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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
Bragg: BBC 'ignores' new art
Melvyn Bragg
Melvyn Bragg is respected in the art world
Leading broadcaster Melvyn Bragg has criticised the BBC for ignoring young British artists.

Lord Bragg said the corporation's aversion to taking risks and concentrating on the past was exemplified by a three-part series on Leonardo da Vinci.

The show, presented by Alan Yentob, is a highlight of the BBC's autumn arts coverage.

Da Vinci's Mona Lisa
The three-part Da Vinci series is a highlight
But Lord Bragg likened the BBC's veneration of "The Great Dead" to "warm bath television with no risks".

"Leonardo is terrific. But what about travelling to the East End of London where there are so many artists working? Why not pick six of them? There are artists all over the place," he said.

"I think they should get stuck in with modern people and do something much riskier.

"We need the BBC not only to celebrate and sanctify the past, we need it to use the documentary form to look at and take risks with the present."

For the second year running, Lord Bragg used the launch of the new series of the South Bank Show to attack the corporation's arts coverage.

Arts return

Last year he accused the BBC of "a total dereliction of its public duty" for not giving enough time to the arts.

Lord Bragg's ITV show - seen by many as the more populist side of arts programming - has not been afraid to mix profiles of subjects old and new.

The author admitted BBC One's arts coverage had improved this year and he paid tribute to "the beginning of its return to the arts".

Leonardo da Vinci
Bragg said older artists got too much coverage
South Bank Show subjects for its 26th series include director Mike Leigh, US comedy legend Joan Rivers, grizzled country star Willie Nelson and 21-year-old R&B singer Craig David.

The run starts with Ken Russell's film on the life of Elgar, Fantasy On A Composer On A Bicycle. Russell has been fascinated by composers throughout his career, with previous subjects including Bax, Debussy, Bartok and Liszt.

The programme marks th 40th anniversary of Russell's first treatment of Elgar in a classic documentary for the Monitor programme.

Lord Bragg also revealed that an eight-part series featuring his own history of the English language had been turned down by the BBC.

Strong programming

The Adventure of English - which he wrote, presented and produced - will now be shown by ITV.

A BBC spokesman said: "It's great that Melvyn has recognised the BBC's strong arts programming over the last year.

"But it is a little strange that he feels the BBC arts only focus on 'The Great Dead' when in recent months broadcasts have included a major series on Britart and a documentary on the extraordinary work of Michael Landy.

"These were in addition to regular discussions on contemporary art on programmes such as Newsnight Review.

"It is the rich mix of historical and contemporary British and international subjects which make BBC arts so exciting and varied."

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