We may only be four days into this crappy New Year, but efforts to avoid and evade 2020 already appeared to have spilled over into 2021; and they can take you to some strange, unexpected places. Whilst meandering from one ‘related video’ to another on YT is hardly a trend exclusively brought about by lockdown, I can’t help but feel this uniquely awful situation has pushed traditional archive mining to an unprecedented level. The last few days I’ve found myself navigating my way through vintage BBC radio broadcasts from before my time, sampling complete shows originally transmitted on the Home, Light and Third and probably recorded off-air by an enterprising listener who had access to a Grundig tape-recorder. There’s something oddly soothing about immersing one’s self in a world that only just predates the twinkle in the milkman’s eye, one uncorrupted by personal living memory and therefore imagined as a monochrome Neverland on mono Medium Wave.
I listened to an hour-long ‘Midweek Theatre’ from the Home Service, a play involving a pair of spinster sisters running a village tea shop and featuring all the gloriously clipped diction of ‘Brief Encounter’; and I heard an intense performance of Ravel’s String Quartet from a Third Programme series called ‘Music at Night’ – one that somehow felt more intense due to the non-digital audio of the recording. I went from ‘Round the Horne’ and ‘Hancock’s Half-Hour’ to ‘Listen with Mother’ and ‘Two-Way Family Favourites’; the comments accompanying the latter were richly nostalgic reminiscences by the generations for whom the requests from servicemen stationed overseas evoked the scent of Sunday dinner. I myself associated the programme with the spoof that appeared on one of the Xmas discs produced by The Beatles for their fan-club, perhaps demonstrating how deep those wireless mainstays of the 50s were embedded in the British psyche before the BBC radio shake-up of 1967.
Perhaps the most surreal but characteristically esoteric Third Programme recording I listened to was called ‘The Dreams’, a disturbing sound collage from 1964. Concocted by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s sonic alchemist Delia Derbyshire, this unnerving excursion into the subconscious blended the kind of nightmarish noises Ms Derbyshire routinely conjured up for ‘Doctor Who’ with vox-pop voices discussing especially unsettling dreams. It sounds like radically eerie stuff today, so I can’t imagine what it must have sounded like nearly 60 years ago. The fact it shared the airwaves with something like ‘Music While You Work’ – which was next to drift into my time-travelling orbit – maybe demonstrates the impressive width and breadth of the BBC’s radio output at a time when it had a complete mainland monopoly.
‘Music While You Work’ had its origins in wartime, devised as a means of providing the home front with a jolly, uplifting instrumental soundtrack intended to permeate the factory floor and keep the wheels of industry turning. The standards and show-tunes would be played by various Light Orchestras (albeit not of the Electric variety) and was transmitted twice a day, weekday mornings and afternoons. In its way, the programme pioneered the non-stop ‘party’ concept much later trademarked by James Last, and proved so popular during the Second World War that it continued right up until the end of the Home Service and Light Programme over 20 years later. One can’t imagine the then-antiquated nature of the music had much appeal for the youngsters chained to the conveyor belt in the 60s, but I should imagine Tony Blackburn eventually provoked a similar boost in ear-plug sales for the more senior workers once Radio 1 superseded the show on the speakers.
I wonder what an equivalent programme would be to inspire the same surge in productivity today – ‘Music While You Work from Home’? ‘Music While You Claim Universal Credit’? ‘Music While You Contemplate Economic Suicide’? Sampling these snippets of a lost world in which the national broadcaster sealed its place as the unifying force of its original remit, I can’t help but reflect on how low the standing of the Corporation has sunk, courtesy of mismanagement and a gradual, systematic contempt for all listeners not sharing the narrow gene pool from which it recruits its ideological missionaries. Of course, the BBC has always had an ‘agenda’; back in the day, it was viewed as the ultimate paragon of ‘Queen and Country’ establishment, though for many decades that position largely cut across the class barrier. Today, it represents a different establishment, albeit one whose design for life doesn’t stretch much beyond the M25. It used to be said BBC radio announcers wore dinner jackets; today one can imagine them in BLM T-shirts and rainbow badges. A poll published over the last few days should have panicked the BBC into an emergency overhaul of its attitude, though we all know it’s too late. The BBC’s sanctimonious arrogance is fatally set in stone.
The YouGov poll appeared in the Sunday Times this weekend, revealing a mere 33% of Brits believe the BBC accurately reflects their concerns – this is down from 62% in that most game-changing of years, 2016. In the latest poll, 48% of ‘older people’ (over-40s?) thought the Beeb represented their views badly; a regional and political breakdown claimed 51% in ‘the North’ echoed this opinion, 47% did in Scotland, and 58% of those who voted Leave. If any public institution – the police, parliament, the BBC – fails to honour the contract between servers and served, it’s no wonder public confidence in it diminishes rapidly; all of these bastions in which Brits placed their trust for generations have been found wanting of late, but so deep have Identitarian sensibilities infiltrated the controllers of these institutions that it’s hard to see how they can reclaim their former respect amongst those who pay their wages.
Sadiq Khan’s Unconscious Bias Training masquerading as a New Year’s Eve firework display, promoting divisive dogma at a moment when further division is the last panacea needed, was no doubt sold as a ‘good thing’ by the BBC bosses broadcasting it on TV; one can imagine them standing up to applaud the clenched fist of a Marxist political party or the EU flag, endorsing their blinkered belief that the whole nation mirrors their mantra. When I recorded a down-the-line interview on Radio 4 a few years back, receiving a ‘Yentob-esque’ taxi home laid on for me free of charge, I got an extremely brief taste of how BBC people live. These are people whose entire working lives are lived on expenses; they never pay taxi fares, they get sent free tickets for Glastonbury, Wimbledon, and the Last Night of the Proms; and then they devote a huge proportion of broadcasting hours funded by the great unwashed to wagging their fingers and reminding the rest of us how privileged – albeit ill-educated – we all are. Ah, if only Eton and Oxbridge were available on the NHS!
I’ve recently been watching the first two seasons of ‘The Crown’, courtesy of a friend kindly popping it on a memory stick for me; the story in this Netflix series unfolds at a glacial, sedate pace that allows events during the early years of Her Majesty’s reign the space to breathe in a way that a BBC equivalent condensed into six episodes wouldn’t. The attention to period detail is admirably meticulous, but were it in the hands of the BBC, the Corporation’s diversity & inclusivity rules would require a token quota of BAME actors to tick the boxes. Accusations of historical inaccuracy levelled against ‘The Crown’ would be just as valid were the Beeb producing it, albeit for different reasons; the BBC approach is to project the idealised Woke worldview of the here and now onto the past, rendering all drama as merely another facet of what someone recently referred to as the BBC’s Jehovah’s Witness-like compulsion to convert non-believers and convince them that their way is the right way, and the only way. If it is the only way, then the destination of one of this country’s truly noble gifts to the world is, I’m sorry to say, that great Broadcasting House in the sky.
© The Editor