Neha Patil (Editor)

The South Bank Show

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Genre  Arts
Original language(s)  English
No. of episodes  736
Networks  ITV, Sky Arts
7.1/10 IMDb

7.1/10 TV

Country of origin  United Kingdom
No. of series  32
Presented by  Melvyn Bragg
The South Bank Show wwwgstaticcomtvthumbtvbanners491459p491459
Opening theme  Variation on Paganini's "24th Caprice" by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Awards  British Academy Television Award for Best Arts Programme
Cast  Melvyn Bragg, Graham Norton, Paul O'Grady

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The South Bank Show is a television arts magazine show. It was originally produced by London Weekend Television and broadcast on ITV between 1978 and 2010. A new version of the series began on Sky Arts from 27 May 2012. Conceived, written and presented by former BBC arts broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, the show aims to bring both high art and popular culture to a mass audience.


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The programme was a replacement for Aquarius, the arts series which had been running since 1970. Presenter Melvyn Bragg was already well known for his arts broadcasting on BBC television, notably Monitor and BBC Two's The Lively Arts. It first aired on 14 January 1978, covering many subjects, including Germaine Greer, Gerald Scarfe and Paul McCartney. It is the longest continuously running arts programme on UK television. From the beginning the series' intent was to mix high art and popular culture. This has remained, and the programme has always focused predominantly on art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

For much of its life, the show was produced by London Weekend Television (LWT) for the ITV network.

In May 2009, ITV announced that the show was to come to an end. Although it was originally reported that the show was ending due to Bragg's retirement, Bragg later made it clear that he decided to leave after they ended the show, and thought ending it was a mistake; according to him, "they've killed the show, so I thought, I'll go as well."

On Monday 28 December 2009 the final edition of The South Bank Show was broadcast featuring The Royal Shakespeare Company as its subject. Melvyn Bragg announced on this programme, after the final South Bank Show Awards in January 2010, there would be a series of ten South Bank Show Revisited programmes transmitted in early 2010 featuring updates on previous South Bank Show subjects.

The show resumed airing in 2012 (see below).


The programme has been awarded more than 110 awards (including 12 BAFTAs, 5 Prix Italia and 4 RTS Awards). Pat Gavin's animated title sequences have won two BAFTAs.


There have been many subjects of the show, including:


Directors who have made editions of the programme include:

  • John Bulmer
  • Tony Cash
  • Chris Dooks
  • Kim Evans
  • Andy Harries
  • Mary Harron
  • David Hinton
  • James Ivory
  • Tony Knox
  • Ken Loach
  • Jeremy Marre
  • Tony Palmer
  • Ken Russell
  • Irshad Ashraf
  • Theme music and visuals

    The theme music is taken from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Variations composed in 1977 for his brother, the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. This is based on the theme from Paganini's "24th Caprice". The brand image of the programme is an animated version of a detail from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling painting, specifically the image of the Hand of God giving life to Adam. It shows the two hands meeting, generating a lightning bolt.


    The comedy series Dead Ringers often parodied The South Bank Show. It does this in a series of sketches called South Bank, a cross between The South Bank Show and the American cartoon South Park, set in the South Bank of London. In these sketches, Melvyn Bragg is Stan Marsh, Alan Yentob is Kyle Broflovski, Mark Lawson is Eric Cartman and Kenneth Branagh is Kenny McCormick.

    A sketch in The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer featured Vic Reeves as Melvyn Bragg (with felt-tip marks on his face) presenting a feature on fictional folk singers Mulligan and O'Hare. Reeves depicts Bragg as an unlikely A-Team obsessive.

    Harry Enfield's TV film Norbert Smith - a Life is a parody edition of The South Bank Show.

    Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's second series of Extras featured a reference to a fictional episode of The South Bank Show focused on madcap children's television presenters Dick and Dom.

    Private Eye tends to parody Melvyn Bragg's name, and Spitting Image would rather accentuate his nasal accent.

    Benny Hill once parodied Bragg in a 1978 episode of The Benny Hill Show as Melvyn Dragg. The name of the show was also parodied, and it was called "The South Blank Show."


    From 18 September 2006, ITV have begun releasing a podcast of the interviews from the show, including extra material not included in the broadcast editions. There are plans to release past interviews as part of the podcast as well.

    Revival by Sky Arts

    At the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards show in January 2010, Lord Melvyn Bragg said he was baffled by ITV's decision to axe The South Bank Show after 30 years on air. Also at the awards show, Prince Charles said in a taped testimonial that it was the end of one of the most important beacons of arts in this country which this country was lucky enough to enjoy.

    In July 2010, it was revealed that Bragg had bought the rights to the brand and had first right of access to The South Bank Show archives. Sky Arts broadcasts South Bank Show archive editions and hosted the South Bank Sky Arts Awards on 25 Jan 2011, presented by Melvyn Bragg, accompanied by a new arrangement of The South Bank Show theme.

    Sky Arts revived The South Bank Show with a new series starting 27 May 2012.


    The South Bank Show Wikipedia