U.S. Situation Comedy

Melvyn Bragg has become the most articulate spokesman for the Arts on Independent Television (ITV) in Britain. As presenter and editor of The South Bank Show since 1978 and Head of Arts for London Weekend Television from 1982 to 1990 (since 1990 Controller of Arts) Bragg has attained the same fame as an Arts expert for ITV that Huw Wheldon enjoyed in the 1960s for the BBC tv arts program Monitor in the 1960s. Both Wheldon and Bragg became senior management administrators because of their successful role as Arts presenters and both became articulate authors who wrote extensively about the directions in which television should develop.

Bragg was a working class boy who went to Wadham College Oxford. After Oxford he joined the BBC as a radio and later television producer, but he never forgot his origins, and viewers shared with him his genuine delight in new artistic discovery. At the BBC he worked for the Monitor program under Huw Wheldon, and became widely respected for his arts reporting. In 1967 Bragg became a freelance writer and broadcaster, working as producer and editor of New Release and Writers' World, and later presenting the BBC series 2nd House and Read all About It. Interviewed in 1970, he explained that when he worked for the BBC in the sixties he had wanted to make arts programs current; he added that he wanted to put on the arts because "I think it's the only way that People, with a capital P, are going to find out about the things that I particularly like. Missionary is too strong a word for it and propaganda is the wrong word--but it's certainly to do with the fact that the people I was born and brought up among very rarely read books, but all of them look at television."

Bragg's tenure as the anchor of the BBC Radio 4 program Start the Week, as well as being editor of The South Bank Show has given him a role as "Arts Tsar" or "Arts Supremo." Critics have suggested that "any traffic between high art and mass taste had to pass through Bragg's custom post", as Henry Porter wrote in the Guardian. Bragg replied that in England if anyone gets too big for their boots they get cut off at the knees. His long tenure as presenter of The South Bank Show has kept the flag flying for the Arts on ITV, and at times the program has achieved greatness, especially with Bragg's portrait of the English Film Director David Lean. His arts stories have been sold worldwide, and history will see his contribution to The South Bank Show to be as remarkable as Huw Wheldon's to Monitor.

Bragg is a also a prolific writer with fifteen novels to his credit, some depicting his working class background in Cumbria; his 1990 novel A Time to Dance was televised in 1992. He has written two stage musicals; Mardi Gras in 1976 and The Hired Man in 1984. His screenplays include Isadora, Jesus Christ Superstar and, together with Ken Russell, Clouds of Glory. Bragg is also a prolific journalist, and has written for the Guardian, the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard and other English newspapers.

As Chairman of the ITV program contractor Border Television since 1990, Melvyn Bragg's views are heard with respect. Without his skills and dedication, it is possible that Arts programs on ITV might have been marginalized in the same way that ITV religious programs have been marginalized. His presence has ensured good time slots and good ratings for The South Bank Show. And his clear-sighted integrity has endeared him to television makers, artists and politicians alike.

Established himself as an outstanding arts presenter, Bragg is also seen as a wise elder statesman commenting on the future of ITV. In the 1980s his Guardian article in July 1984 on ITV's identity crisis was a timely warning of ITV's future problems. In the 1990s he warned the Government that British television is being turned into a two-tier system, "telly for nobs and telly for slobs", and that it was being destroyed by a "class and cash system" whereby satellite and cable television systems were able to syphon off prime material. Every newspaper reported his speech, and the Daily Telegraph devoted an editorial to the subject. Such leadership, all too rare in the independent sector, suggests that Melvyn Bragg will be remembered as one of the greatest of the ITV leaders in the 1980s and 1990s.

