Viewfinder Magazine

by Gil Toffell & Ali Ward, Learning on Screen

Welcome to ViewFinder Issue 120: Arena

This term we will be exploring the landmark BBC arts and culture series Arena. Rightly included in Broadcast Magazine’s 50 most influential programmes of all time as well as the BFI’s 100 BBC Gamechangers, Arena has been essential viewing for the culturally curious since its 1975 launch. Always innovative in its output, the show has been particularly noteworthy in its focus on cultural figures from marginalised social groups, its eschewing of high and low art binaries, and its keen eye for the peculiarities of British culture. These factors, at least in part, explain the series’ continued relevance and why, when the neon message in a bottle floats towards the viewer in the opening credits, one awaits the arrival of something special.

Examining Arena both in terms of its production context and in relation to programme content contributors to the issue include leading academics researching arts broadcasting and, significantly, creative personnel from the series itself. Indeed, we open the issue with an extended interview with Anthony Wall. A crucial figure in Arena’s development and character, Wall became the longest-serving Series Editor of the strand. In this interview he discusses, amongst other topics, the culture of working on the show and the nature of its distinct aesthetics and ethics.

Other contributions in the issue include examinations of individual episodes, such as Richard Haynes’s brilliant piece that explores the art of sport journalism in the Arena episode Sportswriter and Michael Hrebeniak’s excellent essay on the quirky episode The Private Life of the Ford Cortina. Further pieces include ‘The Arena Samuel Beckett season: Art, Drama and Adaptation’ by Jonathan Bignell, which broke the traditional format of the arts documentary, Mary Dickinson’s insightful ‘Arena: A Director’s Story’ and a wonderful exploration of Arena’s use of archive in Vana Goblot’s ‘Attitude, Alchemy, and Archive – Arena’s Arts Television and its Fight for Survival’ and Sergio Angelini’s ‘Arena – Ars Longa, Vita Brevis’.

It has been a pleasure to edit this edition which is in no doubt a fascinating study on one of the most important programmes in television history.

Enjoy issue 120!