BBC: Arena celebrates 40 incredible years


Arena, the BBC’s, more often than not unmissable, art strand is an incredible 40 years old this year and the Beeb have revealed that there will be a 90 minute special full of material from the show’s 600 film strong archive. Not only that but there will be an online “experience” that runs for a full 24 hours!

From the first edition on 1 October 1975, which featured Laurence Olivier in conversation with Kenneth Tynan, Arena has never failed to attract the great names. For many of the most significant figures in the arts and contemporary culture – Bob Dylan, Orson Welles, Paul McCartney, Louise Bourgeois, Tammy Wynette and Nelson Mandela, to name but a few – Arena has held a special place.

Now in its 40th year, Arena have produced an unprecedented audio-visual experience that runs for 24 hours – an unbroken account of night and day. Arena: Night And Day will be designed to run continuously online on any device, synchronised to real time, with an accompanying app to provide further information about the individual sequences as they unfold. It can also exist as a cinema screening, gallery installation or television transmission.

A 90-minute version of Arena: Night And Day directed by Anthony Wall (who created the series along with Emma Matthews) and Alex Jones, which will also follow the 24-hour cycle, will be transmitted on BBC Four on Sunday 22 November at 9pm. Introduced by John Lloyd, it will also feature some of the great stars and moments that have made Arena so distinctive.

Anthony Wall, Editor of Arena, says: “The fact of the matter is that the only place that these films could have been made over such a long period is within the BBC and I regard it as a great honour to have had that privilege.”

Jonty Claypole, Director of Arts at the BBC, says: “Over the last 40 years, Arena has produced many of the greatest documentaries in broadcasting history. Endlessly inventive, provocative and insightful, the Arena archive is a priceless cultural artefact in its own right. This 24-hour digital experience brings you face-to-face with many of the icons of modern art and culture, but with the ambition and creative flair we associate with the brand. It is a fitting testament to the collective brilliance of the many producers, directors and teams who have made Arena great.”

The Arena archive is a treasure trove of the lives and work of the greatest artists and thinkers of the last century. The films come from all over the world, dealing not only with art itself but the events which forged it. In Arena: Night And Day, the day begins with Dylan Thomas reciting ‘to begin at the beginning’, the sun rising on Mandela’s Robben Island, Van Morrison’s Ulster, Eric Sykes’s London, Sonny Rollins’ New York, Bluefields Nicaragua, the Mali desert and the Iron Curtain – all scenes from Arena films. At lunch time, Burroughs and Warhol enjoy Lapin au Moutarde in the Chelsea Hotel, while Elvis’s relatives catch squirrel in Mississippi. So the day goes on through the afternoon to the strange and beautiful hour of the gloaming – to the attractions of the night to the dreams of Edna Everage, Jean Genet and David Bowie, before returning to the darkest hour and to dawn with Dylan Thomas.