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June 21 2012

Grayson Perry signs exclusive two-year Channel 4 deal

Artist continues partnership with broadcaster and independent producer of recent hit series All in the Best Possible Taste

Channel 4 has signed the Turner prize-winning artist Grayson Perry in a two-year exclusive deal following the success of his recent series.

The first programme in the deal will see the broadcaster working with the artist on a new series made by independent producer Seneca for next year. Seneca made All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry, which finished this week.

Details of the new commission are still to be thrashed out but a Channel 4 source said it was likely to "follow themes from Hogarth's interest in modern moral subjects and look at modern manners and aesthetic values. We are extremely excited but discussions are still at an early stage," the source added.

In his recent three-part series Perry explored modern British tastes, ranging across the working classes of Sunderland, the middle classes of Tunbridge Wells and the upper classes of the Cotswolds.

As part of the project, Perry created six tapestries called The Vanity of Small Differences, which were his take on the tastes of 21st century Britain. The tapestries are currently on display at the Victoria Miro gallery in London until August.

Channel 4's commissioning editor for arts, Tabitha Jackson said: "I'm delighted that Grayson has agreed to continue the creative partnership which produced the taste series.

"His skill not just as an artist, but as an artist-anthropologist somewhere between William Hogarth and Bruce Parry, gives us a unique opportunity to really explore the texture of contemporary life and to understand it in a different way."

Perry, who is known for his work with ceramics, was awarded the Turner prize in 2003. He is also a cross-dresser and images of his alter ego, Claire, often appear in his work.

As well as ceramics, Perry has also worked in printmaking, drawing, embroidery and other textile work, film and performance.


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June 11 2012

Coronation Street fails to win listed status

English Heritage says redbrick terrace of long-running TV soap fails to meet historic and architectural criteria

The most famous street in the north of England has failed to win listed status as an historic building because of its constant reinvention to suit the changing demands of TV drama.

The redbrick terrace of Coronation Street, which is threatened by redevelopment as the city's media move from central Manchester to Salford Quays, lost out after a detailed analysis by English Heritage.

For all its lore and grip on the national imagination – "Corrie" is comfortably the world's longest-running, and typically the UK's most-watched TV soap – the actual bricks and mortar are comparative newcomers. Although increasingly "real", with the fibreglass chimneys being replaced by brick to meet the demands of high-definition TV, they only date back to 1982 and have had many additions since.

English Heritage said it failed the listing system's "extremely strict" criteria on age, albeit only by months, but other problems with supposed historic and architectural value were rife.

The ruling says: "Most of the houses do not have interiors and therefore exist as facades, and most of those have been altered. The set as it stands today is an active reminder of the long-running television programme, rather than a survival of an earlier era of television productions."

The full-size street was opened by the Queen, an indication of the show's status rather than the quality of the set. Its two predecessors were built smaller than life-size to fit into Granada TV's production space, obliging actors to walk more slowly than normal. The first set was indoors; the second outside and unpopular with staff because it was built at an angle which caught the wind.

The set has attracted some support from conservationists and Mancunian loyalists who believe the fictional city of Weatherfield, first introduced to viewers in 1960, is Manchester and not its neighbour and rival, Salford, the home of Media City where ITV Granada is building a new set. A number of housing and tourism groups are thought to have approached the company, which is expected to move out next year.

ITV Granada said in a statement: "We continue to consider the future of the Coronation Street set ahead of our planned move to Media City".

Nick Bridgland, of English Heritage, said: "There is no question that Coronation Street is a television institution and holds a huge place in many people's hearts. While listing is not appropriate for the set, a better solution could be for a local group or organisation with an interest to care for it and allow fans from all over the world to visit and enjoy it."


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September 03 2011

Banksy's 'war of the walls'

Artist complains of inaccuracies in programme about his feud with the underground graffiti hero King Robbo

Graffiti artist Banksy is demanding an investigation into a television documentary about a "battle of spray cans" between him and underground graffiti hero King Robbo. Banksy says it implies that he was responsible for putting his rival in a coma.

The film focused on the extreme rivalry between Banksy, known for his stencil-based images, and the London-based Robbo, famed for his old-school style. Banksy is outraged by what he calls inaccuracies and distortions in "a wilful and malicious attempt by the film-makers to damage [his] credibility and reputation". The artist is so disturbed by his portrayal in Channel 4's Graffiti Wars, shown last month, that he has resorted to more conventional protests – a formal letter of complaint to the broadcaster.

In the programme, Robbo claimed to have slapped Banksy at their first meeting for treating him like "a nobody". Later Banksy painted over the "retired" Robbo's last surviving graffiti along the Regent's canal in London dating from his 1985 heyday. "What started off as tit-for-tat one-upmanship … degenerated into a wider battle of vitriol," the narrator told viewers, as footage showing the defacing of each other's work was screened.

Just after Robbo was shown setting out into the night to target another Banksy work, the film ended, reporting: "Robbo would never get his chance to retaliate against Banksy. Just days after this filming took place, he was found unconscious in the street with life-threatening head injuries and he's been in a coma ever since."

