The South Bank Show review: Skinner and Bragg make a compelling company

IT started on ITV one Sunday night in 1978 with a show featuring Paul McCartney and ended on another Sunday night in 2009 with a show watching The Royal Shakespeare Company.

n between those two there were over 700 shows focusing on almost every major art figure – painters and sculptors, singers, musicians and composers (popular and classical), novels writer, playwright, poet, filmmaker, theater director, actor, dancer, choreographer and comedian – of the 20th and 21st centuries up to that point.

The South Bank Show (Sky Arts, Wednesday) would most likely still be dead and buried had Sky not swooped in a year later and retrieved a precious cultural gem that ITV, in its pursuit of an audience with a common denominator, lowest, was thrown into the bin without a second thought.

How ironic is it that a company then still owned by the cunning philistine Rupert Murdoch becomes the savior of the last vestiges of intelligent life on ITV’s weekend schedule?

The key to The South Bank Show’s The call has always been that producer/editor Melvyn Bragg refuses to treat so-called high and low culture as anything other than equal.

That philosophy is reflected in three new episodes. Next Wednesday’s subject is Helen Mirren. The following week was retired ballet director and dancer Carlos Acosta.

The first, however, was Birmingham comedian Frank Skinner, who sat with Bragg in the empty Leicester Square Theatre.

There’s a series of clips from Skinner’s indie shows, illustrating how his comedy has evolved over the years since being littered with, as he puts it, “nipple jokes.” ” (which earned him a reputation as a “comedian who talks about sex a lot”) to something more thoughtful.

“I don’t talk about my sex life now for the same reason I don’t talk about climbing trees,” he said. “It has stopped!”

There are a few short but revealing excursions in daylight. He pointed out the council house where he lived until he was 20 years old. It is not a mixed community like a split community. All the houses across the street are privately owned. You could say, Skinner recalls, because none of the councils had cars parked outside.

He had a quick chat on the bus with fellow Brummie Liz Berry, a poet whose work he admired. It might come as a surprise if, like me, you only got to know Skinner when he stood up and appeared on TV on board shows and 1990s hits. fantasy soccer league, which he hosted with his old friend and housemate David Baddiel, Skinner has a deep and enduring passion for poetry and even hosts a podcast about it.

He visited his old local church and ran into a friend from his school days who still volunteered there. Skinner is a devout Catholic who prays every morning and night – perhaps not the greatest confession for a comedian – and has written a humorous/serious book called A comedian’s prayer book.

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But most of the time this is SBS in its purest form: two attractive people having a wide-ranging conversation always feels spontaneous rather than rehearsed.

As with the McCartney show years before, you get the sense Bragg feels a special connection to Skinner. Both are smart, talented working-class boys who have done well, to put it mildly, in their chosen fields.

It seems this is what Skinner’s father, a hard-working man with nothing served on his plate, most wanted in his son, whom he encouraged to pursue a career in comedy when he was young. just turned eight.

“He always felt there was something on the hill,” he told Bragg. “He never crossed the hill and he wanted me.”

Skinner is emotional as he recalls how badly he disappointed his father when he was expelled from school at age 16 for stealing dinner tickets and selling them to his classmates.

“That was the first time he hit me,” he said, eyes welling with tears. “I really feel like I let him down.”

However, it is moving when he talks about how his eyes and mind were opened to the power and beauty of the language in doing so in English. “It was thrilling, it was exciting,” he said.

This is a great return to a great series. The South Bank Show review: Skinner and Bragg make a compelling company

Fry Electronics Team

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