For generations, the art of entertainment was considered by many as a transient, disposable luxury produced for the sole purpose to raise morale and create some much needed escapism from the perils of life. Such lackadaisical approaches carried itself forward to the birth of television in the 1950’s and sixties where TV senior management lacked the foresight to comprehend the significance of recording and preserving this cultural revolution. The only concrete recording of this era was created through the work of entertainment writers and journalists who were pivotal to charting Britain’s booming culture. Forever inspired and intrigued by the history of this founding generation, the cultural commentators of today are blessed with a reverence for their predecessors whom they owe so much to.
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Writer, broadcaster and journalist Matthew Sweet remains a shining example of the continued legacy of the role of the entertainment journalist and he remains quick to cite the pivotal contributions of his forefathers. This was evident when he met Marina Shoot; a gossip columnist from the 1920s who frequently interacted with the great movie stars of the day including Alfred Hitchcock. Such a blossoming friendship was to refine his love for the silent era of Hollywood which inspired his 2006 book Shepperton Babylon: The Lost Worlds of British Cinema. For this, Matthew was able to meet and interview a handful of survivors from the period who were now well into their nineties while some had even reached the century mark. To obtain firsthand insight into this historical period of showbiz was an invaluable experience for Matthew and would help to inform the next part of his career.
Yet this fascination with film and television history has influenced Sweet’s entire career. As a trainee Arts correspondent at The Independent On Sunday in 1998, Matthew was instantly exposed to a whole new world of entertainment and suddenly found himself interviewing both international movie stars and homegrown household names. At the time, a recognised and responsible broadsheet such as The Independent took a balanced approach to the Arts and therefore Matthew was tasked with celebrating the very best of popular culture. Remaining on The Independent for just over a year, he was able to chart and celebrate the late nineties zeitgeist but it wasn’t long before Sweet had the desire to further his own entertainment presence.
In 2005 Matthew joined the presenting team on BBC2’s former flagship Arts vehicle The Culture Show, profiling subjects ranging from the life of Michael Palin to Doctor Who. Over fifteen years later, these episodes are themselves, held up as historical social artefacts of culture in post millennium Britain: an era which is frequently overlooked in the transient culture of 2020. As the inevitable course of time edges further away from the dawn of the new millennium, these shows help to capture the essence of a particular moment in our modern British history and despite the lack of longevity of The Culture Show and similar programmes of the day, they still hold significance in terms of recording the ever-changing mood of the nation.
Beyond his work as a cultural commentator, Matthew is also a regular presenter of BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking where he delves into a whole range of thought provoking subjects alongside an esteemed panel. Sweet believes that the magic of the series is the ability to cover a whole range of different subjects from Tchaikovsky to The Goodies as the audience has the broad palette to appreciate both. This compliments his other Radio 3 venture The Sound of Cinema where he celebrates the scores and composers of our favourite movie soundtracks. As a radio 3 favourite, Matthew has written and presented a whole host of documentaries for the network including: Memoirs of the Spacewomen, Crossing the Border – Poetry and Film, Stop Calling Me Dr Sex, Vril and Oh Dr Kinsey, Look What You’ve Done To Me. It seems that wherever there is a hard hitting cultural subject to explore, Sweet is always on hand to bring the human element to whatever subject he presides over.
Today, Sweet remains as in demand as ever and like everyone is attempting to adapt to the new normal brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. All location filming has stopped for the time being which obviously has had a dramatic impact on broadcasting schedules. Yet Sweet remains adamant and hopeful that whenever it’s safe to do so, he shall once again be allowed to return to what he does best. It was a great pleasure to interview the great Matthew Sweet and wish him well for the rest of his career.