In a statement Banksy said : "Graffiti Wars contained some inaccuracies that I've asked to be investigated and some facts that need to be corrected. They alleged I painted over a piece by Robbo and led viewers to believe I had something to do with him being in a coma. I wish Robbo a full and speedy recovery."

Some claim Robbo was injured in an accident. A source close to Banksy said: "He fell down stairs and hit his head, which was nothing to do with Banksy. There was no police case."

Banksy admits painting over Robbo's Regent's Canal graffiti by stencilling a painter-decorator wallpapering over it, but he is angered by the programme's allegation it was "an act deemed so hostile it shocked the graffiti world".

Banksy argues that Robbo's 25-year-old canal graffiti was in such a poor state his signature was not even legible, and says the programme makers were "biased" in using a photograph of Robbo's work in its pristine state immediately before showing Banksy's defacement of it, only later showing the deteriorated Robbo original. He also criticises the programme's filming of a reception for Robbo's first gallery exhibition, focusing on a couple who refused to be interviewed, wrongly identifying them as "two members of Team Banksy … a business associate and Banksy's PR agent", implying they were scouting the opposition. Banksy's official PR agent, Jo Brooks, said she had no idea who the couple were and denied that they were associated with Banksy.

Channel 4 has edited the couple from its website version and denies the other allegations: "Graffiti Wars in no way suggests that Banksy was responsible for the injuries sustained by King Robbo … The documentary clearly states that Banksy did not realise he was painting over Robbo's work and includes a picture of the deteriorated work."


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June 13 2011

How Television Centre started with a question mark

Design of iconic building famously drawn on the back of an envelope

Monty Python's Flying Circus was recorded at BBC Television Centre. The comedy featured Tarquin Fin-tim-lin-bin-whin-bim-lim-bus-stop-F'tang-F'tang-Olé-Biscuitbarrel, a Silly Party candidate in a spoof of the 1970 general election, and Vivian Smith-Smythe-Smith, a participant in the Upper Class Twit of the Year contest. It also gave us wartime RAF chaps unable to follow one another's banter.

Was it possible the Pythons knew a thing or two about the design history of TV Centre? This impressive broadcasting complex was the architectural brainchild of Graham Dawbarn, a first world war Royal Flying Corps pilot, his business partner Air Commodore Henry Nigel St Valery Norman, 2nd Baronet of Honeyhanger, and the BBC's resident civil engineer, Marmaduke Tudsbery Tudsbery. Sir Nigel, as the baronet was better known, was killed in action in the second world war, but not before he and Dawbarn masterminded a number of civil airports: the BBC White City studios were surely rooted in the design of hangars and other airport buildings as was the easy flow of space between them.

Exactly how the complex should be planned, and what it should look like, however, was still something of a puzzle when Dawbarn and Tudsbery got to grips with the design in the late 1940s. Famously, the architect drew a question mark on an envelope (it still exists) and, one way or another, this punctuation mark formed the basis of the plan offering a circle (or circus) of production spaces and studios penetrated by an access road for the delivery and shifting of scenery, sets and props. The design proved to be outstanding, both functional and instantly recognisable.

Some said TV Centre looked a bit too Soviet for comfort at a time – the 1950s – when Auntie Beeb herself was thought to be sheltering communist sympathisers. As a matter of record, Tudsbery visited the workers' paradise in 1966, publishing a 22-page book, In the Red: Two Weeks in the USSR, on his return.

First shown to the public at the Festival of Britain in 1951, the design was meant to have been added to as and when necessary. Today, though, it will be hard to think of a suitable new purpose for the listed buildings at White City. Sensible, and perhaps even some quite silly, suggestions may well be welcome to ensure a bright and possibly creative future for one of British broadcasting's finest and most memorable circuses.


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October 11 2010

Banksy's satire on The Simpsons

Banksy's opening sequence for The Simpsons is very funny – but what does it tell us about the show?

The first ever episode of The Simpsons showed a family plunged into poverty by the vagaries of capitalism. When Mr Burns cancels the Christmas bonus, Homer has no idea how to get presents for his children in Simpsons Roasting Over an Open Fire. That set the political tone of the series, so forgive me for not being amazed by the courage of Banksy in satirising the ethics of the now-venerable Simpsons in its own opening credits. The British street artist has created a very funny opening sequence in which we glimpse a hellish underworld where oppressed Koreans labour to put together the programme and its merchandise.

Banksy is supposedly responding to "reports" that the makers of The Simpsons use far-eastern sweatshop labour to help churn out its episodes. I don't know about "reports", but I do know that the makers of the show have joked about the same subject. As for Banksy's portrayal of the Fox logo surrounded by military searchlights and barbed wire, that too is of a piece with the programme's persistent biting of the hand that feeds it, including caricaturing Rupert Murdoch. This is a cartoon about blue-collar Americans that always makes it clear who their oppressors are – not foreign terrorists, but big business and the Republican party (which has been shown scheming in a secret Dracula-like lair).

