BBC Arts commissions new programmes in year-long celebration of literature

BBC Arts commissions new programmes in year-long celebration of literature

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Wednesday, 21st August 2019
Novels That Shaped Our World Festival panel (Credit: BBC)
Novels That Shaped Our World Festival panel (Credit: BBC)

BBC Arts has announced a line-up of new programmes across BBC TV, radio and online as part of a year long celebration of literature.

The programmes explore both classic and contemporary fiction, from celebrated authors and those less well-known.

BBC’s regular book programmes such as The Radio Two Book Club with Jo Whiley, The Verb on BBC Radio Three, World Book Club on the World Service and Open Book on Radio Four will feature specials throughout the year.

A festival has also been set up in partnership with libraries and reading groups around the UK.

The Novels That Shaped Our World Festival will explore 100 novels – all works of fiction in the English language – that have had a lasting impact over the last three centuries.

The list has been chosen by a panel of six: journalist and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup; author, screenwriter and columnist Juno Dawson; Bradford festival literary director Syima Aslam; author Kit de Waal; editor of The Times Literary Supplement Stig Abell and author Alexander McCall Smith.

The novels will appear on Radio Two Book Club with Jo Whiley, before they are discussed in front of a live audience hosted by the radio presenter at the British Library on the 8th November.

The celebration will also reflect on the legacy of Toni Morrison, with her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved featuring in the 100 Novels That Shaped Our World collection.

Lamia Dabboussy, acting director of BBC Arts, hoped the programming would generate debate.

She said: “We’re hoping to get the nation reading, re-reading and debating novels through this year-long focus on literature across the BBC.”

In Search of Dracula (w/t) BBC One

Mark Gatiss (Credit: BBC)
Mark Gatiss (Credit: BBC)

Presented by the executive producer and co-writer of the upcoming Dracula series Mark Gatiss, In Search of Dracula uncovers the effects of immortalising the infamous Count.

The documentary starts at Orava Castle in Slovakia – which was used in the film Nosferatu – before going on to the London Library, which contains Bram Stoker’s newly discovered research literature.

Gatiss then takes viewers to Philadelphia to study Stoker’s hand-written notes and examine his abandoned ideas, storylines and characters.

He also talks to actors, film experts and historians about Dracula’s transition from page to screen, exploring why Dracula has become such a pop culture icon and why we keep coming back to him time and time again.

Novels That Shaped Our World, BBC Two

The series looks at novels that shaped the world using three unique perspectives: empire and slavery, women’s voices and class experience.

Across 300 years the novel has been at the heart of debate, acted as a spearhead for change and reflected historical social struggles.

Key moments from novels are brought to life with dramatic performances and readings, plus British and international novelists talk about the novels that meant the most to them.

Episode one examines race and empire, considering influential novels such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Noughts and Crosses.

The second episode examines women as both authors and characters, discussing how the plight of women can be seen in the earliest novels from Jane Austen to Virginia Woolf, and how a new generation of authors such as Zadie Smith and Toni Morrison speak out for women.

Episode three examines the class struggle within novels and within author’s lives.

Novels by Dickens and Hardy are discussed and how the growth of the crime novel plays on the gulf between those the fortunate and less fortunate.

Being Bridget, BBC Two

Helen Fielding (Credit: BBC)
Helen Fielding (Credit: BBC)

2020 will mark 25 years since Bridget Jones first burst onto the scene with her famous diary. 

Helen Fielding’s creation became an instant cultural phenomenon, detailing Jones’ rocky relationships with men, booze and cigarettes (and her appreciation for knicker elastic).

Fielding’s honest depiction of a woman in her thirties, balancing work, relationships, family and friends resonated with a generation of women and helped launch the term ‘chick lit’.

The film explores how the novel reflects changing attitudes to women and includes interviews with Fielding and the friends that inspired the original characters.

The film also includes rarely seen archive footage and tributes from celebrity fans.

Richard E Grant Write Across the World, BBC Two

Richard E Grant (Credit: BBC)
Richard E Grant (Credit: BBC)

Book and travel lover Richard E Grant travels to France, Italy and Spain to visit places that have inspired writers for centuries.

Each episode features five or six books from different time periods and genres, following key moments in writers lives.

Grant learns about the culture, history and landscape of the places that have had an impact on writers.

Michael Bond (Credit: BBC)
Michael Bond (Credit: BBC)

Further scheduled programming includes Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story, a BBC Two documentary about the untold true story of one of the world’s best-selling novelists, BBC Two’s A Bear Called Paddington & A Man Called Michael (w/t) about Michael Bond, the man who created Paddington Bear, and Hilary Mantel gives viewers an intimate portrait of Mantel in her own world, following her journey from her first novel to her highly anticipated publication of The Mirror and the Light.

Elsewhere, comedian, actor and former English teacher Greg Davies presents BBC Four’s Kes: A Boys Life, celebrating the classic novel A Kestrel for a Knave, David Olusoga tells the story of a generation of African writers who came of age around the time of independence in The African Novel With David Olusoga, and BBC Four documentary Arena: Everything Is Connected - George Eliot’s Life follows contemporary artist Gillian Wearing as she celebrates George Eliot’s legacy. 


There is also a line-up of programmes for BBC Sounds, BBC Radio Three and BBC Radio Four.

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BBC Arts has announced a line-up of new programmes across BBC TV, radio and online as part of a year long celebration of literature.