For chair of Arts Council England, Peter Bazalgette, the leap between the subversive and avant garde Bloomsbury group and today’s reality TV is not as wide as it may seem.

“In England we have a genius for new ideas and are not afraid to question the Establishment,” he says. “And this is encapsulated in different ways through the BBC and the Arts Council.”

And he believes the ethos of Bloomsbury is as relevant today as it ever was. “Bloomsbury is an extraordinary phenomenon,” he says. “In many ways it epitomises the British spirit. And one of the most important members of the Bloomsbury group – the economist Maynard Keynes – founded the Arts Council.”

But this all seems a far cry from reality television – until you remember that Peter Bazalgette was chief executive officer of Endemol, which revolutionised television in many ways, and that he designed several hugely successful TV formats, including Big Brother.

Peter Bazalgette – Baz to his friends – is not afraid of controversy. In fact, he believes dissent is vital to the cultural life of this country. He also believes in the importance of the arts, not just to the economy, but to education and society as a whole.

But the reality of today’s cuts – and the fact that local authorities have no statutory obligation to fund the arts – has put enormous pressure on arts’ providers. “There will always be a battle when it comes to culture,” he says. “The answer is to find the right partnerships and look at different revenue streams.”

The arts, he feels, needs to think commercially. He praised Brighton and Hove City Council for its long-term imaginative support of the Brighton Festival, and feels that other local authorities should be looking towards working with the private sector to deliver cultural programmes which enrich the lives of those they serve.

He has always had a soft spot for Charleston and its twice-yearly programme of festivals celebrating the written and spoken word. He has been a friend for many years of Virginia Nicholson, social historian and granddaughter of Vanessa Bell. They met while both were working in television. His wife, Hilary Newiss, is a Charleston trustee. He believes in the importance of keeping the spirit of Bloomsbury alive. The artists, writers and thinkers who gravitated towards Charleston were not afraid of pushing the boundaries, he says. And despite the difficult economic times today, it is important to continue pushing those boundaries.

Peter Bazalgette has spent 30 years working in the arts and creative industries. He is a former chair of the English National Opera and has many media interests. He is president of the Royal Television Society. On the promise for increased arts content on television, he believes the future lies with digital outlets and partnerships.

He will be at the Charleston Festival on Sunday evening chairing a debate on 25 years of the arts. Sharing the platform with him will be Philip Hook (author of Breakfast At Sotheby’s); Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of the Barbican; Francine Stock, who presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4 and Fiona MacCarthy, biographer and cultural critic.

Each member of the panel will be asked to state what, in their opinion, has been the most influential work in various art forms over the past 25 years. The audience will be invited to join in and vote for their favourite. With such a stellar line-up of panellists, the evening promises to be a lively one.

  • 25 Years On: A Debate Chaired By Peter Bazalgette is at Charleston House, near Lewes, on Sunday, May 18, at 7.30pm. Tickets £14, call 01323 811265.