Liberal-seeming, Apple-style capitalism has also been a favourite target. When Homer gets a job in an ideal community, the only drawback is that non-hierarchical, sustainable-businessman Hank Scorpio is a supervillain who doesn't want to be called boss – he just wants to rule the world. So Banksy's joke may be that in turn, the cartoon has itself become part of the cosy modern consensus, still broadly leftish in its views but no longer looking at the world – or itself – with the honesty of youth. Then again, he got his sequence made.


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September 26 2010

James Murdoch's Sky scraper

What does this building say about BSkyB? James Murdoch gives Jonathan Glancey an exclusive view of his first big architectural commission: a colossal TV factory

'It's not meant to be pretty," says James Murdoch, chairman of BSkyB, of its new broadcasting centre. This might seem an odd thing to say about the first building BSkyB has commissioned, yet this steel and glass colossus – rising from the heart of BSkyB's jumble of buildings at Osterley, on the Heathrow flight path – is no conventional beauty. In fact, Harlequin 1, a colourful and even comic name for a decidedly serious building, has the look of some futuristic power station: a strange way, perhaps, to express BSkyB's corporate values.

As Murdoch, lean, personable and surprisingly ruminative, emerges from the long shadow of his father Rupert, you might expect to find him and his bright young staff (average age: 27) plotting an expanding empire from some racy new structure designed by Rem Koolhaas or Zaha Hadid. But I get the impression that BSkyB has grown so quickly that, until now, there has been no time for the luxury of architecture.

Founded in 1990, the company's turnover has grown from £93m in 1991 to £5.4bn last year. It now employs 16,500 full-time staff up and down the country, and broadcasts 26 Sky channels. As it's grown, its Osterley base has sprawled out into a ragbag of old industrial sheds and rental offices. The company itself doesn't even seem to take these buildings seriously: in the lobby of the head office, larger-than-life Simpsons mannequins sprawl on a sofa.

"It's very dangerous when companies start building," Murdoch says. It's a curious notion, yet one that makes sense for a business that still has the feel of a muscular young streetfighter looking to take on all comers – rather than that of a long-established and self-consciously cultured set-up like the BBC, whose Broadcasting House looks like an art deco ocean liner carved in stone. "We don't want to build monuments," says Murdoch, "but we've tried to ask what would be the building Sky would build?"

And the £130m Harlequin 1 is the answer: a vast glazed steel box, interrupted by towering columns that prove to be chimneys removing hot and stale air from studios and editing suites. Clearly, Harlequin 1 is not meant to be a contemporary version of the BBC's elegant Broadcasting House. No: with its factory-like bulk, its sleek cladding and forest of chimneys, it's a refined brute of a building. As for its green credentials, it boasts the world's first naturally ventilated recording studios and, despite its scale, daylight and fresh air reach virtually every workspace.

"We've lived in a Portakabin world as we've grown," says Jeremy Darroch, BSkyB's chief executive, sitting alongside James Murdoch. "No, we haven't been after a 'great' building, but one that allows us to change and grow and move on. Harlequin 1 is a factory where we can make and record programmes, edit them and broadcast them under a single roof. It's got eight flexible studios, so we can experiment as we move forward. We've come a long way from the BSkyB people once seemed to associate solely with TV in pubs."

"We're young, slightly raw, dynamic," adds Murdoch. "But we also put out a greater coverage of the arts on Sky than the entire BBC."

As I walk into the lobby with architect Declan O'Carroll of Arup Associates, the building begins to make sense, especially in terms of how Murdoch and Darroch pitch BSkyB. Although essentially hard-edged, Harlequin 1 manages to be both dynamic and even tasteful. A striking black steel stair climbs up to a glazed roof, far above. One wall is sheathed in polished plaster: a crafted and, dare I say it, luxurious touch. Another wall, glazed, offers glimpses of the distant West End, and of jets making their final approach to Heathrow. It's like having a ringside seat at an aerial parade.

The lobby stair leads to cafes and "break-out" spaces for informal meetings, all sharing these panoramas. This part of the building, the place where it relaxes and puts its feet up, is housed in a cantilevered steel and glass tower that seems to be breaking away from the main structure. It promises to be a lively, attractive spot when Harlequin 1 goes live next year, ahead of schedule and £5m under budget.

"The building really is a big machine," says O'Carroll, as we take an exhaustive tour. The eight studios are cave-like spaces fronted by huge sliding steel doors. The Sky Sports studio sits at its heart: set behind clear glass screens, it will be on view to the public as they tour Harlequin 1. "We definitely want people to come and see us," says Murdoch. "We're not trying to hide out in the boondocks. We're already involved with local schools and the community. We want Harlequin 1 to be somewhere people feel they are a part of."

