BBC Four

As The Open University turns 40, former OU student Lenny Henry explores the roots of the largest university in the UK, and a world leader in distance education, for a new BBC Four documentary.

In Happy Birthday To OU (working title) Lenny imparts some of his own experiences while studying for a BA in English Literature.

In addition the programme also profiles some remarkable people who taught and studied through the OU.

Contributors include David Attenborough, who was controller of BBC Two when the OU launched; David Puttnam, the Chancellor of the OU; Myleene Klass, who studied astrophysics at the OU; Anna Ford, an early lecturer and presenter; and Robin Wilson, the son of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, and now a maths professor at the OU with a penchant for brightly-coloured jumpers.

Reflecting on the OU’s partnership with the BBC, Lenny remembers returning home and switching on the TV to see a man in a tank top explaining quantum physics.

Over the years this partnership has produced a very broad range of acclaimed programmes which reach audiences outside the traditional teaching and learning base, including Child Of Our Time, Coast, Life In Cold Blood, Timewatch and The Money Programme.

Award-winning series this year include James May’s Big Ideas and The History Of Scotland.

The programme also explores how the OU has pioneered technology and harnessed it to improve distance education.

Originally using audio cassettes, video and late-night TV broadcasts, the OU has evolved to use the web, podcasts and CD-ROMs to reach students.

In 2008, the OU became the first British university to offer free downloadable course material via iTunes U and today over 50,000 OU tracks are downloaded from iTunes U each week.

Lenny Henry says: “Since beginning my BA Hons with the OU I have achieved something I never thought possible. I have studied for six years in a semi-disciplined way (ha ha) whilst also sustaining a career and finding time for my family, who are now incredibly proud of me and insist on seeing my scroll whenever possible!

“The OU has given me confidence in my abilities both creatively and academically.”

George Entwistle, Controller, Knowledge Commissioning, says: “The partnership the BBC has enjoyed during the last 40 years with The Open University has been of the utmost importance.

“Our alliance continues to evolve and now features innovative multiplatform commissions in addition to fantastic linear programming.

“I hope together the OU and the BBC will continue to inform, educate and entertain the nation for many more years to come.”

Andrew Law, Director, Multiplatform Broadcasting at The Open University, says: “The BBC and The Open University are two of the great social inventions of the 20th century.

“The partnership has provided learning journeys for hundreds of thousands of graduates – their interests sparked by some of the best factual broadcasts in the UK.

“Together we are celebrating 40 years of bringing inspiration to the nation.”

Emma De’Ath, Multiplatform Commissioner for the Open University at the BBC, says: “Happy Birthday to the OU!

“We are extremely proud of our collaboration with the Open University which has produced a huge range of content on a wide range of BBC channels and platforms.

“The BBC/OU partnership has reached a very wide spectrum of audiences over the past four decades – and many programmes have been award-winners – so there’s much to celebrate.”

The 1 x 60-minute film is being made by BBC Birmingham. It was commissioned by Emma Swain and the executive producer is Bill Lyons.

On Sunday 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ended a landmark four-day trip on the Apollo 11 spacecraft and made history by becoming the first humans to step foot on the Moon. Forty years since those first “small steps” were taken, BBC Two and BBC Four take a voyage “out of this world” with a month-long Moon Season of programming to celebrate this most momentous historical event, “launching” this summer.

As the season’s centrepiece, Top Gear’s James May makes his own very personal mission to travel to the ends of the Earth in two one-off documentaries.

On BBC Two, James May On The Moon takes the presenter on a personal voyage to fulfil his lifelong dream of flying to the edge of space. Along the way, he meets some astronauts who give their own personal accounts of what it is like to fly to the Moon.

BBC Four then travels 70,000 feet above the Earth to find out more about James May’s intergalactic journey into the unknown, in James May At The Edge Of Space. Flying in a U-2 spy plane, James looks out of his plane to see Planet Earth far below him.

Throughout the rest of the month, BBC Two and BBC Four will celebrate the auspicious events of 20 July 1969 with programmes featuring in-depth interviews and insight from the people who were there at the time, together with amazing restored archive footage.

In addition, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 5 Live will mark this landmark historical date through dedicated programming themed around the Moon landings.

BBC Archive is also supporting the Moon Season by releasing a new online collection that tells the story of the Apollo moon missions, how they got off the ground and why they came to an abrupt end.

This is the latest collection being released by BBC Archive that enables the public to take advantage of the BBC’s access to unique historical content. The new collection will be found at when the Moon Season begins.

