NCA General Election Countdown: 10 Most Transformative Moments in the Arts

In the countdown to the UK General Election, the arts are being drowned out by the B word. We want to push it up the agenda. So we'll be publishing lists of ground-breaking arts events to remind everyone about the power of culture to transform lives and maintain a healthy, balanced nation.

We’ll be publishing lists from our trustees. And we’d love to hear from you about the arts that have influenced your life, comment on Twitter or email us via hello@forthearts.org.uk.

Kicking us off is our Chair, Samuel West. His list is all post-World War II and, in the moment we find ourselves in, he has focussed on a ten that had political impact, and changed the way that we think about certain political issues.


Samuel West’s starter for Ten:

The British Library, Yinka Shonibare’s 2014 tribute to UK diversity. 6328 batik-bound books containing the names of 2700 first- and second-generation immigrants to Britain who have been important to our culture and history. Bought by the Tate, which is good. It’s an artwork we need right now; it’s beautiful and it made me cry. ‘Nuff said.

The Beatles sing All You Need Is Love on Our World, 25th June 1967. The first ever public performance of the song, on a live international satellite TV show with 400 to 700 million estimated viewers worldwide (the largest television audience ever up to that point). Only a year before the iconic Apollo 8 Earthrise picture, it brought vast numbers of humans together with complex technology and the simplest message.

Threads, Barry Hines’  docudrama about the effects of nuclear war on the city of Sheffield. First broadcast 23rd September 1984, with the iconic Radio Times cover of a bloodstained traffic warden holding a shotgun (those were the days). It coalesced all my teen angst about the arms race into horribly believable form. Not just a nightmare, it’s a beautifully scripted, designed and performed work of art that still knocks me sideways.

Watchmen and V for Vendetta. In the late 1980s these two Alan Moore graphic novels began appearing on the tube, read unapologetically by adults for the first time. Contemporary anxieties about the rise of fascism helped comics move into the literate mainstream, and although the themes have changed, their subsequent influence on both science fiction and cinema blockbusters has never been stronger

Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody stays at number one for nine weeks, Winter 1975. The song, the video, the production; pop music just grew up. An important blurring of the snobbish line between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art.

The Jungle (2017): a vivid recreation of the life of the Good Chance Calais refugee camp with a cast of 20, some of whom had spent time in the Jungle as refugees and had never acted before. It crystallised the anger at governments inaction in the face of a refugee crisis. After a sell-out run at the Young Vic it transferred to the West End and then to New York.

The last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, 2nd November 1989. A masterful change of tone for the final moments of the final series; the Great War silliness turns to shock and a half-speed credit roll goes out to poppies and birdsong. Shattering genre-busting, which had a lasting impact on our view of trench warfare.

Cathy Come Home:  Frequently called the best single drama ever made, Ken Loach’s 1966 TV play had a new, realistic style, an unflinching eye and an unfashionable subject: homelessness was brought into people’s homes. The charity Crisis was formed as a direct result of public reaction to the film.

The Dead Parrot Sketch (Monty Python’s Flying Circus S1 E8, 1969):  Verbatim recall of many lines, practiced in the playground, is not my main reason for including this: at a time of great social change, it pokes sustained fun at the British squeamishness about death. Surrealism is a revolutionary movement; this is the closest that revolution gets to being funny.

The Satanic Verses (Salman Rushdie, 1988):  Like many of his books, it’s about the Indian immigrant experience in England. It was a losing Booker Prize finalist, but it’s infamous now for inspiring the fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. He survived several failed assassination attempts; Hitoshi Igarashi, the book’s Japanese translator, was murdered. The book was burned in UK demonstrations, which Christopher Hitchens called “the opening shot in a cultural war on freedom”.


We’ll be publishing more lists, here and on Twitter. Do let us know what you think and send us your own suggestions.