It is not hard to see how this mighty machine would be fun to work in. Part ocean freighter, part James Bond set, part Darth Vader battleship, it will suit a young, creative and energetic staff, the kind of people who find slick, corporate headquarters alien. Corridors loop around each floor like giant racetracks making everything easy to find, while floors are raised up on steel props to accommodate 50km of cabling. There is little in the way of plush carpets, exotic veneers and plump armchairs, yet the building is anything but unfriendly. "Wherever possible," says O'Carroll, "people work around the perimeter. Here, they have real control over their environment: opening windows, daylight, views . . ."

This might sound obvious, but all too many people work in buildings where they have little control over how hot or cold, bright or dark, humid or dry it is. "Energy costs should be a third less than a conventional building of this kind," says O'Carroll, on the benefits of those chimneys. "The aim has been to create a carbon-neutral design. No one pretends this is easy, and of course the cooling and ventilation system has a back-up, in case it gets stifling."

If planning permission comes through, Harlequin 1 will be topped with a wind turbine on its west side. Meanwhile, rainwater will flush toilets, and a wood-chip burner will fuel the cooling and heating systems. It all adds up to one very big green machine – or at least as green a machine as something of this size can be. But creating an environmentally friendly building was not Murdoch's only concern: "The question of how you reconcile an increasingly digital world with a real world is so important. In the end, we're producing a stream of ones and zeros beamed out to satellites and back to TVs, laptops and mobiles, but I've wanted to get something of the feeling newspapers once had."

Murdoch enthuses about the days when newspaper buildings were great story-weaving machines: the chipping of typewriters, the calls for copy, the whisky bottles. "And the way," he beams, "complete buildings used to rumble and sway as the presses rolled. I want our staff to share that kind of excitement, but brought up to date."

Murdoch is also busy with the redevelopment of News International's Fortress Wapping (a nickname he bridles at), which is to be transformed by adventurous new architecture, currently under wraps. As the rest of the BSkyB campus at Osterley is transformed, and as BSkyB matures, I hope Murdoch and his team will learn to relax with architecture. Had they done so earlier, they might have encouraged their architects to give Harlequin 1 a little more urban drama. Yes, this new broadcasting centre is an impressive beast, but if only those chimneys had been more forcefully expressed, if only those facades hadn't been so relentlessly smooth.

As I leave, Murdoch asks if the Guardian's conference room at its newish King's Place HQ really does have beanbags for staff to flop on. Sadly, no. But it does have a giant yellow sofa: Homer Simpson would approve. Harlequin 1 might be hard-edged and modern, yet, in its own dynamic, digital way it has a lot in common with the mighty media works of yore. As Murdoch says, it's "not fancy, not slick – it's there to show what it does, and not to show off".


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August 16 2010

Rankin joins Sky Arts' cultural revolution

An advertising campaign that turns streets into 'the biggest gallery in Britain' is part of a smart political move by BSkyB

Sky Arts has called in the photographer Rankin to help raise its profile as a credible outlet for culture programming, with an advertising campaign that promises to turn streets in six large cities into "the biggest gallery in Britain".

Every billboard, poster, bus stop and phone box advertising space on selected main streets in Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Liverpool and London will be blanketed with images of artists and performers.

In some ways the campaign, called Sky Arts Street Galleries, marks a coming of age for Sky Arts. The channel launched in its current form in 2007, and in recent months has made a string of impressive programming announcements. Perhaps the biggest coup was signing up Melvyn Bragg's South Bank Show after ITV ditched it. Also on the way are adaptations of four Chekhov plays with stars such as Steve Coogan, and a Gilbert and Sullivan season.

BSkyB trumpets Sky Arts as proof that it does offer public-service content. James Murdoch cites the channel as an example of the good things that the market can provide. Such claims have have faced scepticism, however; this has not been a totem as successful as Sky News.

The burgeoning status of Sky Arts plays well politically for the Murdochs. As Jeremy Hunt prepares his cuts, BSkyB's claim that it can support high culture on a commercial basis pushes all the right buttons.

The ad campaign itself, which breaks today, is likely to raise a few eyebrows. Rankin has produced 16 images, each representing a different form of art, with Sky wholeheartedly embracing the philosophy that sex sells, in the arts world as elsewhere.

One particularly striking ad shows the artist and model Meredith Ostrom, sitting naked with just a smattering of paint on her body; the stylistic touch of Rankin just prevents the image from being soft porn.

Another ad makes similar use of the attractions of the Australian dancer Natasha Cudilla, pictured on her hands and knees in a little black dress.

To get full value from the ad campaign there is also a behind-the-scenes documentary, called Rankin: Sky Arts Street Galleries, which will be broadcast tonight.


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May 05 2010

General election 2010: TV channels plan hi-tech coverage

BBC constructs massive 'coliseum' set, while rivals also plan touchscreens and graphics to display possible hung parliament

Following the success of the leaders' debates, broadcasters are preparing for the most extensive and hi-tech general election coverage ever on Thursday night.

The BBC in particular has pulled out all the stops for its election night programme, with a "coliseum" – a two-tier set constructed from hundreds of scaffolding poles in BBC Television Centre.

