In the 1990s, The Late Show, infamous for its esoteric subject matter, launched the careers of many of the defining figures in British film and television. Why?by David Herman / August 22, 2004 / Leave a comment
Things are looking up at the BBC. Greg Dyke and Jane Root have gone. Michael Grade and Janice Hadlow are in and Roly Keating’s taken over as controller of BBC2. Amid all the musical chairs, an interesting pattern stands out. Two groups have dominated the big jobs in British television over the past decade. The first is well known: the executives who moved from LWT to take some of the top jobs at the BBC and Channel 4: John Birt, Michael Grade, Christopher Bland, Greg Dyke and now Grade again. Birt and Dyke were both director general; Bland and Grade both chairman. Grade was also controller of BBC1. The second group is less well known but has been more influential and creative – the products of an obscure late-night arts programme from the early 1990s.
The Late Show ran on BBC2 for five years, from 1989-95, in the post-Newsnight graveyard slot at 11.15pm. Key figures included the programme’s founding editor, Michael Jackson (later controller of BBC2, BBC1 and chief executive of Channel 4), second editor, Roly Keating (former controller of BBC4 and now controller of BBC2), and third editor, Janice Hadlow (driving force behind Simon Schama’s A History of Britain series, now controller of BBC4). Jackson’s number two at The Late Show was Kevin Loader, who went on to become a leading drama producer at the BBC (his credits included The Buddha of Suburbia) and then went into films, producing Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and The Mother. Other senior executives included John Whiston (who went on to YTV and is now one of the main executives at Granada), Janey Walker (managing editor at Channel 4) and Martin Davidson (now at RDF Media). A number of producers from The Late Show went into filmmaking, including Anand Tucker (director of Hilary and Jackie, producer of The Girl With a Pearl Earring), Sharon Maguire (director of Bridget Jones’s Diary) and David Evans (director of Fever Pitch). Channel 4’s major art documentary series over the past years have been written and presented by two former Late Show presenters, Matthew Collings and Waldemar Januszczak, and the series editor of BBC1’s arts flagship, Imagine, is Ian MacMillan, another former producer of The Late Show.
Why did a BBC2 arts programme, infamous for its sometimes esoteric subject matter, launch so many high-profile careers in British broadcasting and film? One obvious answer is resources. A daily programme, with so…