Apparently something called the “Classic Brits” is to be televised on ITV this evening (technically ITV1, but the other ITV channels are so bereft of meaningful content that their existence is barely worth acknowledging). This represents a change from the usual “Classical” awards, which some wise executive has decided is too redolent of an elitist, disdainful art form for mainstream viewers. I would be fascinated to meet the person whose viewing intentions were influenced by this wordplay. Perhaps he is among us, this floating viewer who tunes in expecting something about vintage cars, only to discover a world previously denied to him by small-minded elitists with their unreasonable insistence on sitting still and listening for what are sometimes long periods without cutting to an ad break, clapping out the pulse or taking a ghoulish interest in the performers’ private lives.
Still if this were just a cosmetic change we could perhaps laugh it off. But it would appear from the trailers that the channel which axed The Bill for financial reasons, only to apply the largest part of its economies to the wages of the presenters of its breakfast show Bankbreak, has decided that a full hour of classical music is just too much of an advertising risk, and instead must be adulterated by musicals and Shirley Bassey. I have nothing against Les Miserables, and it might well be that classical aficionados are thrown the odd bone of a violin concerto, but the idea that our foremost commercial broadcaster cannot even muster one classical music programme a year without turning it into some kind of variety show is profoundly depressing. The most culture the erstwhile home of the South Bank Show can now manage is Popstar to Operastar. Is our nation so much of a backwater that there is no market for anything more than this? I really don’t think it is, but clearly ITV has very little faith in its audiences’ tastes, nor any impulse to think originally and challenge them. The result is that a single Proms season on the BBC manages to fit in more culture than we are likely to see on ITV this side of the twenty-second century, by which time it might finally have finished paying Simon Cowell‘s pension.
Some might argue that events like the Classic Brits help to introduce new audiences to classical music, by mixing the violin concertos with popular numbers. This might make sense if such newcomers had somewhere to go with their new-found interest, other than Sky Arts or back to Britain’s Got Talent. Also the way classical music is presented on mainstream television – as an alternative variety of pop, gleaming with shallow glamour – is not going to encourage anyone to make the leap from Nessun Dorma to the Ring Cycle. As such we must conclude that ITV’s lack of interest in the classical genre is genuine, which is a great sadness for the many exposed only to the conspiratorial lie that the classical world is grey and unwelcoming.