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The Late Show (BBC TV series)

The Late Show (1989–1995) is a British television arts magazine programme that was broadcast on BBC Two weeknights at 11.15pm—directly after Newsnight—often referred to as the "graveyard slot" in terms of television scheduling.

The series was commissioned by BBC Two Controller Alan Yentob, who had a background in serious arts documentaries, but the production team — led by Michael Jackson — were mostly from youth programming backgrounds including Network 7. The series combined a number of format elements from earlier BBC arts magazine programmes such as Monitor and Late Night Line-Up. With the cancellation of The Old Grey Whistle Test the series became one of the few spaces on BBC television for live music performances.

The series originally featured a round-table discussion hosted by Clive James on Friday nights. However this format was dropped after the second series.

The show pulled in heavyweight popular music acts live or pre-recorded, including Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Public Enemy, Joni Mitchell, The Stone Roses, Dick Dale, and Jeff Buckley. At the time, The Late Show came under the now defunct Music and Arts Department at the BBC, which also produced the long-form Omnibus and Arena programmes.

The forty and sometimes fifty-minute programmes were presented mostly live from a bare black set in Lime Grove Studio D until 14 June 1991 - when it then transferred to BBC Television Centre in White City, west London. The regular format was for a single presenter to provide links for a number of filmed features and hold an interview or panel discussion in the studio. In some editions there would be a live music act that would perform a set during the programme. Some editions were given over to in-depth coverage of a single topic, for example a whole programme on National Poetry Day.

Some weeks would be given over to one subject across the week, such as Italy week, Berlin week and, in 1995, Ireland week. Some outside broadcasts were made at the time by The Late Show team including the Booker Prize and the Mercury Music Prize. Most items were shot on videotape. Amongst the directors who worked on the series are Paul Tickell, David Upshal, Sheree Folkson, Mark Cooper, David Evans, Anand Tucker, Mary Harron and Sharon Maguire. Later in the series' run a regular panel discussion — Late Review — was introduced looking at new films, books and plays and other arts and cultural events. Regular contributors to this included Tony Parsons, Tom Paulin and Allison Pearson, and it was chaired by The Guardian journalist Mark Lawson.

In 1991 Jackson left the series to become Head of Music and Arts at the BBC; he later became Controller of BBC Two in 1993. From 1992 The Late Show was joined by the follow-on weekly music slot Later with Jools Holland that also drew away the programme's appeal to popular music acts. As Controller of BBC One, Alan Yentob began to revamp that channel's arts coverage which also competed editorially with The Late Show.

The series proper was cancelled, by Jackson, in 1995. A weekly review programme continued until March 2013 when it was moved from BBC Two to BBC Four and went from a weekly to a monthly broadcast slot. The Review Show is produced by the team that makes Newsnight. Former Editor Roly Keating is now the Chief Executive of the British Library. Janice Hadlow is now the controller of BBC Two.


The Late Show's presenters were mostly picked from up and coming writers and critics rather than professional broadcasters or journalists. For many it was their first exposure on mainstream television.

Regular presenters included:

Occasional Presenters:

Regular Reporters:

Notable moments

  • Outburst by comedian Keith Allen (eventually directed at a producer on the studio floor) during a round-table discussion on comedy. He mocked Farrukh Dhondy who was sitting at the table saying "you don't have a chip on your shoulder, you've got a vindaloo" Allen had been drinking heavily and eventually stormed off the set, hurling four-letter abuse at the producer.
  • Host Michael Ignatieff barking at a guest "Don't patronise me!"
  • Studio power was accidentally cut-off during a performance by The Stone Roses. As presenter Tracey Macleod struggled to cover and link to the next item lead singer Ian Brown could be heard repeatedly shouting "Amateurs".
  • The autocue freezing on Matthew Collings and him saying "I haven't got my script"
  • Matthew Collings talking to artist Michael Craig-Martin discussing one of his works on display in the studio: a glass of water on a high shelf which the artist claimed was an oak tree.
  • Sarah Dunant interviewing Salman Rushdie whilst he was still officially in hiding following the fatwa condemning him to death.
  • XTC performing 'Books Are Burning' from their Nonsuch album in 1992. After the group had stopped playing live ten years previously, it was a rare live performance from them.

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