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Factual Festival: Richard Klein on BBC4 cuts - and toilets

Factual Festival: Richard Klein on BBC4 cuts - and toilets
Tim Dams
24 October 2012

A show about toilets defines what BBC4 is all about, the channel’s controller Richard Klein joked today at the Televisual Factual Festival.

The Toilet: An Unspoken History, which played out over the summer, told the story of the toilet in our society and is one of the channel’s best rating shows in recent months.

Klein said the show demonstrates how BBC4 can make “the obvious interesting. You take what is mainstream, and look at in way that feels different.”

Toilets, he added “are pretty mainstream, we all use them, but they have a central place in the way society functions.”  He said the premise is a jokey one to start with, but allowed the programme makers to explore many historical, scientific and engineering issues.

Anything can be interesting if you look at it in the right way, said Klein. “I want to have fun. TV is an entertainment medium…I’m often looking for funny, witty, intelligent ways to deliver clever content.”

He admitted that BBC budget cuts have had a significant impact on BBC4. The channel has axed its drama, history and entertainment commissions, and halved its science and documentary commissioning.

“It’s something I grieve over… it will be noticed and it is hard to disguise that level of change on channel like BBC4. But I don’t think it means BBC4 is broken,” said Klein, who added that he understood the rationale for the cuts.

The channel is now more focused on arts, music and culture. Klein said the loss of history was a particular blow. “It will be felt - history is one of the more successful genres. We will be able to do some history through arts.  But there is no doubt that the loss will be felt.”

He added that he would be careful not to define BBC4 as an arts channel. “If you just purely tell your audience that it is arts, you will define your audience away from it. It’s not how most people define themselves. We have to be quite careful how we express ourselves. We are channel for people who think differently - that is our world view.”

Klein said the cutbacks mean that it will take longer to make decisions over which shows to commission, as the channel weighs up more carefully which ideas to back.  “I apologise for that – and I will seem a bit more indecisive than I am.”

He added that the channel is also likely to run fewer seasons. “When you lose entertainment and history, it’s more difficult to make seasons work and they might feel less rounded. I suspect that there will be fewer of them.”

Looking ahead, Klein said he was looking for documentaries that reflect contemporary Britain, citing recent series on institutions like the Catholic Church and Sandhurst.

He said he was “reasonably open” to science ideas, and would like to find more event type science shows.

Klein also said he was looking to commission a series on classical music that explains the context and background in which the music was written and by whom.

And he said he was debating whether the channel should do a landmark, defining six-part series on art – and who could present it.

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