BBC Arena at JBW Series

Arena at Jewish Book Week Series

October 2021 – June 2022

Six events discussing landmark Arena films, featuring individuals involved in their making and exploring the lives of subjects from Mel Brooks to Amy Winehouse. Details and dates for each event will be      listed here as they are announced.

Martin Scorsese has described Arena as ‘home to some of the greatest non-fiction film making of the past 40 years’. Under the editorship of Alan Yentob (1978-85), Nigel Finch and Anthony Wall developed a new kind of film, a free form examination of subjects that hadn’t previously been thought appropriate to the realms of the arts documentary – a song, My Way; a car, The Private Life of the Ford Cortina; a radio classic, Desert Island Discs. The success of these films laid the foundation of Arena’s reputation for wit, style and surprise.

Finch and Wall were core to a group of directors who pioneered an approach which applied the highest filmic values to art and culture both low and high, from Visconti to Superman, Louise Bourgeois to Amy Winehouse, Bob Dylan to Flamenco.

Wall and Finch became Editors in 1985 and continued to direct. Wall carried on as sole Editor after Finch’s death in 1995. During his forty year tenure, Arena won over a hundred domestic and international awards including nine BAFTAs and twenty-five nominations; six Royal Television Society awards; the Prix Italia; Primetime and International Emmys and, most prestigious of all, the Special Medallion at the Telluride Film Festival for a ‘commitment to cutting edge film making’. It was there that Werner Herzog declared Arena to be ‘the oasis in the sea of insanity that is television’.

Series Credits:
Film Editor: Emma Matthews
Series Film Curator and Executive Producer: Anthony Wall
Executive Producer: Anne Webber
Producer: Laura Granditer

Click here to read a full biography of Series Film Curator and Executive Producer Anthony Wall

Arena at Jewish Book Week

Featuring I Thought I Was Taller: A Short History of Mel Brooks

3 October 2021, Live at Kings Place and via at-home streaming


To launch an exclusive Jewish Book Week-BBC TV Arena series, Arena producer Sally Angel and editors Anthony Wall and Alan Yentob discuss the many Jewish subjects featured in the multi-award-winning arts documentary series – who have ranged from Arthur Miller and Linda McCartney to Jonathan Miller and Amy Winehouse – with a specially shot message for Jewish Book Week from Mel Brooks, star of one of the most iconic Arena films. The discussion is chaired by Mark Lawson.

Included in the ticket price is access to the Arena film, I Thought I Was Taller: A short history of Mel Brooks. This film will be available to view online for seven days from 3 October.

Image credit: BBC Arena, Mel Brooks I Thought I Was Taller, 1981

Click here to read an Introduction to the Opening Event and the Mel Brooks film I Thought I Was Taller: A Short History of Mel Brooks by Series Film Curator and Executive Producer Anthony Wall

Sally Angel

Sally Angel is Creative Director of Angelica Films, an All3Media company. She has produced Emmy, BAFTA, RTS and Peabody award-winning programmes for UK and US broadcasters. As a producer/director at the BBC, she worked on all the leading arts strands including Arena. Her recent credits include Arena’s Nothing Like a Dame and Uncle Vanya for the BBC which won a Southbank Sky Arts Award. She is also a psychotherapist.

Mark Lawson

Mark Lawson is an English journalist, broadcaster and author. Specialising in culture and the arts, he is best known for presenting the flagship BBC Radio 4 arts programme Front Row between 1998 and 2014. He is also a Guardian columnist, and presents Mark Lawson Talks To… on BBC Four.

Anthony Wall

Anthony Wall was one of the core directors on Arena from 1979-1985 under the editorship of Alan Yentob. He and Nigel Finch took over as Series Editors in 1985. After Finch’s death in 1995, Wall remained sole editor until 2018. During those years, Arena won nine BAFTA awards and over a hundred awards from all over the world. Voted by leading television executives as one of the fifty most influential programmes of all time, Arena was described by Werner Herzog at the Telluride Film Festival as “the oasis in the sea of insanity that is television”.

