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BBC unveils appointments for Nicholas Hytner and Vicky Featherstone in arts push

Gemma Arterton in The Duchess Of Malfi at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner and Royal Court artistic director Vicky Featherstone are among new appointments made by the BBC aimed at strengthening its relationship to the arts, in a move the Corporation has described as its “strongest commitment” to the genre in a generation.

Alongside the new appointments – which sees Hytner join the BBC executive board and Featherstone become a ‘creative leader’ – director general Tony Hall has today announced a range of new arts programmes and strands which he said would put the arts at “the very heart” of what the BBC does.

The new commissions include content overseen by Almeida Theatre artistic director Rupert Goold and a dedicated evening of content on BBC Radio 3 marking Paines Plough’s 40th anniversary.

As part of his plans, Hall has promoted Jonty Claypole to director of arts, with Bob Shennan, currently BBC Radio 2 controller, becoming head of music. Together the BBC said they would join up the Corporation’s television, radio and online offerings.

Featherstone, in her new role, will work with the BBC Writersroom to “nurture” new writers across all of the Corporation’s platforms.

Meanwhile, launching in May will be BBC Arts at…, a new strand that will give viewers “front row seats” at cultural events.

This will include BBC Arts at… celebrating the opening of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which will include a two-hour documentary looking at Jacobean theatre, and BBC4 broadcasting the playhouse’s opening production, The Duchess of Malfi, starring Gemma Arterton.

BBC4 will also screen a programme about the dance company BalletBoyz and a documentary in collaboration with the Voice of Black Opera awards and Scottish Opera.

The BBC said: “Right across the year, BBC Arts at… will bring great events to the screen in new and innovative ways, working closely and collaboratively with leading museums, festivals and performing companies to give viewers and listeners the best seat in the house.”

Meanwhile, the BBC has also announced the Shakespeare Project for 2016, which will include further filmed adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays from the team behind The Hollow Crown for BBC2.

In addition, the BBC will work in partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company to commemorate Shakespeare’s life in 2016. Together the two organisations will work on Dream 16, which will see A Midsummer Night’s Dream toured to theatres around the UK, with Bottom and his friends played by amateur performers and Titania’s fairies played by primary school children.

In support of new writing, BBC4 will launch a new drama strand called Dialogues, in which Almeida Theatre artistic director Goold will lead a group of new and established writers as they create short-form dramas for two actors and aim to capture “the intimate quality of theatre”.

Meanwhile, in New Writing on BBC Radio 4, the station will introduce 10 new writers to radio in a dedicated fortnight of dramas.

Hall also announced that BBC4 will feature a programme called The Secret Life of Books, which will include Simon Russell Beale exploring Shakespeare.

Meanwhile, BBC3 is developing a three-part series called The Orchestras, which will follow classically trained young musicians and in 2015, BBC4 will dedicate a year of content to exploring the power of song and dance, which will include a new initiative called BBC Young Dancer. This will see auditions taking place across the country, with a final taking place at Sadler’s Wells.

Hall has also announced more arts programming for young people and expanded online coverage, including exclusive content on the iPlayer.

Hall said: “I want BBC Arts and BBC Music to sit proudly alongside BBC News. The arts are for everyone and from now on, BBC Arts will be at the very heart of what we do. We will be joining up arts on the BBC like never before – across television, radio and digital.”

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