Probably eligible for some disability benefit considering how many times it’s shot itself in the foot of late, the BBC has belatedly woken-up to smell the roses and has surmised it needs to act – and fast. How much difference a new DG can make to stop the rot is debatable; chances are his appointment has come too late in the day, but at least he appears to have hit the ground running. The roll-call of faux-pas made by the senior national broadcaster over the past couple of years is too comprehensive to go into here; but in an exceedingly short space of time, Tim Davie has reversed the ill-judged decision to mute the lyrics of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ on the Last Night of the Proms and has announced his intention to shake-up the corporation’s undoubted left-wing bias when it comes to its comedy output; he’s also declared that any high-profile BBC employees expressing a personal political opinion on social media will be reminded of the BBC’s commitment to impartiality before receiving the axe. Gary Lineker, beware – regardless of how virtuous renting out one of your spare rooms to an illegal immigrant may well be. For some reason, the old Harry Enfield sketch of a middle-class couple adopting a pet Geordie springs to mind, but there you go.
The Beeb has been controlled by the London-centric Woke elite for far too long, but Tim Davie’s appointment at the expense of the unremittingly useless Tony (Lord) Hall is no smooth transition. The new Director General has to confront a system that has seen the Oxbridge intelligentsia serve as recruitment material for the corporation for decades; all the talk of ‘diversity initiatives’ and diverting license fee funds into such idealistic schemes overlooks the fact that colour is not the issue – despite what the career-secure historian David Olusoga might say – but diversity of thought, opinion and class. Like the Labour Party, the BBC is not reflecting the views of those who continue to financially support it across the country, but instead obstinately echoes the enclosed bubble of the M25 clique whose insular outlook dictates the nature of its networked programming.
When it comes to comedy – one of the first targets addressed by Tim Davie – talk of left and right can be somewhat misleading in that many who are the butt of jokes on the likes of ‘Mock the Week’ wouldn’t necessarily regard themselves as on the right, anyway; sure, to the opportunistic North London-based Woke comedians that constitute the panellists on such shows, anyone who voted Leave or viewed the prospect of a Corbyn Government with dread is to the right of Hitler, but out in the real world the smug superiority of these unfunny hypocrites is regarded with indisputable contempt. The viewers (or listeners) aren’t as stupid as the programme-makers assume and can see through the patronising and condescending attempts at indoctrination via entertainment that the powers-that-be have been attempting for years. This is why campaigns along the lines of ‘Defund the BBC’ are gathering pace and why viewing and listening figures for shows aimed at educating the ill-educated masses are failing to set the ratings alight.
It’s worth remembering that the first electrifying rush of ‘Alternative Comedy’, with the likes of ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’, ‘The Young Ones’ and ‘Blackadder’, aired when Bob Monkhouse, ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and Little & Large were still in production at the BBC. Forty years ago, the corporation was genuinely inclusive enough to encompass all concepts of comedy. This is something that has been lost along the way; perhaps the changing landscape of broadcasting over the last couple of decades has persuaded the BBC that the way forward is to become a niche broadcaster catering for one specific audience. However, this neglects the fact that the majority of the viewers and listeners that still broadly support the BBC belong to generations that remain loyal to the television set and the wireless; the youngsters the Beeb seems intent on fruitlessly courting tend to tune-in via different, less antiquated devices. This is why sacrificing one of the corporation’s few redeeming channels, BBC4, in the new DG’s overhaul would be a mistake; most BBC4 viewers, I suspect, still watch it on the telly rather than on the iPlayer. Ever since becoming an online-only incarnation, BBC3 and its appalling output (to anyone over 50) has completely suited its teen and twenty-something viewership with the unwatchable likes of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and so forth; but these are not products of loyalty to a particular broadcaster, and those who look forward to such trash will not do so if it’s only available via the TV. They’ll just find it elsewhere online. There’s a lot of it about.
Unfortunately, the arrival of any new Director General spouting grandiose statements that he intends to make sweeping changes to the BBC evokes memories of Alan Partridge’s nemesis Tony Hayes and his ‘evolution, not revolution’ maxim – to which Norwich’s most famous son responded with ‘I evolve, but I don’t revolve’. The threat of throwing out the baby with the bathwater is always present and Tim Davie needs to make sure the work that undoubtedly needs doing doesn’t damage the few remaining vestiges of what makes the BBC so unique at its best. Last night, I watched Ravi Shankar’s daughter Anoushka deliver a mesmerising performance at the Proms – the kind of performance it’s inconceivable to imagine any broadcaster other than the BBC transmitting – and it reminded me just how vital it is that the BBC survives against all odds.
Ironically, considering it shifted the majority of its television output to the hideous ‘Media City UK’ white elephant in Salford in order to demonstrate its commitment to the regions, the BBC has summarily failed to uphold one of its traditionally strongest advantages over the competition ever since. All it seems to have done is export the enclosed London mindset to the provinces, no different from ex-pats patronising English themed bars in Spain. The effective cancellation of the multi-region ‘Inside Out’ series, in which local news stories are delved into with far greater depth than the 6.30 regional magazine shows will allow, has exposed how the Beeb has struggled to define what distinguishes it from Sky or ITV. Such programmes appeal to the precise audience the BBC needs to hang onto during Tim Davie’s regime; if it doesn’t, the arguments for its special treatment as a broadcaster will become even harder to defend.
As for the radio output, I do wish Davie would give Radio 4 a kick up the arse. The once-unmissable comedy strand of the station has become a platform for the worst excesses of Woke ‘humour’ of a kind that only provokes a titter amongst those who produce it; moreover, whilst I have no objection to general ‘diversity’ in voices heard on R4, how refreshing it would be for that word to include a wider spectrum than merely those who adhere to the Identity Politics dogma based entirely on ethnicity, skin colour and sexuality. Then there’s the current affairs issue, something that has caused the likes of ‘Newsnight’ and ‘Question Time’ to haemorrhage viewers this past year – your humble narrator included amongst them. Yes, there is a hell of a lot that needs doing; but Tim Davie appears to have made an encouraging and positive start. He might be up against the entire weight of the ‘W1A’ class at Broadcasting House, though someone has to at least try to take them on – otherwise, there is no justification for the BBC at all.
© The Editor