Tension was high when I was allowed onto the set yesterday for the last rehearsal before Thursday night's marathon live broadcast.

Surrounded by miles of cabling and buzzing with more than 100 crew and journalists under black blankets covering the "coliseum" poles, the set includes a giant "swingometer", which Jeremy Vine was examining closely with technicians.

To his right is a big results touchscreen operated by Emily Maitlis and above them all on the top tier will be Jeremy Paxman, interviewing guests from on high.

David Dimbleby anchors the whole thing in the middle and was an oasis of calm when I saw him, running through his notes as young producers in jeans and beanie hats frantically raced around.

The BBC is understood to have a general election budget of about £10m. ITV, with less than £2m, has a set that is a more intimate affair in a green-painted studio a fifth of the size, featuring a Spooks-style touchscreen in the centre for Alastair Stewart, virtual battlegrounds – including one recently commissioned for the Liberal Democrats following their surge in the polls – and ITV's new version of a swingometer, dubbed "Flo".

Flo shows three connected glass pots with red-, blue- or yellow-coloured paint that will fill up and drain down depending on the flow of the parties' fortunes.

Despite having around a tenth of the technicians of the BBC, ITV's coverage from ITN includes ground-breaking gizmos devised by a team of just four led by head of computer graphics whizz Ian White, such as a holographic wall showing the House of Commons.

The broadcaster also has two big touchscreens that co-host Julie Etchingham will use to show voting share that are, rather charmingly, stuck together with sticky tape, though viewers will not be able to see, as it will be covered up by a computer image.

ITV has about 700 people working on its coverage, which will include a big party at County Hall hosted by Mary Nightingale.

Sky News will be offering UK viewers general election coverage in high definition for the first time and is at about 100 locations around the country.

John McAndrew, the Sky News Decision Time executive producer, said: "We've got more people out in the field than ever before in the constituencies as that will be the story, rather than what's in the studio."

In a move of which Nick Clegg might approve, Sky, the BBC and ITV are working together for the first time on an exit poll and sharing some cameras at the leaders' counts and some helicopter shots.

All the broadcasters stress there will fewer gimmicks this election – apparently the lessons have been learnt from Vine's ill-advised comedy cowboy routine during the US presidential election in 2008 – and the emphasis is on "clarity".

"There's almost an arms race about how you cover election programmes. People are not knocked out any more if they've seen things like Avatar. I think what people want is clarity," said Craig Oliver, the BBC's election night editor.

Deborah Turness, the ITV News editor, said the complicated political story with the potential for a hung parliament has had an impact on how television has covered the election.

"The story has demanded we get more people in more places. The way the campaign has been we've got more people out than last time, more dishes etc," Turness added.

Presenters including the BBC's Dimbleby and ITV's Stewart and Etchingham are steeling themselves for marathon stints in front of the camera.

BBC1 and ITV1 also have plans to clear out their daytime schedules on Friday – even popular shows such as Loose Women – if the outcome of the election is still uncertain.

Both have scheduled their Election 2010 programmes to run from 9.55pm on Thursday night to 6am the following morning. BBC1's Breakfast Election 2010 Special will then run from 6am until 2pm on Friday, ahead of a 45 minute news bulletin.

ITV1 plans to go over to GMTV as normal between 6am and 9.25am, featuring election coverage, before Katie Derham pickes up the baton for more Election 2010 between 9.25am and 10.30am.

The network is then scheduled to revert to its normal daytime line-up, starting with This Morning and Loose Women – depending on the outcome of the election.

"We could be here until 6pm Friday," said Oliver, although he stressed Dimbleby will get a break when BBC Breakfast airs.

Etchingham said: "I'm due to go until 9am and then do News at Ten that night."

A veteran of general election nights, Stewart concluded: "It can't not be interesting, whatever the outcome. It's too close to call but it's going to be an historic election."

Perhaps the only thing the broadcasters can predict is the inevitable complaints from some viewers about their regular programmes being disrupted.

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December 31 2009

What to see in 2010

Can Martin Scorsese pull off a horror movie? Is Glasgow the new Venice? And what's Ricky Gervais up to in Reading? Our critics pick next year's hottest tickets

Film

Cemetery Junction

Having conquered Hollywood, Ricky Gervais is coming home. With his long-time collaborator Stephen Merchant, he has set out to create a British film in the tradition of Billy Liar and the Likely Lads – and of course his own masterpiece The Office – about three blokes working for the Prudential insurance company in Gervais's hometown of Reading. Released on 7 April.

A Single Man

The smart money says Colin Firth will be bringing home a certain gold, bald-headed statuette for his performance as a bereaved gay man in Los Angeles. Based on the 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood, the movie – fashion designer Tom Ford's directorial debut – follows one day in the life of Firth's literature academic as he confronts his own mortality. Released on 12 February.

A Prophet

Tahar Rahim is Talik, a scared young Arab guy in jail who is made an offer he can't refuse by Corsican mobster César, played by Niels Arestrup: he must murder a supergrass, or be killed himself. A gripping prison movie from French director Jacques Audiard. Released on 22 January.

