I just finished watching a documentary about the rise and fall of the BBC’s Third Programme, an ambitious attempt to make an unashamedly ‘high culture’ music and speech programme on the radio after WWII. The documentary interestingly put it into a wider cultural context – it was part of a general feeling among politicians and cultural elites at the time that during and after the war the public needed access to the opportunity to ‘improve itself’ through appreciation and consumption of the best of what the arts could offer.
It’s a rather outmoded idea now but I can’t help admiring the idealism of those times. The programme argues that the Third Programme was killed off by both hostility towards elitism in the 50s and the general availability of more and more competing cultural products. This sounds to me reminiscent of what happened to high-minded dissident authors in Eastern Europe when their art was no longer suppressed and they found, ironically, their market and popular support collapsed.
The wheel seems to have come full circle here in the UK with the launch of BBC 4, a digital TV station with some of the same “no compromise” ethos. It has faced similar criticism because of its high budget per viewer but it has been generally agreed that in a massively multichannel world there is once again room for an island of highbrow-ness to exist.
P.S. I seem to be getting the Wikipedia habit – I found a halfway useful Wikipedia entry on the Third Programme (linked above) and couldn’t resist spending a half hour or so correcting it and adding the details I could…
P.P.S. In my search for web stuff relating to the Third Programme (there was disappointingly little) I came across this Third Programme magazine – an online site about broadcasting put out by the rather interesting Transdiffusion Broadcasting System, “a not-for-profit historical society dedicated to documenting and preserving broadcasting history” (which alas doesn’t seem to have an article dedicated to the Third Programme itself).