The BBC has announced a range of new commissions from the newly created Factual, Arts and Classical Music “commissioning powerhouse” led by Patrick Holland.

New box-set series include an exploration of the personal and political life of Frida Kahlo and her relationship with Diego Rivera; a celebration of African-American creativity, executive-produced by Afua Hirsch; David Olusoga on the long history of the Union; a landmark science series presented by Chris Packham about planet Earthand a  three-part series about the controversial Brazilian political dynasty, the Bolsonaros

Also announced is the return of Lights Up, with a new series of plays partnering with theatres across the UK; a new selection of monologues for BBC Four (following the success of acclaimed series CripTales, Soon Gone and Snatches) this time addressing the theme of poverty; and a feature-length film about British composer Michael Tippett, from acclaimed film-maker John Bridcut.

Patrick Holland says: “The BBC’s commitment to premium factual, arts and classical music programming is unique in the UK and central to our public service mission for all audiences.  The landmark series Union will explore the history of our islands, examining the forces that pulled them together and have, at various times threatened to pull them asunder. By focussing on the lives of ordinary men and women it promises to unearth fresh perspectives on our shared history.

“Earth builds on the remarkable Planets and forthcoming Universe, telling the story of the creation and evolution of our planet, to bring complex science to broad audiences. And the arts series on how Black American culture changed the world [working title: Black Art Matters] will bring the boldest storytelling and biggest voices to reveal the influence of key creatives over the last 100 years.

“These commissions build on the unrivalled series of scale that now find their home on BBC iPlayer, helping to create a video-on-demand platform with true specialism that speaks to British audiences.”

Here are the details of the new commissions

BBC Lights Up

Tash Marshall at the Soho Theatre
Playwright Tash Marshall at the Soho Theatre. Image credit: Helen Maybanks

BBC Arts turns the spotlight on drama once again with a second season of Light Up.

Lights Up started as a virtual theatre festival, staged in lockdown as part of the BBC Culture In Quarantine season, and next year continues to partner with theatres across the United Kingdom to produce a new season of plays for audiences at home.

Household names join groundbreaking new talent and push the boundaries of what theatre can be as a collaboration between stage and screen. The BBC is in discussion with companies large and small, from across Britain and Northern Ireland, to bring the most urgent, brilliant and challenging stagings to the strand, signalling a new major, ongoing commitment to performance and performers on the BBC.

  • Lights Up is commissioned by Patrick Holland and Lamia Dabboussy, Senior Head of Factual Commissioning, Arts & Classical Music

Frida & Diego

(w/t) 3×60, BBC Two

Frida Kahlo with her husband Diego Rivera in 1939
Frida Kahlo with her husband Diego Rivera in 1939. (Copyright Getty Images /Bettmann /Corbis)

Directed by multi-award winning filmmaker Louise Lockwood, Frida & Diego explores the life of one of the most famous female artists of the 20th century, her incredibly provocative and radical artistry, and her tempestuous relationship with Diego Rivera. Across the three episodes the series examines the personal and political lives of these extraordinary Mexican artists and their impact on the global artistic stage.

  • A Rogan Films production. The director is Louise Lockwood. The executive producers are James Rogan, Nancy Bornat and Mark Hedgecoe. The BBC commissioner is Emma Cahusac.

Black Art Matters

(w/t) 4×60, BBC Two

Afua Hirsch
Afua Hirsch

This four-part series will examine how African-American creativity has transformed popular culture and how we express ourselves through language, style and music.

Black Art Matters (w/t) is the first series commission for BBC Small Indie Fund company, Milk And Honey Productions, whose previous work for the BBC includes The Trouble With Naipaul, Stacey Dooley Investigates Spycams and Sex Criminals. The executive producer is Lucy Pilkington and the series will be made in association with Afua Hirsch and her production company, Born In Me.

  • Black Art Matters (w/t) is a Milk And Honey Production in association with Born in Me (4×60 BBC Two). The executive producers are Lucy Pilkington for Milk And Honey and Afua Hirsch for Born In Me. The BBC commissioner is Emma Cahusac.

Michael Tippett: A Child Of His Time

(w/t) 1×90, BBC Two

Michael Tippett
Michael Tippett

Acclaimed filmmaker John Bridcut turns his attention to British composer Michael Tippett. As with Bridcut’s award-winning films about Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Delius and Britten, this will be a psychological and music portrait of a political and musical activist whose life spanned almost the whole of the 20th century. It will capture the themes of Tippett’s life through specially-filmed performances of his music from leading artists, and will interweave his own story (as set down in broadcast interviews) with the insight from those who worked with and for him.

Among the contributors are conductors Sian Edwards, Edward Gardner and Simon Rattle; composers Thomas Adès, Alexander Goehr and Mark-Anthony Turnage  and soloists Josephine Barstow, David Owen Norris and Craig Ogden. It will also explore how Tippett’s music speaks to young performers today.

