BBC announces new Factual, Arts & Classical Music commissions

A wide range of new commissions were announced on 3 March at a special event to showcase upcoming Factual, Arts and Classical Music content. New boxsets and singles include:

Two new programmes marking the 40th anniversary of two events that still have aftershocks today: the Falklands War and the AIDS crisis

A stunning new natural history series chronicling the real-life sagas of four African animal families
Further details of new landmark arts series, Art That Made Us, and a national reading for pleasure campaign to coincide with The Queen’s Jubilee

New documentary series, Trouble At Top Shop, reveals the rise and fall of the iconic fashion store, as told by the women who built its success

Ade Adepitan, Steve Backshall, Liz Bonnin, Gordon Buchanan, Chris Packham and Ella al-Shamahi announced as presenters of ambitious environmental series, Our Changing Planet
A new series from the award-winning team behind Once Upon A Time In Iraq, this time telling the human stories of the conflict in Northern Ireland

A warm and funny new factual entertainment series with Scarlett Moffatt, co-commissioned with BBC England

Speaking at the event, Fiona Campbell, Acting Director of Factual, Arts and Classical Music, said: “No other broadcaster has such an extraordinary breadth of factual, arts and classical music content: our programming is watched in huge numbers and gains international recognition – last year, BBC Factual titles reached 21.3m people every week and our programmes and talent won over 25 major awards.

“Coming up, we have an exciting range of new content being released across BBC channels and BBC iPlayer that demonstrates our commitment to championing talent on and off screen and bringing viewers high impact, high-value content that opens up the world to them and reflects their lives across the UK.”

More details of the new programmes:

Documentaries, History and Religion

Clare Sillery says, Head of Commissioning, Documentaries, History and Religion, says: “The Documentary, History and Religion slate is in great shape with distinctive, high-quality new series coming up including House Of Maxwell and Freddie’s First Eleven, as well as powerful singles, such as Then Barbara Met Alan and Two Daughters and Katie Price: What Harvey Did Next, the follow up to last year’s acclaimed film.

“The new commissions announced today demonstrate our commitment to ambitious programming that tells uniquely British stories and brings fresh perspectives to viewers. Forty years on we are shining a light on the Falklands, hearing directly from those who fought in the war, while Trouble At Top Shop tells the story of the iconic fashion brand through the eyes of the visionary women who worked there.

“In addition, I’m delighted that the multi-award winning team behind Once Upon A Time In Iraq is back with another series, this time telling the story of the conflict in Northern Ireland and hit BBC Three series High is returning with another extraordinary tale.”

Falklands: The Frontline Story (working title)

In April 1982, British forces sailed halfway round the world to fight a short, brutal war against Argentina. Ten weeks later they returned victorious. For many at the time it seemed a straightforward success story. But for its frontline combatants, its aftershocks persist to this day.

Marking the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War, this new 90-minute film, from the producers of the award-winning Gun No. 6, traces dramatic and deeply personal stories of the war and its long echo, through ten of the British soldiers who fought it on the frontline. Many have never shared these memories before.

These men who saw it all, side by side and up close, tell the story of their war in their words, beat by beat, with unflinching honesty. Revisiting the excitement, the adrenalin and the horror, they put us inside the fighting without filter. Battles fought, at times hand to hand, with bayonets on rifles. But it’s a story that didn’t end with the war. In the years since, they’ve had to come to terms with experiences that have defined their lives. For all of them it was a necessary war they were desperate to be a part of. For some it’s been a badge of honour, for others it’s torn them apart and haunts them still. Society’s understanding of war trauma was hastened by their return.

Told with four decades of perspective, from a very different world, many of these men are barely pension age. You’d pass them in the supermarket and never know, but they were all changed forever by those weeks at war and they still carry with them what they witnessed.

The film will let these men take control of their story, give dignity to their experience and reveal the human truth behind the headlines.

Falklands: The Frontline Story, w/t (1×90) for BBC Two and BBC iPlayer was commissioned by Clare Sillery, Head of Commissioning, Documentaries, History and Religion. It is produced by The Garden, part of ITV Studios, where the Executive Producer is Zac Beattie. The BBC Commissioning Editor is Hamish Fergusson.

