BBC4: Freeview 9, Sky 116, Virgin 107
Come this Friday night, there is only one place you will be able to tune in to a documentary about âthe life and work of the composer, who is best known for the choral song Jerusalem and the well-loved hymn Dear Lordâ?. And it isnât ITV2.
Since 2002, BBC Four has been working against the tide of mindless primetime reality shows featuring celebrities falling over on ice and/or flashing their breasts at unsuspecting teenagers to bring us âan ambitious range of innovative, high quality programming that is intellectually and culturally enrichingâ?.
Replacing BBC Knowledge, this used to be a channel which only history teachers could get excited enough to soil themselves over but BBC Four has evolved. The channel has become the number one destination for subtitled thrillers of Scandinavian descent including The Killing, Borgen and upcoming mafia drama, Lilyhammer. This Saturday night will also see the dramatic debut of Italian detective show, Inspector Montalbano.
Glancing back at the launch line-up in 2002,Â we seeÂ âa week of programming devoted to the relationship between the three great primates of Africaâ¦and mankindâ? but there is a distinct lack of the kind of lip-smacking âdonât missâ? dramas that fill some of the channelâs most celebrated TV slots nowadays. Obviously it can’t compete financially with Sky Atlantic, which is currently bathing in the glory that its fine dramatic stock has garnered, with headline acts Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones and Mildred Pierce all bagging awards last year, so it must find cleverer ways of getting hold of hits.
As such BBC Four have become masters of unearthing low-key gems from abroad and it gave Â Mad Men it’s break in the UK and other firm favourites like Flight of the Conchords have also been given a platform. Meanwhile homegrown shows like The Thick Of It have also been wildly successful and graduated to BBC Two and the channel has now succeeded in opening the door to subtitled drama and an entire cultural phenomenon involving garish knitwear. Honestly, who knew that the British people were prepared to read words AS WELL AS watch the picture?
Every year the channel is tasked with cramming in 100 hours of new arts and music programmes, 110 hours of factual programming and premiering 20 international films. The rest of BBC Fourâs schedule is cobbled together using repeats dredged up from Auntyâs archives. In January, the Daily Mail were positively livid about the programmes aired by the station, âmore than half of BBC4âs are reruns even though the channels only run from 7pm to 4am!â?, the paper spat.
But the jury is out as to whether this really represents bad value for viewerâs money. Let us not forget that this channel receives an annual budget of Â£54.3million, compared to BBC Oneâs 2011/12 allowance of Â£1,167 million. Quality drama and documentaries cost money to make, commission and purchase and many would argue that the recompense for this comes in the shape of repeats which can (sometimes) even be enjoyable despite lacking box fresh appeal.
While ITV2 offers cheap and cheerful bubblegum for the eyes on a Saturday night with the new series premier of Celebrity Juice, BBC Four offers Top Of The Pops: 1977. It may not always offer the most contemporary viewing experience but for many, this is precisely its appeal.