  • Michael Tippett: A Child of His Time (w/t, 1×90, BBC Two) is a Crux Productions Limited film by John Bridcut. It was commissioned for the BBC by Patrick Holland and Jan Younghusband, Head of BBC Music Commissioning.


(w/t) 8×15, BBC Four

Following the success of acclaimed monologue series CripTales, Soon Gone and Snatches, in 2022 BBC Arts will present a selection of monologues which address the theme of poverty. Eight characters will demonstrate imagination, grit, humour and courage when faced with some of the bleakest of circumstances. The common thread throughout these monologues is the tiny crackle of light in the darkness, the strength we find in community and the power of hope.

Skint (w/t) is a Hopscotch Films series (8×15) for BBC Four. The creative directors are Lisa McGee (writer and creator of Derry Girls) and Peter Mullan. The executive producer is John Archer. The commissioner for BBC Arts is Lamia Dabboussy. It is also supported by Coventry City of Culture Trust as part of UK City of Culture.


(w/t) 5×60 BBC Two

Chris Packham
Chris Packham

This groundbreaking, landmark series tells the astonishing four-billion year story of the place we call home. Over five episodes, Chris Packham will set out a biography of our planet, revealing the most epic moments from the Earth’s history, from the first seconds of its existence to the arrival of its most incredible inhabitants: us.

Cutting-edge CGI will allow viewers to witness the dramatic moments when our planet’s future, and the life it nurtured, hung in the balance. Massive bombardments from space, extreme changes in climate, the collision of whole continents. Every one of these key moments in our planet’s history is written in its scars.

The series will uncover the meaning of its mountains and its ocean floors, its craters, valleys and plains. It will show how these features tell us of the perilous moments when life itself was nearly snuffed out, or rebounded to take a new course. Chris Packham will draw on his deep knowledge of contemporary biology to shed light on points of crisis and change in our planet’s past.

Earth’s story hasn’t ended. Using the latest scientific research, Chris will reveal how Earth’s most remarkable creation – intelligent life – is set to have a lasting impact on the planet – an impact as profound as any asteroid or volcano.

  • Earth (5×60 BBC Two) was commissioned by Patrick Holland and Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Science & Natural History. It is being made by BBC Studios Productions’ Science Unit and the Executive Producer is Rob Liddell and Andrew Cohen.

The Bolsonaros

(w/t) 3×60, BBC Two

Bolsonaro making a heart sign with his fingers

Since his landslide victory in 2018, Bolsonaro has rarely been out of the headlines, with his controversial views on gender, indigenous rights and the Amazon while his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has been condemned by his opponents. Yet, despite the increasingly vocal demands for his impeachment, Bolsonaro continues to have millions of supporters, drawn to his straight-talking style of leadership and vision of a new Brazil, based on securing national sovereignty and reaching full economic potential.

Told through intimate interviews with some of those closest to him, as well as his opponents, this is the story of a remarkable rise from obscurity, of a brilliant yet ruthless journey to the ultimate seat of South American power, full of high-stakes drama, guns and God.

With forensic storytelling and characters worthy of Shakespeare, this is a series about power, politics and family – a story which is still unfolding and in which the consequences will be felt not just in Brazil but around the world.

  • The Bolsonaros (w/t) is a 3×60 series for BBC Two, commissioned by Patrick Holland and Jack Bootle. It is a BBC Studios Productions’ Documentary Unit series where the Executive Producer is Ricardo Pollack, the Series Producer is Raquel Toniolo and the Series Director is Matt Hill.

Union with David Olusoga

(w/t) 5×60, BBC Two

The future of the Union is today at greater threat than at any time in living memory. In this ambitious five-part, landmark series David Olusoga uncovers the long history of union and disunion, tracing their origins back centuries.

The fracture lines of our current division run along the borders between the ‘home nations’ but we are also disunited by social class and inequality, by England’s north-south divide and the historic dominance of London. Our disunity can be told through the historic rise and fall of what are today called ‘left-behind towns’ and the long history of our rural-urban divide.

David’s own personal experience connect him to several regions of the UK, each with their own strong identities. He grew up in a working-class community in the North East of England, a politically independent region with an antipathy towards London. And as a mixed-race child who came Britain in the 1970s, he has seen for himself how complex and nuanced the relationship between the individual and the nations of the UK can be.

“By examining this history,” says David “I’m seeking to bring a timely understanding of the history that lies behind the fault lines of contemporary Britain.”

  • Union (BBC Two 5×60) was commissioned by Patrick Holland and Clare Sillery, Head of Commissioning, Documentaries. It is an Uplands Television Production where the Executive Producer Mike Smith.

Jon Creamer

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