Trouble At Top Shop

For nearly 40 years Topshop’s iconic London flagship store dominated Oxford Circus, loved by women of all ages, from all backgrounds, including the likes of Kate Moss and Beyoncé. When the store shut its doors in 2020 waves of shock and sadness rippled across the country. How could this have happened?

This new documentary series tells the story of an iconic high street brand, its rise to global dominance and its fall from the dizzy heights of success.

During its time Topshop has ridden the waves of feast and famine. Its success, right up until the last five years on the high street, was rooted in the reinvention and rebranding by a group of creative brains who had made Topshop the go-to store. Launched in the 1960s in the basement of a dowdy department store in Sheffield, this youth brand struggled to find its place, and by the 80s was known as Flopshop.

But a change in fortune was on its way. It turned out they a secret weapon had joined their ranks: Jane Shepherdson. She rose from lowly distributor to head buyer to brand director. She built a team of visionary women. Their collective mission was to inspire and innovate and transform the brand into a multibillion-pound company.

When Sir Phillip Green bought Arcadia in 2002, Topshop went on to become a global phenomenon, opening stores across the world – and its profits soared. In 2006 he was knighted for services to retail and feted as king of the high street, but within 10 years his empire was crumbling. The hierarchies and corporate culture that had dominated since the 1990s were being challenged, both from within the boardroom and from outside.

What had been successful in the rapidly moving world of retail, stopped working. This new series reveals the stories of those who adapted and thrived, and those who failed to recognise and embrace the changes they needed to survive.

Trouble At Top Shop, a 2×60’ for BBC Two and BBC iPlayer, was commissioned by Clare Sillery, Head of Commissioning, Documentaries, History and Religion and is being made by Voltage TV Productions. The Executive Producers are Jo Abel and Sanjay Singhal and the Director is Kate Scholefield. The BBC Commissioning Editor is Emma Loach.

Once Upon A Time In Belfast (working title)

Led by director James Bluemel, the team behind the multi-award winning documentary series Once Upon A Time In Iraq returns with a new four-part series telling the human stories of the people, communities and families caught up in the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland.

It is almost a quarter of a century since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement that brought an end to the conflict, but Northern Ireland remains haunted by twin spectres: its past and its future.

No shared story of the past has ever been agreed, and the future that many hoped might be peaceful is still clouded by uncertainty. This series aims to understand both those spectres and how they are a continuing presence in the lives of all those who live there.

Through evocative first-person testimony, the series will bring a fresh perspective on the Troubles, throwing light on the reality of lives lived in places where the past still casts a long shadow.

Mixing archive footage and personal testimonies from all sides of the conflict, untold stories emerge from the decades of war that tore apart communities living cheek-by-jowl, and still threatens the fragile peace more than two decades on.

Eddie Doyle, Head of Content Commissioning, BBC Northern Ireland, says: “This is an important co-commission and will provide a new perspective on the events and legacies of The Troubles. It’s a challenging subject and one that continues to affect everyday life for many people in Northern Ireland. This series will capture some of their stories and the human cost of conflict. And it will be a powerful addition to other BBC programming in this area.”

Once Upon A Time In Belfast (4×60) was commissioned by Clare Sillery, Head of Commissioning, Documentaries, History & Religion and Eddie Doyle, Head of Content Commissioning, BBC Northern Ireland. The four part series is a co-commission between BBC Northern Ireland and BBC Two, and will be co-produced by Keo Films and Walk on Air Films. The BBC Commissioning Editor is Hamish Fergusson, the Executive Producers are Will Anderson and Andrew Palmer and the Series Producers are Vicky Mitchell and Rachel Hooper.

Science and Natural History

Jack Bootle says, Head of Commissioning, Science and Natural History, says: “2021 was a brilliant year for Science and Natural History on the BBC, and 2022 promises to be even more exciting.

“We’re going to explore the world’s most spectacular frozen wildernesses at a critical moment in their history, unveil astonishing new science about the extinction of the dinosaurs, take viewers on a thrill-ride into the frenzied heart of Brazilian politics, and paint a powerful social history of the AIDS crisis, built around beautiful, never-before-heard testimonies.