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese's much-anticipated new movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio was originally slated to come for autumn; the delay was reportedly due to its promotional budget getting credit-crunched. Anyway, better late than never. It's a mystery thriller with a generous spoonful of horror – a new generic twist for this master director. Released on 12 March.

The Headless Woman

A wealthy woman accidentally hits something in her car. Was it a dog? A person? She slips into woozy confusion, and the movie mimics the woman's disorientation and denial as she attempts to carry on with her life. An arthouse cult classic from Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel. Released on 19 February.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Edgar Wright is the British director who struck gold with Shaun of the Dead. Now he tackles his first proper Hollywood project – a wacky comedy based on the Bryan Lee O'Malley comic-book series. Michael Cera plays bass guitarist Scott Pilgrim, who, having fallen in love with a woman, must now do battle with her seven former boyfriends. Released on 27 August.

Father of My Children

A discreetly directed and superbly acted drama based on the tragic life of the French film producer Humbert Balsan. Grégoire is a much-loved mover-and-shaker in world cinema whose finances are crumbling. The ensuing crisis is brilliantly portrayed. Released on 5 March.

Visual art

Glasgow international festival of contemporary art

A huge, budget-melting installation by Swiss artist Christoph Büchel in the vast Tramway; a major new film by Gerard Byrne; works by Fiona Tan, Douglas Gordon, Linder and many more spread around Scotland's liveliest city, in the UK's best annual visual arts festival. Forget Edinburgh, forget Liverpool: this is the one. Venues across Glasgow (0141-287 8994, glasgowinternational.org), 16 April-3 May.

The Real Van Gogh: the Artist and His Letters

Van Gogh was erudite, intelligent, a great artist and an inveterate writer of letters. But he also did that thing to his ear, drank too much absinthe and killed himself. This show looks at his art in the light of his letters, recently published in English in full. Royal Academy of Arts, London W1 (020-7300 8000), 23 January-18 April.

Chris Ofili

Manchester-born Chris Ofili has rolled joints from elephant dung, made paintings decorated with dung, and moved on to territory that brings together German expressionism, Trinidadian myth, lovers, prophets, gods and ghosts. Promises to be blasphemous and inspiring, elegiac and sexy. Tate Britain, London SW1 (020-7887 8888), 27 January-16 May.

Jenny Holzer

There's more to American artist Holzer's work than an endless tickertape of words spelled out  in LED lights. There are billboards, benches, condom wrappers and paintings. This is poetry with a plug, light shows with literature, an art of anger and beauty. Baltic, Gateshead (0191-478 1810), 5 March-16 May.

Sixth Berlin Biennial

The Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art is always fascinating, and sometimes great. In a city infested with artists and overshadowed by history, it attracts fewer wannabes, hangers-on, art-surfers and arrogant airheads than Venice. Berlin is serious, the food is a joke, the weather uncertain and the art at the time of writing a complete mystery. Go anyway. Venues across Berlin (00 49 [0] 302 434 5910, berlinbiennale.de), 11 June-8 August.

Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, stock-broker turned post-impressionist and symbolist painter and sculptor, mystified Van Gogh, with whom he shared a house for a while. What an odd couple. Gauguin died in French Polynesia in 1903 at the age of 54. His art, however, is a time bomb, still ticking in the 21st century; and this is the first major show in Britain for 50 years. Tate Modern, London SE1 (020-7887 8888), from 30 September.

Pop

Whitney Houston

Houston's misadventures during the last decade made the likelihood of her touring again seem nil. But here she is playing her first UK dates since 1998, rehabbed and in robust voice – although her ability to hit those power notes has diminished somewhat. Which may be a good thing. MEN Arena, Manchester (0844 847 8000), 8-9 April. Then touring.

Green Day

Here's a thing: an overtly political US band who are big enough to play stadiums. Mind you, if Green Day's views weren't complemented by radio-friendly rock, their two British summer dates would probably be somewhere cosier. Old Trafford (0871 2200 260), June 16; Wembley, London (020-7403 3331), June 19.

The xx

It's all about understatement and nuance with this indie band, earmarked just about everywhere as 2010's ones to watch. Don't expect fireworks or obvious "wow" moments on their first major headlining tour: they and their acclaimed self-titled album are very much insidious pleasures. Komedia, Brighton (0845 293 8480), 1 March. Then touring.

Lily Allen and Dizzee Rascal

Lily and Dizzee have more in common than you would think: they easily rank with 2009's most successful British musicians, and she's as influenced by Rascal's hip-hop milieu as he is by the pop world she inhabits. MEN Arena, Manchester (0844 847 8000), 5 March; 02 Arena, London (0844 856 0202), 7 March.

Glastonbury

The daddy of them all celebrates its 40th anniversary, and Glasto virgins U2 will be among those braving the mud to celebrate. Sold out, but returns go on sale in the new year. Worthy Farm, Somerset, 23-27 June.

