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Masterpiece Specials (1995 - 1998)

Magazine program

Series synopsis:

A series of hour-long interviews with celebrity writers, actors and television personalities such as Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka and Judy Davis, presented as long form studio-based interviews with Andrea Stretton as presenter-interviewer.

Curator’s Notes:

The first Masterpiece Special came about when SBS and Andrea Stretton were offered an exclusive interview with Salman Rushdie while he was still living under the Iranian fatwa. The interview was so successful that the cameras continued to roll for over 50 minutes until he had to leave. That became the first Masterpiece Special to be broadcast in the Masterpiece timeslot.

Masterpiece had begun in 1989 as a weekly television spot for arts documentaries from Australia and around the world. It was started at the behest of Andy Lloyd James, then Head of SBS Independent, and ranged across all art forms including theatre, dance, film, music, literature, visual arts and architecture. English subtitling, if necessary, was done by SBS.

Andrea Stretton was the original presenter of Masterpiece and presenter-interviewer of the Masterpiece Specials until she left SBS in 1997. They were mostly produced very cheaply in the studio with an unadorned set. The artist would be interviewed by Andrea Stretton, who was always well read about their work, asking searching questions that elicited fascinating answers about the artist’s life and work. Usually the authors or artists were promoting their latest work and only too pleased to talk to the intelligent and interested presenter of one of the few prestige television arts programs that existed in Australia at that time.

Andrea Stretton, who died in 2007, began working for SBS as a journalist and producer in 1986. She co-presented The Book Show with Dinny O’Hearn until his death in 1993, then presented alone for many years. In 1998, she moved to the ABC as the presenter of Sunday Afternoon, staying until 2001. She was the artistic director of the Olympic Arts festivals in 1998 and 1999 and was chosen by Prime Minister Keating to work on the Creative Nation cultural policy statement in 1995. Television audiences loved her natural camera presence and her interviewing style, at once conversational, knowledgeable and challenging. One of the things she was most proud of was her award from the French Government of the award of Arts and Letters for her contribution to arts and culture and for fostering French-Australian relations.

Titles in this series

Masterpiece Special – Judy Davis 1996

A wide-ranging interview with Australian actress Judy Davis, who has starred in over 20 movies since she came into our lives with My Brilliant Career (1979), her debut film. The interview is to promote her then latest film, Children of ...

Masterpiece Special – Melvyn Bragg 1996

Andrea Stretton interviews the British writer and television presenter, Melvyn Bragg. His arts magazine program the South Bank Show (2008) is the longest running arts television show in the English speaking world, and is still going strong after 30 years.

Masterpiece Special – Robert Hughes 1997

The Australian expatriate art critic and author Robert Hughes ranges widely in a conversation with arts journalist Andrea Stretton about a career that’s taken him from Australia to London, Italy and finally New York, where he’s lived since the 1970s. ...

Masterpiece Special – Robyn Davidson 1996

Andrea Stretton interviews the expatriate Australian writer Robyn Davidson, who has just written a book about her experience of living with one of the last great nomadic tribes of the world in the desert regions of Rajasthan in northern India. ...

Masterpiece Special – Salman Rushdie 1996

Andrea Stretton interviews Salman Rushdie, whose then latest book The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995) was written under the threat of a fatwa, or death sentence. The fatwa was issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran because of comments about Islam ...

Masterpiece Special – Wole Soyinka 1997

The Nobel Laureate for literature in 1986, Wole Soyinka is in Australia for the 1997 Melbourne Writers’ Festival. He’s talking to Andrea Stretton about his early life in his native Nigeria and the terrible fate of his friend and fellow ...