The Prince of Wales has criticised ITV’s decision to scrap arts programme The South Bank Show, saying civilisation had lost one of its ‘greatest champions’.

Prince Charles made the outspoken comments as he congratulated Lord Melvyn Bragg, the presenter of the programme, who was recording his last ever South Bank Show Awards.

He called it ‘the very end of one of the most important beacons of the arts this country has been lucky enough to enjoy’.

ITV announced last year that it was axing the Sunday night show after more than 30 years, citing budget constraints.

Lord Bragg, 70, dismissed the idea that the show was axed for financial reasons and said he was ‘baffled’ as to why the programme – whose subjects have ranged from Paul McCartney and Walt Disney to distinguished poets and writers – had to go.

Embarrassingly for ITV, the Prince made the comments in a recorded speech played during the awards, which the broadcaster is scheduled to screen on Sunday.

He said: “The South Bank Show has been much admired along with Melvyn Bragg’s steadfast determination to force so many serious artists and their work into the midst of the popular agenda.

“The programme remains without rival and a long time ago it rightly became an important contribution to the vibrancy of this country’s culture.”

Referring to the famous episode when Lord Bragg enjoyed a drink with the artist Francis Bacon, he said: “Many will find it hard to forget the memory of Lord Bragg stoically asking his more-or-less sober questions of Francis Bacon as all around him swam deeper and deeper into wine-filled oblivion.”