For those not in the know, the BBC Singers are the UK’s sole professional chamber choir; perhaps lack of competition has enabled this ensemble to remain a revered fixture of the country’s Classical furniture for the best part of a century, but it also means people take notice when such unique BBC employees feel the brunt of their employer’s diminishing commitment to the highbrow. A couple of years ago, it was announced that the BBC Concert Orchestra would be dispatched to the wilds of the provinces as yet another token gesture in the ongoing (and increasingly tedious) operation to make the Beeb less ‘London-centric’; but this week an even more dispiriting sign of these BBC times came with the announcement that the BBC Singers are to be disbanded before the start of this year’s Proms, just a year before reaching their landmark 100th birthday; another penny-pinching body blow to the declining morale of these unsung old retainers was the announcement that salaries for members of the English BBC orchestras will be slashed by 20%.
Axing the BBC Singers was described in one newspaper article as an ‘act of vandalism’; BBC DG Tim Davie was the recipient of a joint letter penned by several Classical luminaries, declaring the intended cuts to be ‘irreversible and catastrophically damaging plans’; the BBC’s response reads: ‘Since 1922 we’ve been an integral part of the Classical music ecology in this country, and in order for us to continue to be a leading force in the industry, we need to modernise, make some necessary and difficult changes to the way we operate to ensure we are responding to audience needs and provide the best possible music to the widest possible audience.’ That statement just stops short of masking its meaning in Birt-speak buzzwords, but bearing in mind the self-destructive path the BBC seems determined to stick to, one wonders if their remaining ensembles will be restructured so that they will henceforth hire not on musical merit, but on box-ticking diversity/inclusivity grounds; perhaps ‘The BBC Rainbow Orchestra’ will eventually emerge from the ashes.
Naturally, the ominous spectre of the licence fee looms over every bumbling move the BBC makes these days as it struggles to justify its existence, and in the process has a habit of forgetting what made it special in the first place. The BBC’s nine musical ensembles may be a legacy of the old Reithian principles that regarded broadcasting as a moral mission to raise the artistic appreciation of the nation, and are viewed by some (especially within the BBC itself) as an anachronistic luxury; yet their continued presence in the face of the relentless dumbing-down that has characterised the Corporation in recent years has been something of a minor victory, particularly when compared to the fate of BBC4, a channel that for a good decade or more was the last remaining bastion of the Beeb’s once-peerless television output.
Now, rather than playing the long game of starving them out, the BBC has instead decided to disband its Singers in the same week as its somewhat kneejerk decision to hand a P45 to a grossly-overpaid star following the latest in a lengthy litany of gormless missives on social media. The fact the Beeb would have happily carried on paying Gary Lineker’s astronomical wages had his current comments on illegal immigrants not landed the Corporation in one more row with the Government that it could desperately do without says as much about its priorities as cutting the salaries of the BBC orchestras. Okay, so BBC TV’s football coverage commands far higher ratings than the listening figures for Radio 3; but we’re not talking about ITV or Channel 5, are we? Isn’t the BBC supposed to amount to more than merely chasing ratings?
Gary Lineker has been a bit of a repeat offender for quite some time; remembering I once wrote a post on here about his Twitter activities, I was surprised to learn when I tracked it down that it had been written as far back as December 2016; in a way, that shows just how long the BBC has tolerated his off-air utterances. As with Jeremy Clarkson before him, it seems the Beeb will allow the front-men of their most profitable franchises to get away with stretching the Corporation’s supposed ‘impartiality’ to breaking point for years until one incident too many provokes enough outraged headlines for a favourite son to be shown the door. I suppose the main difference between Lineker and Clarkson’s positions is that the latter was popular with that section of the viewing public the BBC disdains, whereas the former is a darling of all that the BBC bigwigs hold dear; one suspects they’d been keen to get rid of an embarrassment like Clarkson for years but didn’t dare, whilst losing Lineker was the last thing they wanted. However, unlike ‘Top Gear’ – which has failed to thrive since Clarkson’s departure – ‘Match of the Day’ will survive Gary Linker just as it survived David Coleman, Jimmy Hill and Des Lynam; viewers don’t tune in for the presenter or the pundits; they tune in to watch the games.
From all accounts, the entire commentary team of ‘Match of the Day’ have walked out in solidarity with Lineker; moreover, this Saturday’s edition will have neither presenter nor pundits as it seems Lineker’s sofa mafia have also downed tools and refused to work – although most of them, like Lineker himself, are essentially freelance anyway and routinely turn up on other broadcasters to cover matches the BBC hasn’t got the rights to anymore. Personally, I quite like the idea of ‘Match of the Day’ taking a ‘TOTP 2’ approach to coverage, with no host and no waffling ex-pros endlessly analysing what we’ve just seen. Who knows – it might work as a formula and we’ll be spared the inevitable Alex Scott inheriting the hot-seat. Anyway, as things stand, this move is not being officially regarded as permanent, though it’s hard to see a way back for Lineker with the BBC so terrified of offending a government that wants to take its own shears to the Beeb’s myriad tentacles.
The reactions to the comments that ultimately left the BBC with no choice but to give Gary Lineker the push mirror the polarisation of our times and highlight the dividing lines between those who applaud the compulsion of celebrities to virtue signal and those who deplore them doing so. One side praises Lineker and accuses the BBC of being spineless Tory lapdogs whilst the other claims the freedom the ex-footballer has had to make a mockery of BBC impartiality is symptomatic of the metropolitan Woke elite that forces its arrogant agenda down the throat of a viewing audience sick of being lectured to. Ironically, Piers Morgan, of all people, supported Lineker’s right to express his opinion (even if he disagreed with it) and argued it wasn’t a sackable offence, what with Lineker not being the host of a news programme. The culture wars do indeed occasionally throw up unlikely bedfellows.
It’s interesting that suspending a high-profile presenter of a popular programme provokes an across-the-board ‘everybody out’ attitude not just amongst BBC staff but at the equally PC Premier League, and provides further ammunition for social media soapboxes; it gives the impression that the BBC has been reduced to an ineffective supply teacher unable to exercise any authority over its unruly pupils. On the other hand, when it comes to a corner of the Corporation with a lower profile (albeit one with a far more distinguished history), the BBC can wield the axe unchallenged and protests are limited to the small albeit passionate circle of musicians directly affected. Perhaps these particular BBC employees don’t fit the profile the Beeb is keen to cultivate and consequently aren’t viewed as important – even if their gradual obliteration will do far more long-term damage to the Corporation’s dwindling reputation than the loss of Lineker ever will.
© The Editor