“Only the BBC can deliver Science and Natural History programming of this range, quality and scale. I can’t wait for viewers to experience it.”


One of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken by BBC Studios Natural History Unit, Kingdom is a dramatic 6×60’ series for BBC One and BBC iPlayer, filmed in one spectacular location over four years. It chronicles the real-life sagas of four African animal families, all vying for dominance in a remote and fertile river valley in Zambia, one of the most stunning landscapes on Earth.

With more time in the field than any previous NHU production, never has a BBC landmark followed a group of characters so intensely over such a long period or spent so much time embedded in a single habitat. The audience will witness for the first time how the lives and fates of our four groups – leopards, hyenas, wild dogs and lions – are inextricably linked as they battle for supremacy over the valley, and wrestle for power within their own family units.

These gripping real-life storylines, spread across five hours of television, will be more dramatic than any work of fiction. As well as the intense power struggles between these top predators we’ll see how a colourful supporting cast – from huge elephant herds to the dung beetles beneath them – impact our central characters in surprising and diverse ways.

Working in close partnership with scientists, whose research stretches back over 20 years, we can reveal our characters’ true life stories with scrupulous accuracy. Records of ancient rivalries, internal battles for hierarchy and status, and epic shifts in seasons will allow our filming to uncover secrets of these animals’ lives that have never been seen before. These discoveries – and how they may lead to further protecting these vulnerable species – will be showcased in a sixth episode, dedicated to science and conservation. What does the future hold for our cast of creatures, and for the conservation of wildlife across the African continent?

The NHU will also be working closely with locally-based talent, both employing already established local crew and developing the next generation of Zambian wildlife filmmakers to chronicle this truly cinematic saga.

Kingdom, a 6×60’ series for BBC One and BBC iPlayer, is made by BBC Studios Natural History Unit, co-produced by BBC America. It was commissioned by Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Science and Natural History. The Executive Producer is Mike Gunton, the Series Editor is Simon Blakeney and the Series Producer is Felicity Lanchester. It will tx in 2025.

The AIDS Tapes

Forty years ago a mysterious disease first appeared in Britain’s gay community. As the deadly virus ravaged young lovers and friends, the stigma of the ‘gay plague’ incited a backlash of ignorance and fear across the country.

At a time when few gay men felt they could talk openly, the stories of many of those first affected by the AIDS crisis have been lost. However, a small group of historians set out to record interviews with those living at the heart of the unfolding epidemic, and these tapes were archived at the British Library.

The AIDS Tapes will bring these original recordings to a broadcast audience for the first time, and will be broadcast to mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Terry Higgins, one of the very first people to die of an AIDS-related illness in the UK.

Actors lip syncing the original voices capture the men, their vibrancy, hopes and fears, as they were at the time in the 1980s and 1990s. They are supported by extraordinary interviews with the activists, doctors, nurses and survivors who were there by their sides.

As these voices unlock the past, The AIDS Tapes will tell the story of HIV and AIDS as it’s never been heard before.

Working with key experts and organisations including the Terrence Higgins Trust, this series will retell an unfolding scientific and medical detective story, exploring how doctors worked to discover the virus, how it was transmitted, how it could be prevented, and ultimately how it could be treated.

The AIDS Tapes is produced by Wall To Wall West, in partnership with The Open University, for BBC Two and iPlayer. It was commissioned by Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning Science and Natural History. The Executive Producer is Leanne Klein, Series Producer Morgana Pugh and Series Director Mark Henderson.

Our Changing Planet

BBC One and iPlayer will show Our Changing Planet, the most ambitious environmental series the BBC has ever commissioned, and today we are delighted to announce the presenters: Ade Adepitan, Steve Backshall, Liz Bonnin, Gordon Buchanan, Chris Packham and Ella al-Shamahi.

For seven years, the acclaimed filmmakers of BBC Studios Natural History Unit will be closely documenting six key habitats around the world in California, Iceland, the Maldives, Kenya, Cambodia and Brazil. And over seven years, BBC viewers will watch as these habitats – and the species living in them – undergo extraordinary change.

These locations are bellwethers for the health of our planet. As pressure on the natural world increases, what happens here will happen elsewhere. As the series goes on, we will witness rapidly unfolding ecological change and observe surprising new animal behaviours as species adapt to their shifting environments.