Three major one-off films about the artistic careers of British female icons Margot Fonteyn, Gracie Fields and Enid Blyton will premiere this autumn in a special season of dramas on BBC Four, it was announced today.

Richard Klein, Controller, BBC Four, says: “These films are sympathetic but frank dramatisations of women in the spotlight and how their backstage lives play out.

“Once again BBC Four is championing strong dramas that seek to give insight into some of Britain’s most famous artists, reflecting complex lives, conflicting pressures and very human behaviour.”

Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning, adds: “The season brings together some of the country’s best actresses, writers and directors to tell the story of three very special women whose incredible body of work help defined the artistic life of a century.”

Jane Horrocks (Little Voice, The Street, The Amazing Mrs Pritchard) is Gracie! in Nick Vivian’s (Ted And Alice, The Mystery Of Men, Dancing Queen) romantic comedy from BBC Drama Production about Gracie Fields, singer and comedienne from Rochdale who rose to fame in the Thirties – becoming the nation’s darling and highest-paid film actress in the world.

Renowned for her “common touch”, Gracie symbolised the indomitable spirit of Thirties Britain. Her mass appeal was unprecedented.

Beginning at the phenomenal peak of her career when her iconic status seemed indestructible, this one-off film examines Gracie’s potent war-time struggle between love and duty, and the staggering long-term repercussions of her relationship with Italian-born Hollywood director Monty Banks.

The film opens a window on the complicated and fragile private life of a very public star who, despite everything, was determined to keep the nation laughing.

Jane Horrocks will sing a stunning repertoire of Gracie songs including Sally, Sing As We Go and I Never Cried So Much In All My Life.

Filming in and around London from July 2009, Gracie! is produced by Janet Tyler. The director is Brian Percival (North And South, Ruby In The Smoke, Shakespeare Re-told: Much Ado About Nothing). The executive producer is Anne Pivcevic (Little Dorrit, Sense And Sensibility, Miss Austen Regrets). Jamie Laurenson is the BBC Commissioning Editor.

Anne-Marie Duff (Is Anybody There, Born Equal, The Virgin Queen) will play Margot in the Amanda Coe (Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story, Shameless) film from Mammoth Screen about one of the truly great dancers of our time – Margot Fonteyn.

Partly based on Meredith Daneman’s biography of Fonteyn, the 90-minute drama will explore Margot’s dancing partnership and complex relationship with Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev, forged at the point in her career when everyone expected her to retire.

Instead their partnership became internationally renowned and Fonteyn danced for another 17 years. The collaboration propelled them into the stratosphere of international stardom, creating a kind of celebrity that had never existed before.

Filming in and around London in June 2009, Margot was developed by Mammoth Screen’s Rebecca Keane (Lost In Austen). The director is Otto Bathurst (Criminal Justice) and producer is Celia Duval (Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk To Finchley). The executive producers are Michele Buck (Sex Traffic) and Damien Timmer (Housewife 49) for Mammoth Screen and writer, Amanda Coe. Jamie Laurenson is the BBC Commissioning Editor.

Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter, Sweeney Todd) leads the cast in Enid Blyton from Carnival Film & Television.

Matthew Macfadyen (Frost/Nixon, Little Dorrit) and Denis Lawson (Bleak House) also star.

One of the most recognised storytellers of all time, Enid Blyton’s charming characters and classic tales have enchanted generations of children all over the world for almost 80 years.

This one-off drama follows the woman behind the enduring and compelling stories such as the beloved Famous Five, Secret Seven, Malory Towers and Noddy series. She sold more than 500 million books in 40 countries.

Enid Blyton is written by Lindsay Shapero. The director is James Hawes (The 39 Steps, Miss Marie Lloyd: Queen Of The Music Hall), and the producer is Lee Morris (My Zinc Bed; The Damned United). The Executive Producer at Carnival Film & Television is Sally Woodward Gentle (The Ruby In The Smoke, Whitechapel, Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa!). The BBC executive producer is Eleanor Moran. Jamie Laurenson is the BBC Commissioning Editor.

Commissioned by Ben Stephenson, Controller, Drama Commissioning, BBC, and Richard Klein, Margot, Gracie! and Enid Blyton are the latest drama commissions for BBC Four which have also included The Curse of Comedy season, Marie Lloyd, Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk To Finchley, Barbara Cartland, Fanny Hill, Crooked House plus the forthcoming drama Breaking The Mould starring Dominic West.

