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Another fading branch of the Establishment

The vexed issue of the future of public service broadcasting in the UK seems to be back on the agenda.

Hard on the heels of, firstly, the findings of the BBC’s own internal complaints executive that Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis had been too ‘persistent and personal’ to the point of sneering and bullying in her treatment of newspaper columnist Ron Liddle – see here, as covered by Milly Vincent on the website of the – DAILY MAIL

And, secondly, Radio 4 Today programme presenter John Humphreys’ post-retirement swipes in his autobiography at the lefty-liberal-elite-leanings of the Hampstead media elite who have controlled BBC attitudes for half a century – see here for a report on the website of – THE INDEPENDENT

We now have former BBC director general Mark Thompson pitching in.

He’s ventured forth with a warning that the UK risks a loss of ‘cultural sovereignty’ if the Government doesn’t begin funding public service broadcasting in order to combat the rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime and the forthcoming move of Apple into programme production – see here for his article that appears today on the website of – THE GUARDIAN

I remain wedded to the view that public service broadcasting as provided by the BBC is an anachronism from the 1930s when the Government – in the human form of Lord Reith (originator of the BBC in Big Brother mode) – took the patriarchal view that ‘educating the masses’ was the duty of the Establishment and began spoon-feeding the nation with ‘worthy’, we-know-best, information programmes idealising solid British values and political propaganda, occasionally leavened with suitably-small doses of artistic and ‘entertainment’ interludes in order to keep the population watching and sedated.

It worked pretty well, seeing the country through the troubling scandals of the Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson era and of course WW2.

And, of course, until 1955 the BBC didn’t have to worry about the competition – because to all intents and purposes there wasn’t any.

The arrival of ITV was a watershed moment because it turned Auntie BBC’s thinking upside down.

Suddenly the new upstart was buying up the BBC’s stars – and creating new ones of its own – and (horror of horrors!) doing so successfully enough that it became commercially (as one of the ITV grandees proudly boasted) “a licence to print money” and – even worse – started dominating the ratings.

The BBC felt obliged to fight back, having grown lazy and complacent in its “Auntie knows best” arrogance.

It wasn’t long before it was using the “we have to pay the market rate” justification in order to pay its entertainment stars more and continue its self-perspective as the only true and proper purveyor of all things to the nation’s television screens.

And that’s basically where the BBC has remained ever since – trying to be the provider of every possible sort of television programme that ever gets invented, with ever-decreasing success, as the decades go flying by with Warp Factor 6 speed.

Plus, of course, as it simultaneously deploys every argument it can think of to lobby the Government ever-most insistently for the necessary funding to “keep up” with the fast-moving developments constantly happening in commercial television, film and internet broadcasting around the world.

This is not what public service broadcasting should be about, or indeed should ever have been trying to do.

And what exactly was that?

Well, yes, if you like, still providing the ultimate example of Grade A world class standard of integrity, truth-seeking, honesty and unimpeachable impartiality.

But that’s it.

The world of entertainment, sport, drama – and anything else – should be left to the vagaries of the commercial programme-making ‘factory’, which then (as such industries tend to do) can both take huge risks … and either generate zillions of US dollars’ worth of profit … or else, just as easily, potentially go bust.

The BBC shouldn’t be in the business of trying to act like a commercial organisation when it is funded by taxpayers’ money.

For all its high-minded attitudes and ‘wishful thinking’ about being a source of creativity, the blunt truth is that the BBC (and other similar organisations) inevitably attract as as executives the sorts of personalities that are incapable of thriving in ‘the real world’ of commerce’ but need and/or prefer the warm bosom of an academia or public service broadcasting career wrapped around them.

The irony, of course, then comes with their perennial argument that- just like the ‘performers’ – they should be paid the equivalent of the going rate in the real world for ‘top creative talent’ (because otherwise they – i.e. the self-styled best BBC programme-makers – might get poached to go elsewhere).

It’s straightforward poppycock. By and large, the best and most innovative television/film talent always ends up ‘out there in the real world’.

You know the old saying “Those that can, do – those that can’t either teach or write about it”?

In the cut-throat world of media generally, you could alter the second half of that statement to “- those that can’t either teach, write or join the BBC”.


About Bernadette Angell

After cutting her journalistic teeth in Boston USA, Bernadette met and married an Englishman, whom she followed back to London. Two decades and three children later, they divorced. She now occupies herself as a freelance writer (credits include television soaps and radio plays) and occasional amateur gardener. More Posts