The South Bank Show

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The South Bank Show
Presented byMelvyn Bragg
Opening themeVariation on Paganini's "24th Caprice" by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series44
No. of episodes811
Running time60mins (inc. adverts)
Production companyLWT
Original networkITV (14 January 1978 – 30 May 2010)
Sky Arts (27 May 2012 – present)
Original release14 January 1978 (1978-01-14) –

The South Bank Show is a British television arts magazine series originally produced by London Weekend Television and broadcast on ITV between 1978 and 2010. A new version of the series began 27 May 2012 on Sky Arts.[1] Conceived, written, and presented by former BBC arts broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, the show aims to bring both high art and popular culture to a mass audience.


ITV (1978–2010)[edit]

The programme was a replacement for Aquarius, the arts series which had been running since 1970. Presenter Melvyn Bragg was already well known for his arts broadcasting on BBC television, notably Monitor and BBC Two's The Lively Arts. It first aired on 14 January 1978, covering many subjects, including Germaine Greer, Gerald Scarfe and Paul McCartney. It is the longest continuously running arts programme on UK television. From the beginning the series' intent was to mix high art and popular culture. This has remained, and the programme has always focused predominantly on art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

For much of its life, the show was produced by London Weekend Television (LWT) for the ITV network.

In May 2009, ITV announced that the show was to come to an end. Although it was originally reported that the show was ending due to Bragg's retirement,[2] Bragg later made it clear that he decided to leave after they ended the show, and thought ending it was a mistake; according to him, "they've killed the show, so I thought, I'll go as well."[3][4]

On Monday 28 December 2009 the final ITV edition of The South Bank Show was broadcast, featuring The Royal Shakespeare Company as its subject. Melvyn Bragg announced on this programme that, after ITV's last South Bank Show Awards in January 2010, there would be a series of ten The South Bank Show Revisited programmes transmitted in early 2010, featuring updates on previous South Bank Show subjects.

The production archive for the ITV series, including unaired footage, is housed at the University of Leeds.[5]

ITV had 32 series with 736 episodes, from 1978 until 2010.

Sky Arts (2012–present)[edit]

In July 2010, it was revealed that Bragg had bought the rights to the brand and had first right of access to The South Bank Show archives.[6] Sky Arts broadcasts South Bank Show archive editions and hosted the South Bank Sky Arts Awards on 25 Jan 2011, presented by Melvyn Bragg, accompanied by a new arrangement of The South Bank Show theme.

Sky Arts revived The South Bank Show with a new series starting 27 May 2012.[1]

Since 2012 most series only have around 4–6 episodes.[7][8]

Theme music and visuals[edit]

The iconic image of the Hand of God giving life to Adam, used since the series' inception.

The theme music is taken from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Variations composed in 1977 for his brother, the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. This is based on the theme from Paganini's "24th Caprice". The brand image of the programme is an animated version of a detail from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling painting, specifically the image of the Hand of God giving life to Adam. It shows the two hands meeting, generating a lightning bolt.


There have been many subjects of the show,[9] including:



Directors who have made editions of the programme include:


From 18 September 2006, ITV released podcast of the interviews from the show, including extra material not included in the broadcast editions.[12]


The programme has been awarded more than 110 awards (including 12 BAFTAs, 5 Prix Italia and 4 RTS Awards). Pat Gavin's animated title sequences have won two BAFTAs.


The comedy series Dead Ringers often parodied The South Bank Show. It does this in a series of sketches called South Bank, a cross between The South Bank Show and the American cartoon South Park, set in the South Bank of London. In these sketches, Melvyn Bragg is Stan Marsh, Alan Yentob is Kyle Broflovski, Mark Lawson is Eric Cartman and Kenneth Branagh is Kenny McCormick.

A sketch in The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer featured Vic Reeves as Melvyn Bragg (with felt-tip marks on his face) presenting a feature on fictional folk singers Mulligan and O'Hare. Reeves depicts Bragg as an unlikely A-Team obsessive.

Harry Enfield's TV film Norbert Smith - a Life is a parody edition of The South Bank Show.

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's second series of Extras featured a reference to a fictional episode of The South Bank Show focused on madcap children's television presenters Dick and Dom.

Private Eye tends to parody Melvyn Bragg's name, and Spitting Image would rather accentuate his nasal accent. As Spitting Image was often aired immediately before The South Bank Show, episodes would often end with a send-up of Bragg, most notably in one episode having him advise viewers to switch off their televisions to avoid watching it.

Benny Hill once parodied Bragg in a 1978 episode of The Benny Hill Show as Melvyn Dragg. The name of the show was also parodied, and it was called "The South Blank Show."


  1. ^ a b "Sherlock and Twenty Twelve up for South Bank Awards". RadioTimes.
  2. ^ "ITV to axe The South Bank Show when Melvyn Bragg retires next year", The Guardian (London), 6 May 2009
  3. ^ Chitra Ramaswamy (9 November 2009). "Interview: Melvyn Bragg - Man out of time". The Scotsman. Retrieved 9 November 2009. 'It did [shock me] a bit, especially from [ITV chairman] Michael [Grade],' says Bragg before steeling himself. 'I think it's a mistake. But there you go. These things happen. You move on.'
  4. ^ See also Bragg's book of reminiscences, The South Bank Show: Final Cut. Hodder, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4447-0552-2
  5. ^ "South Bank Show Production Archive", University of Leeds, 18 November 2020
  6. ^ Brown, Maggie (19 July 2010). "Lord Bragg takes South Bank Show to Sky Arts". The Guardian. London.
  7. ^ "The South Bank Show". Sky Group. 2020. Archived from the original on 14 January 2023. Retrieved 14 February 2023.
  8. ^ "Six Outstanding Women Top the Line-Up for South Bank Show 2018". Retrieved 15 February 2023.
  9. ^ "The South Bank Show (a Subjects & Air Dates Guide)". Retrieved 19 July 2017.
  10. ^ "Drama & Soaps". The ITV Hub.
  11. ^ "South Bank Show[01/04/78]". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 5 August 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2013.
  12. ^ "The South Bank Show Podcast RSS". Archived from the original on 27 January 2010. Retrieved 21 May 2013.

External links[edit]