Celebrating the best of contemporary international film-making and highlighting BBC Four’s commitment to international cinema, the channel today announces the shortlist of nominations for the sixth BBC Four World Cinema Award.

Additionally this year a new special award will mark the career of a great film maker with Werner Herzog receiving the inaugural BBC Four World Cinema Achievement Award at this month’s ceremony.

Richard Klein, Controller of BBC Four, says: “This is proof positive of what a terrific year it’s been in international film. Each of the shortlisted films enthrals, challenges and entertains in equal measure.

“And – in an exciting first for us – it’s an honour to celebrate the work of one of film’s finest storytellers, the indefatigable Werner Herzog.”

The shortlist of nominations for BBC Four’s World Cinema Award 2009 recognises the wealth of contemporary international film-making.

In conjunction with the BBC Four World Cinema Award, selected cinemas including the BFI Southbank (London), The Cornerhouse (Manchester), the Filmhouse (Edinburgh), the Eden Court Theatre (Inverness), Tyneside Cinema (Newcastle upon Tyne), the Lighthouse (Poole), Dundee Contemporary Arts and the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre (Dumfries) will be showing the five shortlisted films in January and February.

Check local listings for other UK screenings of the shortlisted films.

Showcasing Werner Herzog’s talents, BBC Four will broadcast a season of four of his best films: Aguirre Wrath Of God, Fitzcarraldo, The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser and Nosferatu The Vampyre.

This season also includes Werner Herzog On The Culture Show, featuring an interview he originally did with Mark Kermode which first aired on BBC Two’s The Culture Show.

More than 200 UK-wide film critics were invited to choose one title each from the list of around 150 foreign language films released in the UK in 2008.

A specially assembled jury will debate the films and select an overall winner.

The director of the winning film will receive the award at a special television ceremony at the BFI Southbank in London, to be broadcast on Saturday 31 January and presented by Jonathan Ross.

BBC Four World Cinema Award shortlist:

Director: Matteo Garrone
Five dark fictional stories are woven together bringing to life the struggles of the residents from the provinces of Naples and Caserta. Living within the oppressive parameters of the Camorra (Mafia), normality is a luxury for only a few who escape their ruthless regime.

Directors: Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi
This film is the story of Marjane, a young girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution. Bright and determined, her defiant attitude leads to a poignant tale of her life’s journey, a future inextricably linked to the experiences in her past.

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
Director: Julian Schnabel
Based on his true story, Jean-Dominique Bauby wakes from a stroke to discover he is cocooned in a paralysed body, with movement ability restricted to just the blinking of his left eye. Although trapped in his body, his imagination continues to soar.

The Orphanage
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Laura returns to the orphanage she grew up in – with her husband and seven-year-old son Simon – with the dream of re-opening it. But Simon’s behaviour becomes increasingly sinister in this new home, convincing Laura the house holds terrible secrets from the past.

4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Otilia and Gabita are friends who work together at a university in a small town in Romania under Communist rule. When Gabita becomes pregnant, Otilia accompanies her when she goes for an illegal abortion. The film depicts the girls’ gritty situation as they make tough decisions and deal with the consequences.

The sixth annual BBC Four World Cinema Awards ceremony will be held on Tuesday 27 January and shown in a special programme on BBC Four on Saturday 31 January.

BBC Four looks at a time when Britain went too far

This autumn, BBC Four explores an age of excess in a season of drama and documentary. The first television adaptation of John Cleland’s novel Fanny Hill, two accompanying documentaries and supporting archive material reveal a world characterised by unrestrained indulgence.

Introducing the autumn schedule, acting BBC Four Controller George Entwistle said:

“As the 18th century unfolds it seems more and more clearly defined by an ‘anything goes’ atmosphere, perhaps best symbolised by one of the most controversial novels ever written, Fanny Hill. Our new season looks at the forces which shaped this extraordinary time and asks how far the excess of the period explains the prudery and restraint of the Victorian era that followed.

“I’m delighted to be bringing the first television adaptation of this famous novel to television. Written by Andrew Davies, it has a fabulous cast including Alison Steadman, Samantha Bond and Hugo Speer, alongside newcomer Rebecca Night in the lead role. While missing none of the period’s provocative flavour, Andrew’s adaptation raises some surprisingly modern questions about what women must do to survive in a male world.”

A new documentary, The Curse Of Success, tells the story of the novel’s author, John Cleland,who always felt the book had blighted his career and ruined his reputation.