Jazz and world music

Jerry Dammers Spatial AKA Orchestra

Specials and 2 Tone co-founder Dammers pays tribute to mystic free-jazz bandleader Sun Ra, who died in 1993, with a mix of jazz, funk, reggae, dub, hip-hop and rock. The all-star lineup includes Nathaniel Facey, Zoe Rahman and Jason Yarde. Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (024-7652 4524), 4 March. Touring until 9 April.

Dan Berglund's Tonbrucket

Swedish pianist Esbjörn Svensson's death in 2008 wound up popular jazz trio EST, but bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus ­ Ostrom visit not only EST's music, but Pink Floyd, Arvo Pärt and more in their new quartet. Queen's Hall, Edinburgh (0131-668 2019), 13 March. Touring until 1 April.

Wynton Marsalis

The prolific Marsalis and his Lincoln Center Orchestra celebrate 80 years of big-band history in three major concerts, with jams all over London, including the Vortex. Barbican, London EC2 (0845 120 7550), 17 and 18 June; Hackney Empire, London E8 (020-8510 4500), 20 June.

African Soul Rebels

Mali's Oumou Sangaré, famed for her bravely outspoken views, is one of the stars of the sixth African Soul Rebels outing. She's joined by the rousing big band Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, and the veteran South African experimental political band, Kalahari Surfers. Poole Lighthouse (0844 406 8666), 18 February. Then touring.

Ali and Toumani

The most eagerly awaited African album of the year, this is the final recording by the great Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré, and the kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté – recorded a few months before Touré's death. Out 22 February.

Dance

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

After the shock of Bausch's death this summer, her company has announced plans to continue under the joint direction of Dominique Mercy and Robert Sturm. In April, they come to London with Kontakthof, Bausch's 1978 meditation on love and human foibles. It will be performed by two radically different, alternating casts – one made up of senior citizens, the other of teenagers. Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891), 1-4 April.

Mark Morris Dance Group

Morris made L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, an ecstatic embrace of a dance, more than 20 years ago; it still ranks as one of the great experiences in the repertory. Handel's score will be played and sung by members of English National Opera. Coliseum, London WC2 (0871-911 0200), 14-17 April.

Hofesh Shechter

The rise and rise of Shechter continues with Political Mother, a large ensemble piece that plays with definitions of shock and normality, and comes with Shechter's own score. Dome, Brighton (01273 709709), 20 and 21 May; Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0844 412 4300), 14-17 July.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company

A posthumous season for the late, great Merce includes the UK premiere of the work he choreographed just months before he died. Nearly Ninety belies its title with a score including music by Sonic Youth. Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891), 26-30 October.

Theatre

Arthur and George

David Edgar adapts Julian Barnes's gripping novel about a Birmingham solicitor who, after being convicted of a grisly crime, recruits the help of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Fact merges with fiction in a story that deals with race, innocence, guilt and spiritualism - with echoes of Sherlock Holmes. Rachel Kavanaugh directs what promises to be that rare thing: a necessary adaptation. Birmingham Rep (0121-236 4455), 19 March-10 April.

Peter Pan

David Greig relocates JM Barrie's masterpiece to a gas-lit Victorian Edinburgh. Director John Tiffany (Black Watch, The Bacchae) and designer Laura Hopkins are at the helm, so this Pan shouldn't simply fly, but soar. Kings, Glasgow (0844 871 7648), 23 April–8 May. Then touring.

Hamlet

Once again, it looks like we're set for a major battle of the princes. John Simm has first crack at the title in a Paul Miller production in the refurbished Sheffield Crucible. Then Rory Kinnear takes on the moody Dane, with Clare Higgins as Gertrude, directed by Nicholas Hytner at the National. Some people, recalling the very recent David Tennant-Jude Law clash, resent this duplication. I say: "Bring it on." Crucible Theatre, Sheffield (0114-249 6000), from September; Olivier theatre, London SE1 (020-7452 3000), from October.

Posh

Just in time for the general election, Laura Wade's new play deals with a group of Oxford hearties, all members of an elite student dining society. They hunt, booze, take illegal substances (possibly) and are, it seems, destined to rule over us. It's good to see Wade, who made a big impact with Breathing Corpses in 2005, resurrecting the class war in a topical Court production, directed by Lyndsey Turner. Royal Court, London SW1 (020-7565 5000), 9 April-22 May.

Oh! What a Lovely War

Joan Littlewood's timeless musical satire on the first world war gets its first major post-Iraq outing, with directors Erica Whyman and Sam Kenyon leading the troops over the top. Northern Stage, Newcastle (0191-230 5151), 6 March-27 March. Then touring.

The Persians

A Brecon military range becomes the setting for a site-responsive revival of Aeschylus's great play about war and defeat. Mike Pearson, who has been using found spaces with his legendary company Brith Gof long before it became fashionable, directs. Cilieni Village, Powys, Wales (01874 611622), 11-21 August.

Architecture

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

Dynamic reconstruction of the famous 1930s theatre. New work includes a 1,030-seat modern take on a 17th-century courtyard stage, a revamped art deco foyer, a rooftop restaurant and a bridging tower linking old and new spaces. November.

