By the time this virus crisis has subsided, the next boss of the BBC should be sorted, since Tony Hall is meant to leave in June. There are now calls for Peter Bazalgette to throw his hat in the ring as the most senior and respected figure in the industry. A former president of the Royal Television Society and current chairman of ITV, Bazalgette has worked in television for more than 40 years, initially at the BBC before becoming an extremely successful producer and creator, with hits like Ready Steady Cook. He ticks many boxes to become the next director general at a time of crisis, especially over future funding. Bazalgette would also bring outsider experience and insider knowledge to an institution that needs radical reform.
But he has been telling friends he is too old, at 66. Really? He is still very active, enthusiastic and clear-headed. It is the BBC board that picks the next DG, and two grands fromages on the board, Nick Serota, former director of the Tate, and Steve Morrison, the veteran TV executive, really count. Maybe the public-spirited Bazalgette (he chaired Arts Council England from 2012 to 2016 and currently sits on several arts and research bodies) can be persuaded, though I suspect Tim Davie, chief executive of BBC Studios, remains the more likely candidate. But Bazalgette has another chance of “running” the Beeb. A new chair of its board, which is a No 10 Downing Street appointment, is to be announced later this year. And politically, he is more right than left…
With live arts closed down, what opportunities are there other than bingeing on Netflix et al? In the theatre, some shows, already filmed internally, may be put online, while NT Live, which has so far not been streamed into homes, is pondering if this could change. After all, it has a huge collection of productions, and is already in schools. But there is another offering, Digital Theatre, with West End plays and a few musicals already available for your laptop or your TV at £9.99 a month.
Set up a decade ago, it has had a lowish profile but has loads of content, mainly plays, shot in high definition, such as All My Sons with David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker or Hamlet starring Paapa Essiedu. It too goes into schools as Digital Theatre+, where it has been more active, and where, online, it has also collated many interviews with actors talking about their craft. With former arts minister Ed Vaizey now chair of its advisory board, it has major plans for expansion. And, to relieve anxiety in our present febrile state, Digital Theatre’s latest offering is Funny Girl with Sheridan Smith.
A month ago I pointed out how wrong it was that Stig Abell was still presenting Radio 4’s Front Row when he had been appointed launch editor of Times Radio – a planned rival to R4. Well, his BBC bosses finally came to their senses with his final programme on 17 March, though he never actually “signed off” for listeners. Perhaps good timing for Abell, as I wonder how Front Row itself will continue while all arts venues are closed.