David Attenborough calls for more BBC arts coverage

Aamna Mohdin
Sir David Attenborough at the Perfect World Foundations event in Gothenburg, Sweden, earlier this month. Photograph: IBL/Rex/Shutterstock

Sir David Attenborough has criticised the BBC for not producing enough arts and cultural programmes.

Attenborough, 92, said the public broadcaster was instead focusing on shows that attracted a large audience. Speaking to Radio Times, he said: “I don’t think the BBC does enough [arts and culture]. It’s not enough simply to say, ‘Well, it doesn’t get a big enough audience’. If you’re a public service broadcaster, what you should be saying is, ‘We will show the broad spectrum of human interest. People of all kinds should be catered for’.”

He said success should not be measured by the size of the audience, but by the breadth of subjects covered.

The programme maker, who started working full-time for the BBC in 1952, went on to defend the corporation, stating the lack of arts coverage was not entirely its fault. He said the BBC was being “badgered” by different people, who were also to blame for the gaps in coverage.

He believes the BBC still plays an important role. He said: “There are things that only public service can do and will do, and the BBC does them.”

Chief among them is the ability to experiment. He argued the BBC was well placed to try new programmes and writers, as well as showcasing new attitudes and voices. He added: “If the BBC was to disappear from our homes one morning, surely we’d miss it desperately? You’ve only got to go to America to know that.”

Tony Hall, the BBC’s director general, warned earlier this month that the corporation needed to secure more funding if it was to continue providing the same level of service.

Attenborough, who narrated Blue Planet II, the UK’s most watched television programme of 2017, said earlier this year that he would retire if he felt his work had become substandard or if he began to struggle with his mobility.

When asked what he enjoyed watching, he pointed to BBC Four’s two-hour sleigh ride through Norway and described BBC Two’s documentary Travels in Trumpland with Ed Balls as “remarkable”.

A BBC spokesperson said: “David rightly recognises the importance of arts and cultural programming in public service broadcasting and no other comes close to the BBC’s commitment - from Civilisations and Performance Live to regular arts discussion programmes and the forthcoming year-long Our Classical Century. That said, we would love to do even more, which is why the BBC has said that we need to look at ways of increasing our income.”