-Andrew Quicke

MELVYN BRAGG. Born in Carlisle, Cumberland, 6 October 1939. Attended Nelson-Thomlinson Grammar School, Wigton, Cumberland, 1950-58; Wadham College, Oxford, 1958-61, M.A. honours 1961. Married 1) Marie-Elisabeth Roche in 1961 (died 1971), one daughter; 2) Catherine Mary Haste in 1973, one daughter and one son. Joined BBC as general trainee, 1961; producer and presenter of numerous arts programmes, 1963-67; writer and broadcaster, 1967-78; editor and presenter of The South Bank Show, from 1978; Head of Arts, London Weekend Television, 1982-90; deputy chairman, Border Television, 1985-90; presenter of BBC Radio's Start the Week since 1988. Controller of Arts, London Weekend Television, since 1990; chairman, Border Television, Carlisle, since 1990. D.Litt: University of Liverpool, 1986; University of Lancaster, 1990; Council for National Academic Awards, 1990; D.Univ.: Open University, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, 1987; LLD, University of St. Andrew's, 1993; DCL, University of Northumbria, 1994. Fellow: Royal Society of Literature, 1970; Royal Television Society; Lancashire Polytechnic, 1987; St. Catherine's College, Oxford, 1990. Member: Arts Council (chairman, Arts Council Literature Panel, 1977-80); Cumbrians for Peace (president, since 1982); Northern Arts (chairman, 1983-87); National Campaign for the Arts (chairman since 1986). Recipient: Writers Guild Screenplay Award, 1966; Rhys Memorial Prize, 1968; Northern Arts Association Prose Award, 1970; Silver Pen Award, 1970; Broadcasting Guild Award, 1984; Ivor Novello Musical Award, 1985; British Academy of Film and Television Arts Dimbleby Award, 1986. Address: 12 Hampstead Hill Gardens, London NW3 2PL, U.K.

Melvyn Bragg


1963-65 Monitor (producer)
1964-70 New Release/Review/Arena (editor)
1964-70 Writers' World (editor)
1964-70 Take It or Leave It (editor)
1971 In the Picture (presenter)
1973-77 Second House (presenter)
1976-77 Read All About It (editor and presenter)
1978- The South Bank Show (editor and presenter) 1989- The Late Show (presenter)

(selection; editor, presenter, and writer)

Maria Callas: An Operatic Biography; The Literary Island; Land of the Lakes; Richard Burton: In from the Cold; Paris Live! The French Revolution Bicentennial.


1965 The Debussy File (with Ken Russell)
1970 Charity Begins at Home
1972 Zinotchka
1977 Orion (with Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley)
1990 A Time to Dance


Play Dirty, with Lotte Colin, 1968; Isadora, with Clive Exton and Margaret Drabble, 1969; The Music Lovers, 1970; Jesus Christ Superstar, with Norman Jewison, 1973; Marathon: The Flames of Peace, 1992.


The Tall Guy, 1989.

STAGE (writer)

Mardi Gras, with Alan Blaikley and Ken Howard, 1976; The Hired Man, with Howard Goodall, 1984; King Lear in New York, 1992.


For Want of a Nail (novel). London: Secker and Warburg, 1965; New York: Knopf, 1965.
The Second Inheritance (novel). London: Secker and Warburg, 1966; New York: Knopf, 1967.
Without a City Wall (novel). London: Secker and Warburg, 1968; New York: Knopf, 1969.
The Hired Man (novel). London: Secker and Warburg, 1969; New York: Knopf, 1970.
A Place in England (novel). London: Secker and Warburg, 1970; New York: Knopf, 1971.
The Nerve (novel). London: Secker and Warburg, 1971. The Hunt (novel). London: Secker and Warburg, 1972; New York: Knopf, 1972.
Josh Lawton (novel). London: Secker and Warburg, 1972; New York: Knopf, 1972.
The Silken Net (novel). London: Secker and Warburg, 1974; New York, Knopf, 1974.
Speak for England: An Essay on England 1900-1975. London: Secker and Warburg, 1976; as Speak for England: An Oral History of England 1900-1975, New York: Knopf, 1977.
A Christmas Child (children's fiction). London: Secker and Warburg, 1976.
Autumn Manoeuvres (novel). London: Secker and Warburg, 1978; New York: Knopf, 1978.
Kingdom Come (novel). London: Secker and Warburg, 1980.
My Favourite Stories of Lakeland (editor). Guildford, Surrey: Lutterworth Press, 1981.
Love and Glory (novel). London: Secker and Warburg, 1983.
Land of the Lakes. London: Secker and Warburg, 1983; New York: Norton, 1984.
The Cumbrian Trilogy (novels). London: Coronet, 1984. Laurence Olivier. London: Hutchinson, 1984; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985.
Cumbria in Verse (editor). London: Secker and Warburg, 1984.
The Hired Man (play). London: French, 1986.
The Maid of Buttermere (novel). London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1987; New York: Putnam, 1987.
Rich: The Life of Richard Burton. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1988; (as Richard Burton: A Life) Boston: Little Brown, 1989.
A Time to Dance (novel). London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1990; Boston: Little Brown, 1991.
Credo (novel), London: Sceptre, 1996.


Field, Michele. "Melvyn Bragg: The Author of a Biography of Richard Burton Finds That His Own Background Has Much in Common with that of His Subject." Publishers Weekly (New York), 3 February 1989.