David Attenborough: the BBC ‘doesn’t do enough’ for culture and the arts

Sir David Attenborough said that while the BBC vital as a public service broadcaster, there are "lots of gaps" in its coverage as a result of pressure from critics

Sir David Attenborough in Blue Planet II (BBC, TL)

Sir David Attenborough has said that the BBC remains vital as a public service broadcaster – but that it should do better when it comes to culture and arts programming.

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In an exclusive interview with Radio Times to celebrate the magazine’s 95th birthday, the 92-year-old broadcaster said that there are “lots of gaps in the BBC’s coverage now”, as a result of the broadcaster being “harried and badgered” by its critics.

Specifically, Attenborough believes that the BBC ‘does not do enough’ to promote the arts and culture on TV.

Asked what is lacking in the BBC’s schedules, Attenborough told Radio Times, “The cultural, the arts programmes”.

Attenborough 95th anniversary cover

“I don’t think the BBC does enough,” he said. “It’s not enough simply to say, ‘Well, it doesn’t get a big enough audience.’ If you’re a public service broadcaster, what you should be saying is, ‘We will show the broad spectrum of human interest.’ People of all kinds should be catered for.”

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 02/12/2017 - Programme Name: Blue Planet II - TX: 10/12/2017 - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: The leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). Weighing over half a ton, it is largest turtle on the planet but globally, its numbers have fallen catastrophically. Sir David Attenborough travels to Trinidad to meet a remarkable community that are trying to save these iconic giants. Sir David Attenborough, Leatherback turtle - (C) Gavin Thurston - Photographer: Gavin Thurston
David Attenborough believes more could be done for arts and culture programmes on the BBC (photo by Gavin Thurston)

Attenborough added that the BBC should be wary of chasing viewing figures as a way of combatting broadcasting rivals.

“You can measure success not necessarily by the maximum size of the audience, but by the maximum width of the spectrum, and see whether there aren’t any gaps in it and how you’re filling them,” he said. “There are a lot of gaps in the BBC’s coverage now, in my view, and that’s because they are harried and badgered by all sorts of people.”

However, Attenborough added that the BBC would be ‘missed desperately’ should the public service broadcaster ever go off air.

“There are things that only public service can do and will do, and the BBC does them, and the moment it stops doing them you might as well write it off, because there’s no point to it,” he said.

A BBC spokesperson said: “David rightly recognises the importance of arts and cultural programming in public service broadcasting and no other comes close to the BBC’s commitment – from Civilisations and Performance Live, to regular arts discussion programmes and the forthcoming yearlong Our Classical Century – that said, we would love to do even more, which is why the BBC has said that we need to look at ways of increasing our income.”

Attenborough led the celebrations as one of a host of stars in Radio Times’s 95th birthday issue.

Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC, HF)
Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC)

Jodie Whittaker, who landed her first cover in July after she was announced as the Thirteenth Doctor in hit series Doctor Who, laughed that her first appearance in the legendary magazine was ten years previously after starring in 2008 drama Consuming Passion, adding that appearing on the cover is “such a big deal”

Keeley Hawes, Bodyguard (BBC, EH)
Kelley Hawes has landed several Radio Times covers (BBC)

Bodyguard star Keeley Hawes, who starred on a collection of front covers while appearing in Spooks, joked, “When you get older, people joke, ‘Weren’t you on the first cover of Radio Times?’ I was not! It’s always a great honour, a pleasure and a privilege to be on the cover.”

Strictly Come Dancing Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman
Claudia Winkleman says landing the cover is ‘an utter honour’

Claudia Winkleman, who starred alongside Strictly co-host Tess Daly for a Radio Times cover in 2014, also shared her joy about being picked to feature on the front of the magazine.

“To be asked to be on the cover of Radio Times is a total and utter honour, a privilege,” she said. “Whenever I’ve been asked, I’ve just sat, mouth agape, body covered in goose bumps and then skipped about all day. You’re brilliant, Radio Times. Happy, happy birthday.”

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Radio Times’ 95th Birthday issue, is on sale from Tuesday 25th September