-
busting” pay rise for NHS workers to
stop a “growing exodus” of exhausted
staff including nurses and midwives.
Their call came as analysis said the
NHS had lost 1.8 million days to staff off
work with long Covid in England.
In a submission to the independent
NHS pay review body, a group of 14
unions representing 1.2 million health
workers warned that patients would
suffer without a decent pay rise to stem
the flow of staff leaving the service.
Their members, who include porters,
nurses, healthcare assistants, midwives
and cleaners, were in many cases ac-
tively seeking other employment or se-
riously considering a move, they said.
They added that they were con-
cerned the government had yet to pro-
duce its own submission before a dead-
line today, accusing ministers of treat-
ing the process “with contempt”.
A Department of Health and Social
Care spokesman said NHS staff had
“rightly received a 3 per cent pay rise
this year”.

Channel’s biggest hits

The Thick of It Armando Iannucci’s
searing political comedy launched
on BBC4 before it migrated to BBC2.
Detectorists Mackenzie Crook’s
metal detector sitcom won Baftas
and made a Radio Times ranking of
the top 20 comedies in TV history.
Twenty Twelve The mockumentary
about the Olympic Deliverance
Commission morphed into W1A,
which became shorthand for BBC
Wipe Charlie Brooker’s glowering
takedowns of TV, politics and
popular culture are now being
replicated on Netflix for a global
audience of millions.
The Killing BBC4 started a
craze for Nordic noir after
acquiring shows like The
Killing, with Sofie Grabol,
right, from Denmark.

The infinite

glare of our

Mona Lisa

He looks at us with a gaze at once
penetrating, challenging and infinite,
this English Mona Lisa who, like the
famous Italian, waits alone before a
chill, dark and empty landscape.
Blue against brown: brown against
blue would have been more the thing
for a commissioned portrait. But this
was not commissioned — it was
painted at speed over a standing
portrait of what looks from x-rays like
a professional gent. Gainsborough
perhaps quarrelled with the sitter and
was not paid. So he cut the canvas
down, painted it out, and began to
show what else he could deliver.
From a stock of fancy clothes,
enhanced from his milliner sister
Mary’s shop next door, he dressed his
studio assistant and nephew
Gainsborough Dupont in blue silk,
lacy collar, silk stockings, whimsical
blue-ribboned shoes, and a dozen or
more buttons. Gainsborough loved
buttons. He gave him an ostrich-
feather hat to hold and told him to
pose like a prince. His dog got into
the painting, at the boy’s feet, but was
painted out, in Hugh Belsey’s words,
to give “the image greater gravitas”.
The result, being slightly smaller
than the standard, stood out in a hang
of portraits. Gainsborough showed it
when the paint was barely dry at the
Royal Academy in 1770. It lifts the
spirits, and sings with the reflected
genius of van Dyck, the artist whom
Gainsborough revered above all.
When The Blue Boy left for America
100 years ago it had been displayed in
Manchester, Liverpool, London’s
Grosvenor Gallery and the RA again.
It had a farewell showing at the
National Gallery. Exactly a century
later it is back for a curtain call.
James Hamilton is the author of
Gainsborough – A Portrait


n 18th-
dubbed the
Mona Lisa will return
on loan to the UK this
week after a century in
the US (Jake Kanter
Gainsborough’s The
Blue Boy will hang in
the National Gallery
from tomorrow, exactly
100 years after it sailed
across the Atlantic to
The Blue Boy is
painted on a child-size
canvas and depicts
a bright-eyed boy in
a striking blue
aristocratic outfit. The
child is Gainsborough’s
nephew, Gainsborough
Dupont. It first
appeared in public in
the Royal Academy
exhibition of 1770 as A
Portrait of a Young
Gentleman. It received
critical acclaim, with
The Times describing it
as the “courtly grace
and serene carriage of

a people who knew
themselves a great
people and were not
ashamed to own it”.
The painting was sold
to Henry Huntington,
an American collector,
in 1921 for $728,000,
which was a record at
the time. It has since
hung in the Huntington
Library, Art Museum
and Botanical Gardens
in California.
The gallery is lending
The Blue Boy to the
National Gallery for
four months under
what it describes as a
“rigorous set of
protocols”. A panel of
conservators and
curators carried out a
review in 2019 to assess
how the painting could
travel overseas.
The gallery said: “The
Blue Boy represents the
best of 18th-century
British art.”

Boy in blue back

at the National

The Blue Boy by Thomas
Gainsborough, which
made its way to The
Huntington Library in
California in 1922, left


James Hamilton
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