Folkwang Museum, Essen, Germany

Six rigorously geometrical new wings parade around four urban courtyards in this major extension by David Chipperfield of a fine museum devoted to 19th and 20th-century French and German art. The model of a modern building for a (hopefully) less wilfully ostentatious era. April.

Rolex Learning Centre, Lausanne, Switzerland

This exquisite Swiss building – a single, undulating floor boasting lake and mountain views – is a coming of age for Tokyo's Sanaa, designers of the 2009 Serpentine Pavilion. A science research centre that's as much landscape as architecture. February.

Television

Mad Men

The immaculately dressed alcoholic misogynists of the Sterling Cooper ad agency return to alternately horrify and entrance us. Nine months on, how is the company's merger with a London firm working out for boss Don, copywriter Peggy and co? And what state is Don's estranged wife Betty in? BBC4, from 27 January.

Glee

Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy's new musical comedy-drama about a high-school choir (the "glee club" of the title) is huge in the US. The club's show tunes and chart hits have sold millions, while viewers and critics have embraced the cast of engaging misfits (Murphy has a sharp eye for school dynamics, as fans of his shortlived cheerleader show Popular will recall). E4, from 11 January.

Money

This two-part slice of 1980s nostalgia, based on Martin Amis's novel, should offer a thought-provoking look at the era of flash cash and queasy living. Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz, Shawn of the Dead) stars as anti-hero John Self in a cast that includes Mad Men's Pete (Vincent Kartheiser). BBC2, spring.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister

Maxine Peake (Shameless, Criminal Justice) plays a lesbian who keeps a coded journal of her love-life in a 19th-century Yorkshire village. Everything about this 90-minute drama screams "record", "hit" and "award-winning". BBC2, March/April.

Mistresses

Furtive hotel sex; frantic muffin-baking; guilty pinot grigio guzzling. This soapy drama about four Bristol thirtysomething women returns for a third series with some inspired new casting: Joanna Lumley joins as the bossy mother of muddle-headed doctor Katie, played by Sarah Parish. BBC1, late 2010.

Classical and opera

Mahler in Manchester

The most innovative celebration of Gustav Mahler's 150th birthday you'll hear all year: the Hallé and BBC Philharmonic's cycle of his symphonies, in which each symphony is paired with a new piece from an international line-up of composers, from Austrian surrealist Kurt Schwertsik to Parisian organist Olivier Latry. ­ Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (0161-907 9000), 16 January-5 June.

Placido sings Handel

Whoever thought you'd see this at Covent Garden? Placido Domingo takes the composer's greatest tenor role, Bajazet, in Tamerlano, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the pit. Mouth-watering. Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), 5-20 March.

Elegy for Young Lovers

English National Opera continues its part-time residency at the Young Vic with Hans Werner Henze's 1961 opera on crazed creative amorality in the Alps, with a libretto by WH Auden, and a production directed by Fiona Shaw. The only chance to see Henze, the greatest living opera composer, in the theatre in the UK this year. Young Vic, London SE1 (020-7922 2922), 24 April-8 May.

WNO's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

The operatic role of the year: Bryn Terfel sings Hans Sachs for the first time in Wagner's Meistersinger. It's a part he should play even more convincingly than the Wotan he sang in Covent Garden's Ring. This new staging by Richard Jones could be the one that cracks Wagner's complex comedy. Welsh National Opera, Cardiff (08700 40 2000), 19 June-10 July.

Total Immersion: Wolfgang Rihm

No composer alive has written as much music as Wolfgang Rihm; yet no major figure in new music is as shamingly unfamiliar to British audiences. With this two-day event, part of its Total Immersion series, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with the help of the London Sinfonietta and the Arditti Quartet, put that right. Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891), 12-13 March.

Comedy

Dara O'Briain

From Three Men in a Boat to one man on a stage, TV favourite O'Briain takes to the nation's concert halls for a 64-date tour. A civilised and smart standup long before TV fame came calling, this is the Mock the Week anchorman's first tour in two years. Regent, Stoke (0844 871 7649), 1 March. Then touring.

Laura Solon

With her latest show, Rabbit Faced Story Soup, the winner of the last-ever Perrier award has turned her talent for creating comic characters into a comedy play about an ailing publishing house and its missing star novelist. Now she's taking it on a national tour. Junction, Cambridge (01223 511 511), 29 January. Then touring.

Pappy's Fun Club

The fast-rising young quartet take to the road with their Edinburgh 2009 hit show World Record Attempt: 200 Sketches in an Hour. It's less Fast Show, more nonsense cabaret, supplying music, anarchy and good cheer. Komedia, Brighton (0845 293 8480), 21 January. Then touring.

Chosen by Judith Mackrell, Michael Billington, Caroline Sullivan, Lyn Gardner, Jonathan Glancey, Peter Bradshaw, Adrian Searle, John Fordham, Robin Denselow, Brian Logan and Tim Lusher


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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