Alan Yentob

Alan Yentob has held almost all of the most prestigious posts in BBC television. He was Editor of Arena from 1978 to 1985 and is one of the country’s major figures in arts television, both as a creator and champion. He currently edits and presents the award-winning BBC1 arts series Imagine. His Arena director credits include I Thought I Was Taller: A short history of Mel Brooks.

Arena at Jewish Book Week

Amy Winehouse: Songs, Style and St James’ Church

16 November 2021, via at-home streaming


Featuring access to the Arena film Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle

 “The film really shows Amy as musician, song-writer and performer. Far too much is told about her failings and not about her talents – she was an extraordinary musician.  If you think about the relationship between Jewish creatives and other marginalised communities – she was Jewish, and female, and working class – and as such drawn to Black American soul, Motown, and jazz…there must be something in that”.

Image credit: BBC Arena, Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle, 2007

Click here to read an Introduction to Amy Winhouse: The Day She Came to Dingle by Series Film Curator and Executive Producer Anthony Wall

Dale Davis

One of the UK’s most in-demand musicians for over 30 years, Dale first joined Amy Winehouse as her bass player before becoming her musical director from 2004 until her death in 2011. He has performed on numerous sessions and toured around the world with artists including Tina Turner, Emeli Sande, Paul Young and Norman Cook. Other projects have included archiving and restoring Amy Winehouse’s musical back catalogue and collaborating on the Oscar, Grammy and Bafta winning documentary film, Amy.

Image cr. Luca Pellizzaro

Philip King

Philip King is a musician, broadcaster, curator and founder of Other Voices. He is a commentator and contributor to national and international forums on the role and contribution of culture and arts in a world where we are more connected and more isolated than ever before. Philip lives in West Kerry.

Naomi Parry

Naomi Parry is a creative director and curator based in London. While studying at the London College of Fashion in 2005 she began her career as Amy Winehouse’s stylist. Over the next six years she worked, travelled and even lived with Amy. She has worked with a variety of music artists and been involved in a wide range of projects in fashion, TV and film. More recently, she founded the company Future Archive to help brands and individuals connect with more people through creative applications of their archive of work.

Robert Elms

Robert Elms is a broadcaster, writer and former editor of The Face. He is best known for his long-running radio show on BBC London. His latest book The Way We Wore is a bestselling memoir on the history of youth culture fashion.

Arena at Jewish Book Week

Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Long, Long Way

7 December 2021, via at-home streaming

Featuring access to the Arena film Isaac Singer’s Nightmare and Mrs Pupko’s Beard

Part of Arena at Jewish Book Week 

“I wouldn’t say that Yiddish is dead, neither would I say that Yiddish is blooming. I would say that Yiddish is sick. But in our history, between being sick and dying is a long, long way…” Isaac Bashevis Singer, Isaac Singer’s Nightmare and Mrs Pupko’s Beard

As the centenary of the birth of one of the most respected Jewish writers of all time approaches, we celebrate the life and work of Isaac Bashevis Singer with an online discussion featuring colleagues and admirers, as well as a rare chance to watch a 1980 BBC Arena film of which he is both subject and author.

Click here to read an Introduction to Isaac Bashevis Singer and Mr’s Pupko’s Beard by Series Film Curator and Executive Producer Anthony Wall

Shalom Auslander

Shalom Auslander is the internationally-acclaimed novelist and memoirist of such books as Foreskin’s Lament, Mother For Dinner and Hope: A Tragedy, which critics on both sides of the Atlantic have named the funniest book of the decade. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Esquire and many others. He lives, sadly, in Los Angeles.

Evelyn T Beck

Evelyn Torton Beck, Ph.D. is Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, USA. She holds doctorates in Comparative Literature, Clinical Psychology and an honorary doctorate from the University of Music and the Performing Arts in Vienna. She is the author of Kafka and the Yiddish Theater: Its Impact on his Work and the translator of several stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, with whom she was personally acquainted. She is interviewed in the film, The Muses of I. B. Singer, which features Singer’s many translators, almost all of whom were women.

