Yes, it gives Nigel Farage too much airtime. Yes, sometimes it makes me want to bang my head on the desk. But for better or worse, it's oursby Stuart Maconie / February 16, 2018 / Leave a comment
Ironically, the tweets and texts started to ping into my hand as I strolled across a freezing piazza to pick up my new BBC pass. Yes, Salford does have a piazza—and whilst it may not quite be Venice’s St Marco, what it lacks in overpriced buskers it makes up for in statues of Pudsey, Petra the Blue Peter dog and Oopsy Daisy from In the Night Garden.
Salford is the home of the BBC’s MediaCity, its base in the north. When it opened in 2012, it attracted no small amount of footstamping ire from those broadsheet journalists who would now have to get a train to the frozen north to plug their efforts on “the sofa.”
This time, the commotion was started by Andrew Adonis, Blairite wonk turned ennobled adviser to this and that. He was causing some minor kerfuffle with a “random” (as the kids would say) tweet about the BBC. Oddly inelegant and apropos of little, it had the flavour of one of Trump’s three AM whinges about CNN.
“BBC on the ropes” it said, going on to delineate its many failings chez Adonis in the realms of sport, news and drama before making the obligatory laudatory noises about Desert Island Discs and (marvelous) foreign correspondents. I was amazed he didn’t mention the Shipping Forecast and Gardeners Question Time.
God, Auntie and Wigan Athletic
Given, as one of its many freelance employees, my almost daily vexation and incomprehension at the workings of the BBC I was surprised at my reaction—which was to jump up, fists clenched and coat off, to its defense like the punchy mate in a pub fight.
It seems that the BBC, like the Catholic Church and Wigan Athletic, is one of those institutions that I am yoked to emotionally for life whatever its behaviour.
There is much that puts my head in contact with my desk on a daily basis, some of it serious and systemic, some of it more trivial such as the obligatory sports trails comprising poetic doggerel voiced by a bluff northerner or the mysterious Svengali-like hold Nick Knowles has over commissioning editors. But it is my BBC, right or wrong, it seems.
In common with those other loved, lamented and lampooned bulwarks of our public sphere—the NHS and the England football team—there is always a crisis at the BBC. It is a permanent state, a given of our cultural landscape.
Usually the flak and tutting comes from swivel-eyed ideologues of the right, who find the notion of anything public funded repellent—except for their own moats and duck houses, of course.
But more latterly, reasonable people seem to be getting in on the act, largely over Brexit.
True, it’s hard to argue with those who find Farage’s ubiquity on the BBC irritating and hugely disproportionate to his personal significance—and hard to fathom beyond an example of tabloid news values at work. (With their racist girlfriends and fisticuffs in Brussels, Ukip are, sadly, always good copy.)
It’s not just news
But as someone who makes music, culture and history programmes for the Beeb, I do find this conflation of the BBC and its news output annoying. So let’s pick off some other elements of Adonis’ wrong-headed diagnosis.
Firstly, whatever you think of Gary Lineker’s salary, Match of The Day is still the most watched football show on TV and the BBC’s sports coverage remains the standard others aspire too.
As for drama, sure, Netflix has good stuff. I loved Stranger Things as much as the next geek.
But the best things on TV recently have been Inside Number 9 and Requiem, the latter being the creepiest, cleverest, hauntingly lovely thing on TV in years, made by the BBC, shown on BBC and then flogged to Netflix.
Simialrly, BBC 3 has made the transition to online brilliantly with genuinely funny comedy and some superb documentaries such as Reggie Yates I haven’t watched McMafia but even the Daily Telegraph, hardly Auntie’s acolyte, called it “a masterpiece.”
There’s a story within the organization of a recent piece of internal market research which involved taking all BBC programmes away from a sample of BBC-sceptic families for two weeks.
Well before the end of this period, tearful, red-eyed parents were begging to have CBBC and CBeebies back, having not realized that Justin’s House, Mr Tumble, Postman Pat, the Teletubbies etc were products of the corporation.
In The Night Garden, Hey Duggee and the sweetly-wonderful Bing, voiced with hypnotic kindness and reassurance by Mark Rylance are, to use that old phrase, worth the license fee alone.
A broadcaster for the people
Yes, there are still hints of a managerial ethos too much in thrall to corporate bullshit at the expense of real intellectual and visionary rigour. (I laugh at W1A in much the same way as citizens of the former Soviet Union must have laughed at Solzhenitsyn, with a kind of bitter mirth).
It gives too much time to Ukip and think tanks without questioning their ideological stance, and it lavishes jobs on the kind of sneering broadsheet ‘contrarian’ who loathe it—and routinely say so in their columns.
Whilst its commitment to racial and gender equality is admirable, it is still woefully askew on matters of class. At the risk of sounding all Atlee-ish and Spirit of ‘45, it should remember who it there for, and serve those people first.
Hated by ideologues on both sides, these seem especially parlous times for the Beeb. You will even hear some Cassandras saying that the end is nigh.
This is nonsense but if it is to go down, whether you find that despairing or delicious—like David Cameron famously did—then it should go down fighting, and caring more for its own people and our people than what the likes of Nigel Farage, Paul Dacre or Andre Adonis think of it.
On the way to get that pass—which in spite of everything I am still proud of—I passed a couple with their little girl thrilled silly to have her picture taken by that statue of Oopsy Daisy. She’s just one of the swarms of kids who come every half term to see the very place where Justin has his house and Mr Tumble tumbles. You can’t say better than that.