Arena (TV series)

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Genre Documentary
Created by Humphrey Burton
Written by Various
Directed by Various
Opening theme "Another Green World" by Brian Eno
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes over 500
Editor(s) Anthony Wall (1985-)
Production company(s) BBC
Original channel BBC Two (1975-2003)
BBC Four (2003-)
External links
BBC Four - Arena

Arena is a British television documentary series, made and broadcast by the BBC. Voted by leading TV executives in Broadcast magazine as one of the top 50 most influential programmes of all time, it has run since 1 October 1975 with over five hundred episodes made, directed by the likes of Martin Scorsese, Alan Yentob, Roly Keating, Frederick Baker, Volker Schlondorff and Vikram Jayanti. Arena's subjects are a roll-call of the world's best known cultural figures from the 20th and 21st centuries, from singers Bob Dylan and Amy Winehouse to academics Edward Said and Eric Hobsbawm, from writers Jean Genet and V S Naipaul to artists Francis Bacon and Louise Bourgeois. The current series editor is Anthony Wall.


The arts strand Arena was initially created in 1975[1] by the BBC Head of Music & Arts at that time, Humphrey Burton, when he founded a magazine named Arena exploring art, design, filmmaking, and theatre. After joining Burton on the project,[2] editor Alan Yentob developed the arts programme into a television series which attempted to look at arts subjects from alternative perspectives. Inspired by the 1967 Omnibus episode entitled ‘Tyger Tyger’ exploring the William Blake poem, Arena adopted a format of single subject essays and achieved critical acclaim for its refreshing output.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a group of radical producers and television developers became involved with Yentob and Arena due to the series’ location in Kensington House, West London. This paved the way for various ground-breaking artistic collaborations with the likes of Leslie Megahey, Francis Hanly and Mary Dickinson, and their success was heightened on the arrival of Nigel Finch and Anthony Wall in the late 1970s who worked together effectively as producers and directors of films such as My Way and Chelsea Hotel. On Yentob’s move to become Head of Music & Arts in 1985, Finch and Wall took over the management of Arena until the event of Finch’s death in 1995. Following a period of uncertainty concerning the future of the arts strand, series editor Wall protected the series in a reshuffle of the BBC which had initially led to the removal of Arena programmes for transmission on BBC Two, and it became primarily broadcast on BBC Four.

Werner Herzog has praised the series as "the oasis in the sea of insanity that is television".


The programme's theme music is taken from the title track of the 1975 album Another Green World by Brian Eno, himself the subject of a 2010 edition film subtitled Another Green World.[3]

The Arena opening titles were voted among the 'Top 5 Most Influential Opening Titles in the History of Television' by Broadcast magazine in 2004.

Series editors[edit]

Anthony Wall[4] has been the Editor of Arena since 1985. He joined the series in 1979 and became one of its leading directors, working notably with Nigel Finch on ground breaking documentaries, including My Way, The Chelsea Hotel, and Desert Island Discs, that defined the Arena style. During Wall’s time at Arena, the strand won many of its awards.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Arena has won an International Emmy,[5] a Grammy Award,[6] nine BAFTAs,[7] six Royal Television Society Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award and the Prix Italia. Arena also won the Grand Jury Prize for Paris is Burning and the Best Performance Award for Lili Taylor's role in I Shot Andy Warhol at the Sundance Film Festival.

Selected filmography[edit]

  • 2014 Whatever Happened to Spitting Image?
  • 2012 Magical Mystery Tour Revisited
  • 2008 Paul Scofield
  • 2008 Cab driver
  • 2007 Bob Marley: Exodus
  • 2006 The Archers
  • 2006 Pete Doherty
  • 2005 Dylan In The Madhouse
  • 2004 Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus
  • 2003 Dylan Thomas – From Grave To Cradle
  • 2002 My Way
  • 2001 Sykes and a Day
  • 2001 The Private Dirk Bogarde
  • 1999 Looking for The Iron Curtain
  • 1998 Frank Sinatra: The Voice of the Century
  • 1998 The Brian Epstein Story
  • 1997 Burroughs (repeat of the film by Howard Brookner)
  • 1995 The Peter Sellers Story (three parter)
  • 1994 Phillip K Dick - A Day in the Afterlife
  • 1993 Tales of Rock 'N' Roll: Peggy Sue, Heartbreak Hotel, Walk On The Wild Side & Highway 61 Revisited (Four part documentaries on the songs that were sung by Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Lou Reed & Bob Dylan)
  • 1989 Heavy Metal
  • 1988 Slim Gaillard's Civilisation
  • 1987 Salvador Dalí
  • 1987 How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria
  • 1986 Maytime On The Mosquito Coast
  • 1984 David Inshaw - Between Dreaming and Waking
  • 1984 The Everly Brothers - Songs of Innocence and Experience
  • 1983 The Life And Times Of Don Luis Buñuel
  • 1983 Burroughs (directed by Howard Brookner)
  • 1982 Desert Island Discs, Upon Westminster Bridge, Private Life of the Ford Cortina
  • 1981 Superman – The Comic Strip Hero, Today Carshalton Beeches Tomorrow Croydon, Brighton To Barbados
  • 1980 Luck and Flaw
  • 1976 Video Art (featuring David Hall)
  • 1975 Theatre (featuring Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Tynan)


  1. ^ Tise Vahimagi. (2003-12) "Burton, Humphrey (1931-) ". BFI Screen Online". Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  2. ^ BBC. (01/2007) "Alan Yentob, Creative Director ". Inside the BBC" / BBC". Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  3. ^ Nigel Smith (22 February 2010). "Brian Eno and the Arena Bottle". BBC Music Blog. BBC. Retrieved 6 April 2012. 
  4. ^ Wikipedia. (25/05/2013) "Anthony Wall (film-maker)". Anthony Wall (film-maker) - Wikipedia". Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  5. ^ International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. (2013) “International Emmy Awards – Previous Winners 'Arts Programme'”. The International Emmy Awards. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  6. ^ The Recording Academy. (2013) “GRAMMY.COM Past Winners Search – ‘No Direction Home’”. GRAMMY.COM. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  7. ^ British Academy of Film and Television Arts. (2013) “BAFTA Awards Search – ‘Arena’”. BAFTA. Retrieved 19 June 2013.

External links[edit]