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The South Bank Show

The South Bank Show
Genre Arts
Presented by Melvyn Bragg
Opening theme Variation on Paganini's "24th Caprice" by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 32
No. of episodes 736
Running time 60mins (inc. adverts)
Production company(s) LWT
Distributor ITV Studios
Original channel ITV (14 January 1978 – 30 May 2010)
Sky Arts (27 May 2012 – present)
Picture format 16:9
Original release 14 January 1978 (1978-01-14) – present

The South Bank Show is a television arts magazine show that was produced by ITV between 1978 and 2010. A new series began on Sky Arts from 27 May 2012.[1] Conceived, written and presented by former BBC arts broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, the show aims to bring both high art and popular culture to a mass audience.


  • History 1
  • Awards 2
  • Subjects 3
  • Directors 4
  • Theme music and visuals 5
  • Parody 6
  • Podcast 7
  • Revival by Sky Arts 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


The programme was a replacement for Aquarius, LWT's arts series which had been running since 1970. Presenter Melvyn Bragg was already well known for his arts broadcasting on BBC television, notably Monitor and BBC Two's The Lively Arts. It first aired on 14 January 1978, covering many subjects, including Germaine Greer, Gerald Scarfe and Paul McCartney. It is the longest continuously running arts programme on UK television. From the beginning the series' intent was to mix high art and popular culture. This has remained, and the programme has always focused predominantly on art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

For much of its life, the show was produced by London Weekend Television (LWT) for the ITV network.

In May 2009, ITV announced that the show was to come to an end. Although it was originally reported that the show was ending due to Bragg's retirement,[2] Bragg later made it clear that he decided to leave after they ended the show, and thought ending it was a mistake; according to him, "they've killed the show, so I thought, I'll go as well."[3][4]

On Monday 28 December 2009 the final edition of The South Bank Show was broadcast featuring The Royal Shakespeare Company as its subject. Melvyn Bragg announced on this programme, after the final South Bank Show Awards in January 2010, there would be a series of ten South Bank Show Revisited programmes transmitted in early 2010 featuring updates on previous South Bank Show subjects.

The show resumed airing in 2012 (see below).


The programme has been awarded more than 110 awards (including 12 BAFTAs, 5 Prix Italia and 4 RTS Awards). Pat Gavin's animated title sequences have won two BAFTAs.


There have been many subjects of the show, including:


Directors who have made editions of the programme include:

Theme music and visuals

The iconic image of the Hand of God giving life to Adam, used since the series' inception.

The theme music is taken from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Variations composed in 1977 for his brother, the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. This is based on the theme from Paganini's "24th Caprice". The brand image of the programme is an animated version of a detail from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling painting, specifically the image of the Hand of God giving life to Adam. It shows the two hands meeting, generating a lightning bolt.


The comedy series Dead Ringers often parodied The South Bank Show. It does this in a series of sketches called South Bank, a cross between The South Bank Show and the American cartoon South Park, set in the South Bank of London. In these sketches, Melvyn Bragg is Stan Marsh, Alan Yentob is Kyle Broflovski, Mark Lawson is Eric Cartman and Kenneth Branagh is Kenny McCormick.

A sketch in The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer featured Vic Reeves as Melvyn Bragg (with felt-tip marks on his face) presenting a feature on fictional folk singers Mulligan and O'Hare. Reeves' depicts Bragg as an unlikely A-Team obsessive.

Harry Enfield's TV film Norbert Smith - a Life is a parody edition of The South Bank Show.

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's second series of Extras featured a reference to a fictional episode of The South Bank Show focused on madcap children's television presenters Dick and Dom.

Private Eye tends to parody Melvyn Bragg's name, and Spitting Image would rather accentuate his nasal accent.

Benny Hill once parodied Bragg in a 1978 episode of The Benny Hill Show as Melvyn Dragg. The name of the show was also parodied, and it was called "The South Blank Show."


From 18 September 2006, ITV have begun releasing a podcast of the interviews from the show, including extra material not included in the broadcast editions. There are plans to release past interviews as part of the podcast as well.[7]

Revival by Sky Arts

At the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards show in January 2010, Lord Melvyn Bragg said he was baffled by ITV's decision to axe The South Bank Show after 30 years on air. Also at the awards show, Prince Charles said in a taped testimonial that it was the end of one of the most important beacons of arts in this country which this country was lucky enough to enjoy.

In July 2010, it was revealed that Bragg had bought the rights to the brand and had first right of access to The South Bank Show archives.[8] Sky Arts broadcasts South Bank Show archive editions and hosted the South Bank Sky Arts Awards on 25 Jan 2011, presented by Melvyn Bragg, accompanied by a new arrangement of The South Bank Show theme.

Sky Arts revived The South Bank Show with a new series starting 27 May 2012.[1]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ "ITV to axe The South Bank Show when Melvyn Bragg retires next year", The Guardian, 6 May 2009
  3. ^ Chitra Ramaswamy (9 November 2009). "Interview: Melvyn Bragg - Man out of time".  
  4. ^ See also Bragg's book of reminiscences, The South Bank Show: Final Cut. Hodder, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4447-0552-2
  5. ^ South Bank Show: The Cambridge Footlights
  6. ^ Description of one programme, British Film Institute. Accessed 13 February 2013.
  7. ^ Podcast RSS"The South Bank Show".  
  8. ^ Brown, Maggie (19 July 2010). "Lord Bragg takes South Bank Show to Sky Arts". The Guardian (London). 

External links

  • at itv.comThe South Bank Show (Archive)
  • Complete list of subjects from
  • The South Bank Show at the Internet Movie Database
  • Variations performance by Julian Lloyd Webber and Colosseum II, from YouTube
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