The South Bank Show Archive finds a new home


A major archive comprising hundreds of hours of unseen interviews with many of the world's leading artistic figures has been established at the University of Leeds.

Thousands of video tapes from the 32 year run of The South Bank Show have been acquired from ITV by the University. The cultural coup has been driven by the University’s Chancellor Melvyn Bragg, who conceived, edited and presented the flagship arts show throughout its run.

The South Bank Show, with its distinctive theme tune and opening credits, was a mainstay of British living rooms on Sunday nights from 1978 until 2010 and is widely celebrated for the way it combined high art and popular culture for a mass audience.

Virtually every leading light from all branches of the arts – from sculpture to cinema, theatre to pop music – joined Melvyn Bragg at some stage to film at least two hours of in-depth interview for one of the 760 or so shows, with the list of interviewees and programme topics reading like an encyclopaedia of the 20th and 21st century cultural landscape.

The hundreds of interviewees ranged from Paul McCartney, its very first interviewee, through to luminaries such as Simon Rattle, Rudolf Nureyev, Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller, Eric Clapton, David Lean, Tracey Emin, Francis Bacon, Paula Rego, Dolly Parton, Ingmar Bergman, Victoria Wood, William Golding, Judi Dench, David Hockney, Harold Pinter, Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Auerbach, Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller, Martin Scorsese and Dennis Potter, and subjects as diverse as Ralph Vaughan  Williams, The Smiths, Brookside, Scottish writers, prison drama groups, rap and Puerto Rican ghetto music. The Royal Shakespeare Company provided the focus for several shows, including the final episode.

From the original interview tapes, usually only 15 or 20 minutes were broadcast, with the rest rarely, if ever, viewed again after the initial editing process. 

This means that on the almost 8,500 tapes and reels of film now carefully stored in climate-controlled conditions as part of the University of Leeds Library’s Special Collections, there are up to 700 hours of footage providing a rich resource for scholars of music, film, theatre, fine art, literature and more.

Melvyn Bragg said: “I am delighted to have been able to help find The South Bank Show’s Archive such a good home at the University of Leeds’ Special Collections, where I know from first-hand experience it will be carefully managed for the benefit of world-leading researchers.

“The material it contains not only sheds light on the changing nature of television – and the arts more generally – but also provides insight into the shifting cultural tastes of Britain over the 32 years."

Sir Alan Langlands, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds, added:

“We are proud and immensely grateful that our Chancellor Melvyn Bragg and ITV have entrusted the University with this remarkable archive. On Sunday evenings Andrew Lloyd Webber's variation on the theme from Paganini's '24th Caprice' and Michelangelo's hand of God giving life to Adam through a lightning bolt signalled the start of The South Bank Show and an enjoyable and uplifting close to the weekend.

"This unparalleled collection will now be cherished and explored by future generations of students, teachers and researchers long into the future.”

University of Leeds Librarian, Stella Butler, said: “The South Bank Show Archive is potentially a hugely rich and untapped resource from one of the longest-running arts programmes in the world. We have been granted an exclusive licence to use the material for educational purposes, so as well as using this archive for research and teaching, we plan to digitise parts so that the public can view some of the materials too.” 

Dale Grayson, Director of Archive & Information Policy at ITV, said: "ITV's relationship with The South Bank Show, and with Melvyn, stretches back many years and we are very pleased to have helped facilitate the transfer of the show's production archive to the University of Leeds.

"This important collection of programmes has immense cultural value and we are delighted that material from this iconic series will be preserved by the University for future researchers and educational uses."

Further information

Image: University of Leeds Librarian, Stella Butler, with materials from The South Bank Show Archive.

For more information, contact the University of Leeds press office on or call 01133434031.

Watch a short show reel of previously broadcast material in The South Bank Show, provided by ITV.


What is The South Bank Show?

The South Bank Show is a television arts magazine show.

It was conceived, edited and presented by renowned arts broadcaster and University of Leeds Chancellor, Melvyn Bragg, and aimed to combine both high art and popular culture for a mass audience.

It was produced for ITV between 1978 and 2010. It first aired on 14 January 1978 and is the longest continuously running arts programme on UK television.

More than 780 episodes were produced and broadcast - view the full list (pdf).

What is in The South Bank Show Archive?

The Archive comprises almost 8500 tapes and film reels of unedited interview footage.

Many of these are unlabelled so it will require a huge familiarisation process to understand the extent, nature and content of the collection.

What will the University of Leeds do with it? Who will use this?

The ambition is to catalogue and arrange the Archive to support its care and management, and to exploit the Archive for academic and educational purposes. 

The University of Leeds will use this archive for research and teaching, and will digitise parts of the Archive, so that the public can view some of the materials.

Please also see: Can the material be licensed?

How long will it take to sort through the contents of the Archive?

University staff members within Special Collections will need to familiarise themselves with the extent, nature and content of the Archive. This is a hugely labour-intensive project that will take time.

The University will first carry out a sampling exercise. This will enable a more accurate estimation of how long it will take to produce a basic inventory for reference. The University will then assess how best to enable researchers, students and the public to access this material. It is anticipated that this first phase will take well over 12 months.

Can the public see the contents of the archive now?

Not yet. Many of the items are unlabelled and the University of Leeds needs to familiarise itself with the extent, nature and content of the Archive.

The ambition is to catalogue and arrange the Archive to support research and teaching, and in time, to digitise parts of the Archive, so that the general public can view some of the footage.

In the meantime, you can see a short show reel of previously broadcast material, provided by ITV. 

Please also see: How long will it take to sort through the contents of the Archive?

Why the University of Leeds?

The University of Leeds has acquired The South Bank Show Archive with the support of Melyvn Bragg, who has been the University’s Chancellor for 15 years. The University is well placed to provide the expert care and management needed to preserve the Archive - its Special Collections, housed in the Brotherton Library, has some of the finest collections of rare books and manuscripts. The University of Leeds has already acquired Melvyn Bragg’s literary archive.

Leeds is also the only library to have five of its Special Collections awarded Designated Status by the Arts Council, which recognises the essential contribution the collections make to England's cultural identity and heritage. 

Special Collections in the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds took delivery in of the Archive, which was previously stored by ITV, in January 2015. Cathy Haslam, who with Melvyn Bragg is co-director of Directors Cut Productions, supervised the project with the full cooperation of ITV over four years.

What will be Melvyn Bragg’s involvement in the Archive?

Having conceived, edited and presented the show, Melvyn Bragg naturally retains both a personal and professional interest in the Archive’s legacy. In July 2010, he acquired the rights to the brand and had first right of access to The South Bank Show Archive. His continuing involvement will be essential in making sense of the Archive’s components and understanding its content and composition.

Can the material be licensed?

The material can be licensed for educational purposes, for use in study, research and teaching activities by University of Leeds employees, students and visitors (as permitted by the University). Licences will be on Creative Commons terms.