David Stromberg

David Stromberg is a writer, translator, and literary scholar. His fiction has appeared in The Woven Tale Press, The Account, and Call me Brackets, and his nonfiction in The American Scholar, Entropy, and Literary Matters. He is editor to the Isaac Bashevis Singer Literary Trust and his translations of Singer’s work have appeared in The New Yorker, Conjunctions, and The Jewish Chronicle. His most recent book is A Short Inquiry into the End of the World.

Rebecca Abrams

Rebecca Abrams is an author, journalist and literary critic for the Financial Times.  She teaches creative writing at the University of Oxford and was writer-in-residence at Brasenose College, Oxford from 2017-20.  Her recent publications include The Jewish Journey: 4000 years in 22 objects (Ashmolean Museum).

Arena at Jewish Book Week

Linda McCartney: Behind the Lens

29 March 2022, via at-home streaming

In our 4th on-line event in the series BBC Arena at Jewish Book Week we shine the spotlight on Linda McCartney, American photographer, musician, animal rights activist, and entrepreneur.

Linda began a career in the mid-60s, starting out as an editorial assistant with the publication “Town and Country” where she took advantage of an opportunity to photograph the Rolling Stones at the beginning of their career. She went on to work as in-house photographer for the NY concert venue Filmore East, and became the foremost chronicler of the extraordinary music scene of the 1960s. She was the first woman to have a photograph on the cover of the influential music journal Rolling Stone.

Her photographs have been displayed in major international art galleries and museums. She later used her immense photographic skills as a tool for social action, reflecting her campaigning work in environmental issues and animal rights.

This event is focused around the BBC Arena film Linda McCartney: Behind the Lens – an intimate portrait of a private, self-deprecating, immensely talented photographer and ground-breaking social activist, which touches on her family background, artistic inspiration and major turning points, as well as featuring many of her outstanding images.

Panellists include Mary McCartney, Linda and Paul McCartney’s daughter, a distinguished photographer and writer of vegetarian cookbooks; Brian Clarke, renowned architectural and stained glass artist, collaborator and friend of the McCartney family; Nicholas Claxton, the award-winning film-maker of the BBC Arena Linda McCartney: Behind the Lens; and Brett Rogers, Director of the Photographers’ Gallery who curated a joint exhibition on Linda and Mary’s photographic work. The panel is chaired by legendary music journalist Annie Nightingale, BBC Radio’s longest running presenter and the first woman DJ, who came of age in the 1960s, alongside (and party due to) the Beatles and the McCartney family.

The conversation will hinge around key extracts from the film, which will be available in full for 7 days after the event to ticket holders only.

This event offers up a wonderful opportunity to revisit Linda’s defining moments of the 1960s, along with her enduring influence in the field of documentary photography and in her pioneering social activism, legacies which have been built on and are very much alive today.

Click here to read an introduction to Linda McCartney: Behind the Lens by series Executive Producer Anthony Wall

Linda McCartney on photography:

“I like to show good people, I like a little twinkle in the eye. I like humour, I like surrealism – all the things I like to get in my photos if I can. But that click, that natural moment – it’s all about capturing the moment, and capturing time.

“A photograph has to stand on its own without any words… a good photo is something that will make you react. Photography has changed for me now; photography as social comment really interests me.”


Nicholas Claxton on making the film:

“We shot the film in just 4 days in New York, it was crazy..I was so pleased about the way Linda came over – her softness, self-deprecation, fragility and focus. I was pretty nervous showing it to Linda and Paul and showed them the rough cut, but they were delighted with it and it went on to win awards.”