But this is also a story of hope. In each habitat, we will meet incredible conservationists who are working to turn the tide, preserve ecosystems and save species from extinction.

The series will launch in April 2022 as part of the BBC’s centenary celebrations and return every year for the following six years – making it the longest environmental project ever commissioned for television.

The next few years will see enormous change around the globe. The world’s population is set to increase by almost one billion, one million species could face extinction and our seas are on course to rise by up to 20cm, flooding land where 147 million people currently live. Our Changing Planet will be the definitive document of a critical moment for life on earth.

Our Changing Planet, a 2×60’ series for BBC One and BBC BBC iPlayer, is made by BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit, co-produced by PBS. It was commissioned Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Science and Natural History and the Executive Producer is Rosemary Edwards. International distribution will be handled by BBC Studios.


Suzy Klein, Head of Commissioning, Arts & Classical Music, says: “From world-class performances to landmark arts series and vivid one-off documentaries, I really believe that the range and ambition of BBC Arts programmes provides something for everyone, with stories of art, culture, ideas and imagination from across our cultural and creative history.”

Big Jubilee Read

BBC Arts and The Reading Agency are launching the Big Jubilee Read, a national reading for pleasure campaign celebrating great reads from across the Commonwealth to coincide with Her Majesty The Queen’s Jubilee. An expert panel of librarians, booksellers and literature specialists has chosen 70 titles from a readers’ choice” longlist, with 10 books for each decade of Her Majesty The Queen’s reign.

The list offers brilliant, beautiful and thrilling writing produced by authors from a wide range of Commonwealth countries over the last 70 years to engage all readers in the discovery and celebration of great books. The final list of titles will be announced in April 2022 and there will be programming reflecting the Big Jubilee Read across the BBC including in the fourth series of the nation’s bookclub, Between The Covers.

Sunday Night Performance (from April)

Three men in dressing gowns in a bedroom, on stage. Tom Hiddleston is on the right.
The Play What I Wrote. Image Credit: Birmingham Rep and Geraint Lewis
From April BBC Four will cement its status as the home of performance on the BBC, with new Sunday Night Performances every week of the year showcasing some of the best of the UK’s dance, theatre, music and spoken word in specially made films for television.

These will include:

Prisoner C33, a new one-man play starring Toby Stephens, directed by Trevor Nunn and written by Stuart Patterson.

Eight specially-filmed performances from the BBC’s Orchestras, which will go out across the year.
Four seminal works from London’s Shakespeare’s Globe from its 25-year history.
The Read: emerging directors give fresh treatments to four absorbing tales, including Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of Much Ado About Nothing.
Ghosts In The Ruins, the Nitin Sawhney piece commissioned by Coventry Cathedral and Coventry City Of Culture Trust to mark 60 years since the consecration of Coventry Cathedral.
Theatr Clwyd and acclaimed playwright Tim Price bring a new dark comedy, Isla, to audiences following a successful run in North Wales.

BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists – some of the world’s most promising new talent – perform in a specially filmed concert.

Birmingham Rep’s acclaimed production of Olivier Award-winning comedy The Play What I Wrote, starring Tom Hiddleston specially filmed for the BBC at the Theatre Royal Bath.

Art That Made Us

Art That Made Us is a landmark eight-part series for BBC Two and BBC iPlayer to air in April, alongside range of programming across BBC digital platforms and a nationwide festival that will run from 1-30 April across the UK.

Through 1,500 years and eight dramatic turning points, Art That Made Us presents an alternative history of the British Isles, told through art. Leading British creatives, including Simon Armitage, Anthony Gormley, Thomas Heatherwick, Lubaina Himid, Amanda Levete, Cornelia Parker, Maxine Peake, Thomas J Price, Shani Rhys James, Tai Shan Schierenberg and Michael Sheen join cultural historians including Gus Casely-Hayford, Nandini Das, James Hawes, Clare Lees, Afua Hirsch, Temi Odumosu, Jonathan Sumption and Patrick Wright to explore key cultural works that have shaped the history of the British Isles.

