The BBC is worth “storming the Bastille” to save and would never be reinvented if it was destroyed, the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg has said.
Bragg spent most of his television career at ITV but said he was “foursquare” behind the BBC and spoke out against those who are out to get it.
“Have a go at it, fine,” he told the Radio Times. “But to try to damage it, as some people are doing, try to pull it down? The BBC is worth fighting hard for, worth storming the Bastille for, and saying: ‘No, you can’t do that.’”
In the interview Bragg also spoke out against Channel 4 privatisation, expressed support for retaining colonialist statues and revealed a passion for Game of Thrones.
Bragg, once described by John Humphrys as “a giant, a titan of broadcasting”, began his career at the BBC in the early 1960s, joining London Weekend Television in 1978 where he conceived and presented ITV’s flagship arts programme the South Bank Show until it was axed in 2010. It transferred to Sky Arts in 2012.
Most of his BBC work has been on Radio 4, presenting more than 900 episodes of the history programme In Our Time since 1998.
The BBC’s midterm charter review takes place next year and concerns have been raised that hardline Conservatives are out to destroy it.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, last month gave one of the clearest indications that ministers are considering sweeping changes when she described next year’s review as “a very, very significant moment” for its governance structures.
Bragg said he was firmly behind the BBC. “If it was destroyed, it would never be reinvented,” he said. Sky Arts was wonderful for the arts, he said, Netflix had money for drama but no broadcaster had the breadth of the BBC’s output.
“The BBC gives you the full monty and it’s ours.”
He expressed dismay at plans to privatise Channel 4, calling it a standard bearer for the arts. “We’d lose a great deal if it’s sold off to the highest bidder. What’s the point?”
Bragg also said he supported keeping controversial statues, such as the Cecil Rhodes statue in Oxford, which he believed should have a sign explaining what he did. “We’ve got to face our past. To wipe out our past is actually to wipe out our memory, and to wipe out our memory is to amputate the culture.”
He was speaking ahead of this year’s South Bank Show arts awards on Sky Arts. After a scaled-back lockdown ceremony at the London Coliseum in December 2020, this year’s awards are back for their 25th anniversary in more familiar guise with a ceremony next month at the Savoy hotel.
The awards span the full gamut of the arts with Dua Lipa, J Hus and the mystery collective Sault battling it out for the pop award. In visual arts it is between Denzil Forrester’s exhibition in Nottingham and Bristol, Cold War Steve Meets the Outside World and the National Portrait Gallery’s life under lockdown project, Hold Still.
Bragg has always been against seeing culture in terms of high and low and spoke about his and his wife’s joy at bingeing on Game of Thrones, accompanied by lots of red wine.
It has such resonances with Shakespeare and the north of England, Bragg said. He got hooked and it was a case of “just one more”. “It was 4.30 in the morning when we finished.”