Cardiff & the BBC’s continued cultural deficit

In BBC, Classical Music, Review on June 19, 2013 at 10:44 am

Cardiff Singer of the World should be one of the highlights of the BBC’s calendar in terms of the arts. For a whole week all attention is focused on the city as a panel of judges listen to performance after performance to find singers that will go on to fulfil their dreams of a career as an professional singer.

I am envious of those who can make it to Cardiff even once this week and sit in St David’s Hall. Unlike them, the majority of us must rely on the BBC.

So am I the only one who feels cheated by the BBC?

First and foremost Cardiff Singer of the World is relegated in its entirety to BBC Four and Radio 3. Like the Proms it has been exiled to that distant cultural television outpost by the BBC’s top brass.

No wonder Richard Klein has jumped ship.

Instead the mainstream audience are offered a thirty-minute programme on BBC Two every night. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it is hosted by two complete and total incompetents – Connie Fisher and Tim Rhys Evans. Based on the first half hour it seems that their joint knowledge of singing is totally dependent on whatever some researcher has written on the autocue.

Their only qualification seems to be that they are Welsh. On that premise we should expect that the BBC’s history programmes be presented only by those actually related to the subjects of the documentaries; nature programmes by Doctor Doolittle and news by real journalists and not news ‘readers’.

The nadir of the first programme was when Connie Fisher – at a loss for words in the face of the real talent of Katherine Broderick – had to resort to speaking about her dress. I don’t deny that most of us may mention on occasion a singer’s outfit but it was clear that Ms Fisher’s knowledge didn’t extend any further as the matter was compounded when the autocue clearly failed and she made a hash of filling the void by referring to Rhys Evans’ knighthood.

She couldn’t even get the honour correct.

And their guests were a similar reflection of the total lack of regard that the BBC has for arts programming. Alongside the very excellent Rosemary Joshua, who seemed completely nonplussed by the stupidity around her, the BBC wheeled out that vocal insurance salesman Wynne Evans. To hear him speak with his faux authority on the quality of the singers was ‘comparable’ to the presenters’ own ignorance and lack of insight.

Could the BBC not find one person – in Wales let alone the entire UK – who could speak and host even half an hour on BBC Two with real authority? Why not Petroc Trelawney who is hosting the BBC Four show? Why not another Radio 3 presenter?

Clearly Ms Hadlow, the hapless and hopeless controller of BBC Two still thinks that her audience like being treated as if they are idiots. Her approach to arts programming – as witnessed by Maestro at the Opera – is akin to restoring a painting with crayons – crass and offensive.

From what I hear ‘Call Me Tony’ Hall is making arts a priority. This is either a knee-jerk reaction to recent criticisms from the likes of Brian Sewell or a realisation that without some limp gesture in this area, its charter renewal will be bloody.

But what I fear is that this ‘commitment’ is pure spin. The BBC is currently working on the premise of telling people what they think they want to hear and covering everything they do with a thin veneer of make-believe. They are operating on the belief that saying something – anything – once is enough. Delivering doesn’t matter.

I am sure Tony Hall will be at the final at the end of the week. I am sure that the cameras will pan to him sitting in the audience more than once. I am sure that will be spun into his ‘personal’ commitment to the arts.

But being seen to do something simply isn’t enough. The BBC seems quite content to wantonly fritter millions of pounds on cheap and failing entertainment shows, digital ideas that don’t deliver and ‘hush money’ but seem incapable of treating their audience with even a modicum of respect.

Perhaps Cardiff Singer Of The World should shop around for a more committed broadcaster for its next competition in 2015?

Like the rest of us, it surely can’t just hope things will get better at Auntie.

  1. Couldn’t agree more about the dreadful “highlights” show – embarrassing in the extreme. And even the main event concerts stoop to hideous backstage intervention by Ms d’Arby (Welsh). Speaking as a Welsh person I also sincerely hope that things will improve and that expert commentators and guests will prevail.

  2. Agree fully about CSOTW coverage. It’s a sad day when the best they could get was “The Go Compare Man”, and even sadder when he was about the most insightful on the show. Connie Fisher is painful to watch. But the editing was as bad as the presenting; they were cutting the previews at climaxes! In fairness, though, the full version (broadcast the day after each round on BBC4) is actually quality programming, contains the full performances and the comments are better (although it very wisely doesn’t spend much time on this aspect).

    Do yourself a favour – watch it at 7:30 tonight on BBC 4 and ignore the 10:00 show.

    I do have to disagree with your comments on BBC4 though. BBC 4 is now available in every home on channel 9, before you even get to ITV2, Dave and other such relatively popular channels. BBC 4 has given us more cultural content than we would have had otherwise. Not long ago, we’d have only had the mediocre-at-best half hour show broadcast in the mid-afternoon or late evening timeslots. This week, the full show is given prime billing at 7:30pm. And that’s not all. Additional broadcasts of the Proms and from the Royal Opera House simply wouldn’t have happened on BBC 2, and if they did it would have been at their quietest times. On BBC4 on the other hand, they’re broadcast in the primetime slots when lots of people are sitting down to the telly anyway. What’s going to bring in more viewers: 7:30pm on BBC 4 or 2:30am on BBC 2 (which is where a lot of this content would probably have been otherwise).

    • Thank you and don’t get me wrong, I love BBC Four. In fact I think I watch BBC Four more than another other TV channel. My beef is how the BBC views it as its “get out of jail free” card when it comes to arts and cultural programming as a whole, evidenced by slashing its budget. I just think that the BBC should put more arts programming on BBC Two and schedule it confidently rather than worry about ratings.

  3. […] featuring David Attenborough, there is something as crass as The Voice. For every Prom concert, Cardiff Singer or Young Musician there are the equally disturbing idiocies such as Maestro At The Opera. For every […]

  4. […] same for Cardiff Singer. A wholly missed opportunity. And what about such ventures as Maestro at the Opera, or the new […]

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