Examples of the artworks include the fifth century clay figure Spong Man; the epic Welsh poem Y Gododdin; the Lincoln Cathedral wooden carved misericords; The Book Of Margery Kempe by Margery Kempe; Veni Sancte Spiritus by John Dunstaple; The Penicuik Jewels associated with Mary, Queen of Scots; Shakespeare’s Othello; Milton’s Paradise Lost; Aphra Behn’s The Rover; Christopher Wren’s Dome of St Paul’s; Jonathan Swift’s satirical novel A Modest Proposal; Robert Burn’s poem A Man’s A Man for a’That; Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park; JMW Turner’s painting, Rain, Steam And Speed; North And South by Elizabeth Gaskell; Walter Sickert’s painting The Camden Town Nudes; Barbara Hepworth’s Contrapuntal Forms; W B Yeat’s poem Easter, 1916; A Taste Of Honey by Shelagh Delaney; Hanif Kureishi’s Buddha of Suburbia; the Belfast Peace Walls and Stormzy at Glastonbury.

Art That Made Us is a ClearStory and Menace Production for BBC Two. The producers are Melanie Fall, Russell Barnes, Denys Blakeway and Michael Jackson and it is a co-production with The Open University. The commissioning editor for BBC Arts is Emma Cahusac.

Factual Entertainment and Popular Factual

Catherine Catton, Head of Commissioning, Factual Entertainment and Popular Factual says: “Factual entertainment at the BBC is in fantastic shape with a really distinctive, inspirational slate of new programming coming up, from Idris Elba’s Fight School to Hungry For It, as well as the return of Meet The Khans and The Speedshop, which is back on our screens after a successful pilot.

“Representing our audience across the UK is incredibly important to us and I’m delighted that we are working with BBC England on the new series we’re announcing today – Scarlett’s Driving School, filmed in Teesside. Who better than Scarlett Moffatt to help the nation’s learner drivers finally pass their test – it promises to be a really warm, funny and entertaining show.”

Scarlett’s Driving School

Hold on to your L-plates and standby for joy, laughter and tears as Scarlett Moffatt – who has failed her driving test 13 times – opens the doors to her exclusive driving school.

Across the country, learner drivers have been missing out on driving lessons with professional instructors during the pandemic. Instead, the teaching duties have fallen to those closest to them, their unfortunate family members, spouses and closest friends. It’s testing loved ones’ relationships just as much as the learner’s driving skills.

But help is here as Scarlett Moffatt welcomes Brits who are struggling to pass their test to her unique five-day driving school in Teesside.

Each learner driver and their amateur teacher (their long suffering family member or friend) will be given some much needed help from some of the UK’s top professional driving instructors.

After an intensive crash course, can the duos work together to pass their test after just five days at the school?

Scarlett Moffatt says: “I’m over the moon to be part of such an exciting series on BBC One. Having failed my driving test 13 times I know exactly how these learners feel and how much strain it puts on the person teaching you – no one will get in a car with me anymore! I hope that that my new show will give us all the confidence to finally rip up those L plates and hit the road.”

Aisling O’Connor, Head of TV Commissioning for BBC England, says: “Scarlett is the perfect person for BBC England to work with, as we do our job of reflecting the people and places that matter to our audiences up and down the country.

“This new series examines an experience many people go through, and viewers will see learner drivers put their skills to the absolute test in the hope of passing the five-day intensive course. I’m delighted to be working with Frieda.TV and BBC Factual on this exciting proposition for the audience.”

Jon Lloyd, Founder and Creative Director of Frieda.TV, says: “We’re delighted to be bringing these amazing relationships, huge driving transformations and Scarlett’s unique personal experience and amazing warmth to BBC One. It’s another great step for Frieda.TV and we can’t wait to deliver a series that will appeal to viewers across the whole of the UK.”

Scarlett’s Driving School (10×30’) is a BBC Factual and BBC England co-commission and is being made for BBC One and iPlayer by Frieda.TV.

It was commissioned by Catherine Catton, Head of Commissioning for Factual Entertainment and Popular Factual, and Aisling O’Connor, Head of TV Commissioning BBC England. The Executive Producer is Jon Lloyd and the BBC Commissioning Editors are Nasfim Haque and Tony Parker.