It’s interesting that the BBC has chosen to start throwing ballast - or what it thinks is ballast - out of the balloon. Reality must have penetrated Portland Place at long last. By reality I mean that the piss-taking of the upper echelons has now made the BBC the target of all parties and it is now a case of jump before you are pushed. It didn't need to be this way, but it was always going to happen after John Birt had control. He set the course for the micro-management membrane that has taken over the whole corporation.
Before its recent run of bad publicity I was fully in favour of abolishing the BBC on the grounds that it had moved from being the boldest experiment in public education in history to the boldest experiment in propaganda.
Ten years ago, when I started complaining about the BBC’s left/liberal bias, my intelligent friends – bar Butch – all thought I was mad. It struck them as a lunatic proposition, like accusing a maiden aunt of being an axe murderer. (Notice how nobody calls it Auntie anymore?)
These days, the same people get more exercised about the BBC than I do. The main complaint being that ‘it’s out of control’ and there are whole areas of news and culture it cannot approach objectively – you know, climate change, the Middle East, immigration etc.
I now annoy my friends by saying that in some small respects the BBC has improved. Which is why I don’t think it should be abolished. Its most intolerable phase, what I like to call the Africa Lives on the BBC*/Jonathan Ross years, may have passed.
I think it could be reformed and for once I agree with Jeremy Dear, the Chavez-loving Bennite dreamer who leads the union I used to be an official for, when he says that if executives at the very top had not arranged themselves vast salaries and perks then workers further down the pipe would not be facing redundancy. It’s one thing you see again and again with the liberal media class in its middle years – having spent all their youth acting as if concern with money was infra dig and morally shabby, they are now completely obsessed with getting vast amounts of it for themselves and sod the consequences. See Yentob, Mandelson, and many others.
But yes, the BBC needs to be saved and reformed. Which is why cutting the Asian network and the website is the wrong thing to do.
Cut all the frivolous crap like antiques and property shows and so on. BBC drama needs to be reformed and desperately needs fresh and radical approaches. By radical I mean telling stories about life in Britain from a non-Guardian feature viewpoint. Just think; the realities, tensions and consequences, good and bad – as opposed to the odd heavily deodorised, happy-clappy doc or drama – of the Labour government’s vast social engineering project 2000-10 has never really been accurately reflected on the BBC. That’s a bit like the BBC going from 1960 to 1970 without mentioning the Pill or the Beatles. Not really public service broadcasting after all.
My favourite bit of the BBC is Radio 3. Yesterday I listened to composer of the week – Chopin – as I did some yoga before going to work. There was some winter sunshine outside, a tiny herald of spring; and intelligent talk between the nocturnes and mazurkas. Chopin, like all great music, takes you beyond words and coherent thought. I lay in the corpse pose at the end, watching the dust spin in the sunbeams above me, thinking without words. You don’t get that from the One Show with Adrian Chiles.
I shaved as Lunchtime Concert came on and, as I occasionally do, I thought: this is it for the beeb – it’s not about Jonathan Ross and rap stations, it’s about civilisation; the best that has been thought and said; it’s about high art and, when it is middlebrow, it should be the best middlebrow. Keep following that disastrous mix of dumb-arse populism and media studies-level leftism and it’s a dead duck in the long scheme because anyone can do that.
Of course, the TV execs in Charlotte Street restaurants wouldn’t agree, but so what? If they knew anything television wouldn’t be as awful as it is.
*The actual catchphrase of a series of programmes that gave a smiley, decaffeinated Marxist, all-the-fault-of-white-men overview of the continent.