Brian Clarke on Linda’s family:

“Linda’s father Lee was like an old testament prophet in his demeanor and legal brilliance – very “yeshevic” – and was very supportive and kind to me. He changed his name from Epstein to Eastman, although his Jewishness is not something we ever spoke about. Linda would make an occasional reference to being a Jewish mother…”

Brian Clarke

Brian Clarke is a British painter and architectural artist known for his monumental stained glass projects, set designs, and collaborations with major figures in contemporary architecture. Born to a working-class family in the north of England in 1953, by the early 1980s Brian had become a leading contemporary artist. He and Linda collaborated on a series of works combining photography and stained glass, and projects including books, stage sets and album covers for Paul McCartney. He remains a long-time friend of the McCartney family.

Nicholas Claxton

Nicholas is COO of Elaph Media Publications and Partner of WOW Media Communications Group. He’s an EMMY Award-Winning Producer/Director with an extensive track-record with the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 among many others. His ground-breaking documentary films have tackled some of the harshest injustices in South Africa and Ethiopia. Nicolas produced and directed the Cable Ace award-winning Arena film Linda McCartney: Behind the Lens for the BBC in 1992.

Mary McCartney

Mary McCartney (b. 1969) is a British photographer, director, food writer, TV presenter and Global Meat Free Ambassador based in London, England. Working as a photographer for over two decades, McCartney is entirely self-taught, and best known for her portrait photography. Alongside photography and filmmaking, McCartney is a committed vegetarian and co-founder of Meat Free Monday and an ambassador for Green Monday. She is the author of two vegetarian cookbooks and hosts her own vegetarian cooking show, Mary McCartney Serves It Up!, on Discovery+.

Annie Nightingale

Annie Nightingale CBE is best known as longest serving broadcaster on BBC Radio 1, and was the first ever female DJ on British radio in 1970.  She is also a journalist, TV presenter and author, and has recently published her autobiography “Hey Hi Hello” on five decades of Pop Culture.

Brett Rogers

Brett Rogers OBE Hon FRPS is Director of The Photographers’ Gallery, London, the first publicly funded Gallery dedicated solely to photography in the UK. Founded in 1971, it established early on a reputation for its independent approach to curating and its promotion of photography in all its myriad forms.  Brett Rogers curated an exhibition which featured the work of both Mary and Linda McCartney for Gagosian Gallery New York in 2017.

Arena at Jewish Book Week

Art Spiegelman and Hilary Chute in conversation with Jonathan Freedland

17 May 2022, via at-home streaming

From Superman to Maus, comic art has both subverted and triumphed over popular culture for almost a century. Our latest online event sees Jonathan Freedland joined by Maus creator Art Spiegelman and Hillary Chute, editor of the National Jewish Book Award winner Art Spiegelman’s MetaMaus and the upcoming Maus Now. They will look at the importance of the graphic novel in both popular culture and high art, the history of comic culture and the Jewish contribution to it, and, of course, the place of Maus in Holocaust literature, memory, psychology, and its enduring influence in the world today.


The conversation will also include key extracts from two BBC Arena films: Art Spiegelman: Of Mice and Cats, an exploration of the inspiration behind his ground-breaking work Maus and his visit to the scenes of his parents’ experiences during the Holocaust; and The Comic Book Hero, featuring Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the creators of Superman and examining the importance of superheroes in American culture.  The films will then be available in full for 7 days after the event to ticket holders.

Click here to buy a copy of  Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman and Why Comics by Hillary Chute

Click here to read an introduction to Arena: Art Spiegelman and Of Cats and Mice by series Executive Producer Anthony Wall


Art Spiegelman

Art Spiegelman (born in 1948 in Stockholm, Sweden) is an American Comics Artist, Editor, and comics Advocate.  His work includes BreakdownsIn The Shadow of No Towers and his award-winning comic novel Maus. His work as co-editor on the comics magazines Arcade and Raw has been highly influential, and from 1992 he spent a decade as contributing artist for The New Yorker. As an editor, a teacher at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and a lecturer, Spiegelman has promoted better understanding of comics and has mentored younger cartoonists.  He has recently remastered a lost classic, The Parade, an epic of wordless pictures by Si Lewen which recounts the endlessly repeated cycle of the human yen to war. Lewen was a Polish American who was part of an elite force in the liberation of Buchenwald.

