Northern Irish indie, Alleycats Films, has won two commissions from BBC Four: Art on The BBC (4 x 60 mins) and Plague Fiction (1 x 60 mins).

This autumn sees the launch of series two of Art on the BBC, which will focus on four of art’s most celebrated but controversial names: Dali, Van Gogh, Monet and Turner. In each episode, an up-and-coming British art historian will mine the BBC vaults to discover how six decades of TV has influenced our understanding of these modern masters. With the help of rare archive material, the presenters will explain how Dali became the world’s first celebrity artist, how Vincent Van Gogh’s mental health influenced his work, how commercial success has blinded us to the revolutionary talent of Claude Monet, and how JMW Turner rose from the back streets of London to become Britain’s greatest maritime painter and the ‘father of modern art’.

Art on the BBC was ordered by arts commissioning editor Emma Cahusac for the BBC. It is executive produced by Emma Parkins and Ed Stobart for Alleycats. Producer/directors are David Starkey (The Great Salvador Dali), Chris Nikkel (Van Gogh – Life and Art), Denis Minihan (Monet, The French Revolutionary) and Ben Harding (Turner – Light and Landscape).

Hosting the second series are Kate Bryan, art historian and curator (Van Gogh); Chelsea College of Arts’ Dr David Dibosa, co-investigator of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Black Artists and Modernism project (Dali); art historian Katy Hessel, founder of The Great Women Artists Podcast (Monet); and art historian Leslie Primo, lecturer for the National Portrait Gallery (Turner).

Emma Parkins, executive producer, development and production for Alleycats, said: “Art on the BBC explores how the story of art changes according to the era that’s telling it. The series features some fantastic new presenter voices, reflecting the diversity of the contemporary UK art world’s rising talents. It has also of course been great to be in production during this industry-wide tricky period. We clearly have had to make some adaptations, but to be able to create films under a range of conditions is important to us as a company.”

BBC Four has also ordered Plague Fiction, a 60-minute special produced and directed by David Starkey. The film, ordered by BBC Arts executive editor Lamia Dabboussy and also executive produced by Emma Parkins and Ed Stobart, was made under lockdown by Alleycats.

Plague Fiction is hosted by Laura Ashe, professor of mediaeval literature at the University of Oxford, who has spent much of her career studying the impact of plague on societies and cultures. Recognising the similarities between the covid-19 pandemic and the devastating plagues of the 14th and 17th centuries, Ashe delves into historical records and literature, as well as nearly seven decades of BBC archive material, to see what lessons can be learned from our medieval forebears — and how we can use this experience to help build a better future. The result is an enthralling mix of practical advice, inspiring stories of human heroism, eye-watering descriptions of medieval medicine and accounts of life under plague from the likes of Samuel Pepys and Geoffrey Chaucer.


Jon Creamer

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