While in The Age Of Excess, writer and broadcaster Matthew Sweet delves into a world where bawdy ballads, licentious pamphlets and erotic prints helped set the aesthetic tone of 18th century England.

In one of the most significant arts series anywhere on British television this year, BBC Four’s The Genius Of Photography tells the comprehensive history of the most influential art form of the 20th and 21st centuries.

This six-part series examines the way this unpredictable, democratic, magical medium has transformed the way we see ourselves and the world around us. From daguerreotype to digital, portraits to photo–journalism and high art to advertising, every aspect of photography is explored with interviews from some of the biggest names in contemporary photography including Nan Goldin, Juergen Teller, Sally Mann and Martin Parr.

BBC Four is also excited to be bringing two new acquisitions to the channel in the coming months.

Starting this week is Flight Of The Conchords – a quirky, offbeat comedy from HBO that follows the daily trials and tribulations of New Zealand’s “fourth most successful folk act” as they try to break on to the world stage in New York.

While, for 2008, the channel is delighted to have acquired Mad Men, the new series from Matthew Weiner, Emmy Award-winning writer and executive producer of The Sopranos.

Set on and around Madison Avenue – home of America’s ad agencies in Sixties New York and the “Mad” of the title – this sophisticated, high quality, morally ambiguous drama series delves into the lives, loves and professional ambitions of the ruthlessly competitive men and women working at Sterling Cooper advertising agency. Cinematic in its scale and depth of characterisation, Mad Men runs to 13 compelling episodes.

This autumn, BBC Four is also reworking its offer for Saturday nights with the promise of classic BBC television drama.

George Entwistle says: “The Saturday night audience is ready to be entertained and we want to offer them a distinctive and consistent BBC Four take on that idea.

“We’re lining up a two hour block every Saturday where viewers can enjoy the best of BBC drama – grown-up storytelling for people who want to be diverted but want to be stimulated too. Starting with John Le Carré and moving into the complete Jane Austen in the winter, Saturdays on BBC Four will be a promise of the best of British television drama.”

Award–winning international documentary strand Storyville celebrates its 10th anniversary this November and, to mark this milestone, the BBC is broadcasting a special selection of Storyville documentaries reflecting the history of this unique, pioneering strand.

The highlight of the season is Why Democracy?, an ambitious look at one of the most dominant political issues of modern times. BBC Four and BBC Two are joining broadcasters from around the world to show a series of documentaries aimed at starting a global conversation about democracy.

Among our forthcoming science programmes, leading theoretical physicist Dr Michio Kaku lays out his Visions Of The Future in a three-part series which examines the science fact behind many of the ideas that have driven science fiction in recent decades. Dr Kaku’s over-arching inquiry is into the nature of humanity’s relationship with science – and science’s capacity to make us superhuman.

Two accompanying programmes explore similar themes in different ways. In Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, the lead singer from the rock band Eels, Mark Everett, goes in search of the father he never really knew, quantum physicist Hugh Everett III, whose great theory on parallel worlds has its 50th anniversary this year.

And in The History of the World Backwards, comedian and author Rob Newman shares his unique perspective on history in an innovative comedy series. Featuring comedy, archive and music, the programmes are a time warp in which the world runs in reverse, but time still flows forwards.

The huge impact of the changing styles of British pop and dance are explored in two seasons.

Pop On Trial puts pop music in the dock, scrutinising the best of pop from each decade starting with the Fifties.

Pop Britannia and Dance Britannia tell the definitive story of how these movements have shaped and been shaped by social change in Britain since the Second World War.

Finally, look out for Russell Brand as he takes to the road in the footsteps of his literary hero Jack Kerouac and his classic book in On The Road With Russell Brand.

Notes to Editors

Viewing figures:

BBC Four has enjoyed its strongest ever summer. Stephen Fry Night gave the channel its best daily share (2.82% over transmission hours) and its best performing documentary to air on the channel with Stephen Fry: 50 Not Out (641,000 and 3.68% share).

The channel also enjoyed two weeks of record breaking share in week 33 (1.09% in transmission hours) and week 34 (1.25% in transmission hours).

Other strong programmes this year were:

Bombay Railway (555,000 and 3.1% share)
Edwardian Supersize Me (547,000 and 2.8% share)
Wainwright’s Walks (500,000 and 2.5% share)
Secret Life Of The Motorway (498,000 and 3% share)
Children’s TV On Trial (330,000 and 1.8% share)

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1