Hillary Chute

Hillary Chute is an American literary scholar, Distinguished Professor of English and Art + Design at Northeastern University and a columnist on comics and graphic novels for The New York Times Book Review.  Chute has published a number of books about graphic narratives, including Graphic Women (2010), Disaster Drawn (2016) and Outside the Box (2014). She was the associate editor of Art Spiegelman’s MetaMaus, which won a 2011 National Jewish Book Award and a 2012 Eisner Award. Her book Why Comics?: From Underground to Everywhere (2017) was named one of the “100 Notable Books of 2018” by The New York Times. She is the editor of the collection Maus Now, forthcoming from Pantheon in November 2022.

Jonathan Freedland

Jonathan Freedland is an award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian and is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s contemporary history series The Long View as well as the co-host (with the Israeli journalist Yonit Levi) of Unholy, a weekly podcast. He has written twelve books, the latest of which is The Escape Artist: the Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World.

Arena at Jewish Book Week

Peter Sellers: Hollywood and Home Movies

5 July 2022, via at-home streaming

Internationally renowned for his performances in The Goon ShowThe Pink Panther film series, Dr Strangelove and many more, Peter Sellers remained an enigma during his life and beyond. A descendent of the famous 18th-century Sephardi Jewish boxer Daniel Mendoza via his music hall actress mother Peg, he obsessively filmed his private life, leaving hundreds of hours of footage which was discovered after his death in 1980. The BBC Arena documentary Peter Sellers: As He Filmed It, available to ticketholders, is a synthesis of that wealth of material, creating an intimate biography of a complex man.

This unique online conversation sees film critic and broadcaster Jason Solomons joined by Peter’s daughter Sarah Sellers, comedian and The Big Impression star Ronni Ancona and Peter Lydon, director of the Bafta-nominated Arena film.

Click here to read an introduction to the film by series directory Anthony Wall.

Part of BBC Arena at Jewish Book Week & in association with UK Jewish Film

Ronni Ancona

Ronni Ancona is an actor, comedian, impressionist, writer and  has worked extensively in TV, film and theatre for over 20 years. She first became known for her work on the BAFTA winning Big Impression series for which she won the British Comedy Award for Best Actress and the prestigious Variety Club Award. She also starred in  BAFTA-winning ITV series “The Sketch Show” and in the BAFTA-winning “Last Tango In Halifax” She has a  film and production company with Sally Phillips.

Peter Lydon

Peter Lydon is the director of the BBC Arena “Peter Sellers As He Filmed It” from 2002. The film is a distillation of his BAFTA nominated 3 part biography “The Peter Sellers Story” broadcast in 1995. Peter moves between documentaries, TV drama and commercials – from films about Radio Caroline and Frank Lloyd Wright to classics like Shameless, Secret Diary of a Call Girl and Poirot. In the world of commercials he is known for working with big names like Al Pacino, Mads Mickelson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jose Mourinho. He has written and directed several award-winning short films including Dating Eliza that picked up 8 major awards around the world. He’s also a cartoonist but that’s other story!

Sarah Sellers

Sarah Sellers was born in 1957 and is the second child of Peter Sellers and Australian actress Anne Howe, Peter’s first wife. Sarah is an antique dealer, specialising in dolls and teddy bears, and has been a collector for over 40 years. She currently lives and works near Brighton.

Jason Solomons

Jason Solomons is one of the UK’s best-known presenters and film critics. He hosts the popular Seen Any Good Films Lately? podcast, has his own music and culture show on Totally Wired Radio, and reviews films for LBC radio and BBC arts show Front Row. Jason is film correspondent for The New European and UK critic for On TV, he covers the BAFTAs and the Oscars for BBC News and is a regular commentator on Sky News and ITV’s GMB. Jason curates the Cinedrome at Green Man Festival and, following best-seller Woody Allen: Film by Film, is currently finishing his latest book, Movies: A Love Story