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It’s too late to stop now

If Life teaches us anything it is that everything around us – flesh or machine – has a built-in obsolescence, and therefore shelf-life, in terms of usefulness.

Arguably, anything that does not move forwards is standing still … or indeed, potentially – depending upon the perspective you’ve adopted – going backwards.

Over the course of time different Rust authors have extemporised upon the theme that we acquire and settle upon our tastes (whether in music, theatre, literary genre, sport, types of holiday etc.) and then tend to stick to them even when ‘fashion’ evolves and moves on, as it always does. Plainly, one could contest whether, once something has ‘moved on’, it has actually moved on for the better, but that is all part of the human condition.

Why it is that so often even now men and women of a certain age look back on the clothing and hairstyle fashions of (say) the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and consider, or even utter in public, “Whatever were we thinking?”

This is nothing to worry about, it’s all part of the process. The march of evolution is constant and there’s nothing that anybody or anything can do about it. Indeed, surely the logical extension of any ‘Fings ain’t what they used to be’ feelings we might sometimes find ourselves harbouring is a world in which Time stands still and in which there would (literally) be no new music, fashion, scientific inventions, commercial entrepreneurship or even room for creativity at all – a sort of Maoist state socialist utopia (irrespective of its political hue) with novel thinking discouraged or even banned?

And anyway, whose rose-tinted glasses would we be looking through when choosing exactly which particular idealistic nostalgic era/vision of the past the human race was going to settle upon?

I was at a noisy dinner table last night in which one fellow guest told of a close friend who had just returned from a two year stint setting up an office in Hong Kong. Asked by my dinner companion what business lessons he had learned from the experience, said gentleman had apparently replied “Never trust a South African or anyone you could blindfold with a bootlace”.

economyLater in the evening the conversation alighted upon the current market crisis and the state of the Chinese economy. One contributor said she was horrified about the rise of China. She was speaking against a background in which the prospect of a shift in balance of economic power away from the First World West to (perhaps) India, China, Brazil and … er … you name it – was generally accepted around the table as being likely through to inevitable. Her reaction to this seemed to be “But I don’t like them, they don’t think like us”.

My natural inclination to be mischievous and contrary kicked in. I made an obvious point.

“What’s that got to do with anything? The Chinese mentality is all about being focused, driven, determined and working hard – the very attributes that the complacent and self-indulgent populations of the tired old Western World have apparently abandoned to one degree or another. Empires rise and then, eventually, they fall.”

(As do people, now I come to think of it).

This thought returned to me this morning when I read the following article by Jane Martinson and John Plunkett upon the speech given by comedy writer/producer Armando Iannucci as the 40th James McTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival last night – see here, on the website of THE GUARDIAN

Mr Iannucci is the latest in a long list of intellectual ‘luvvy’ types who are springing to the defence of the BBC in response the Tory Government’s apparent attempt to punish the Corporation for (what the Tories perceive) as its left-wing bias. There is a long-held ‘old chestnut’ view, and one I subscribe to myself having worked in the television industry, that whenever a UK broadcaster is being lambasted for its alleged bias (for and against) by political parties right across the spectrum it can usually relax, resting assured in the probability that it has got its impartiality balance just about correct.

Obviously, since by definition all political parties think that they are right and that every other political party is wrong, one man’s meat is another’s poison. What strikes me as odd is that the Tories don’t seem to have twigged that – if, when they happen to be in power, they see fit to interfere with the BBC in order to correct its ‘left wing bias’ – then they cannot possibly complain when, if ever, (say) the Labour Party at some later point takes up residence in 10 Downing Street again – the (Labour) Government should then similarly intervene to correct the BBC’s alleged ‘right wing bias’.

Going back to my point that by their very nature human beings are conservative (with a small ‘C’) and crave the security of life as they now regard it used to be. The intellectuals and luvvies who rush out of the woodwork to support the BBC are of course fundamentally self-interested, even if they cannot or do not recognise this. They make their livings – and some of them very handsome livings too – from making programmes and/or performing for the BBC. The more programming the BBC makes, the greater the number of chances they’ll gain to make more money.

BBCThe arguments that, in the modern age, the BBC should and could become more efficient;

That it was founded, admirably, as an ‘all embracing’ sole UK broadcaster, but in this day and (digital) age of the internet and hundreds if not thousands of different television channels and platforms, a 1920s business model neither works nor is it relevant;

That the television licence fee is an anachronistic method of funding;

That the BBC should concentrate solely upon making or commissioning ‘public service broadcasting’ programmes, i.e. the types of universal ‘for the good of the nation and world’ items that are both inherently positive and worthy enough to be desirable, even if they are commercially unattractive for others to make;

all completely seem to pass the BBC defenders by.

It’s understandable, of course.

If you’re an accountant, working for a firm of auditors – the auditing of companies’ financial accounts (well, over a certain size at least) being a requirement of law – and you suddenly heard that the Government, having looked into the matter, had decided that in fact auditing was an expensive waste of time and money that was holding back economic recovery and therefore was now going to repeal that legal requirement for an audit to take place, you’d be up in arms. Because … er, because … well, actually because auditing is what you do and the thought that after thirty years in the profession someone somewhere (i.e. the Government) had decided that what you do is worthless, would be mightily offensive. It would be implying that you’d wasted your career doing something that contributed little – in fact, was holding things back.

corrieThe same applies to everyone in the film and television world – a career in which is highly sort after by some young people because of its supposed glamour and creativity. In the 1970s and 1980s, the idea that you could make and broadcast more than one episode of a soap opera per week was regarded by insiders as laughable. And indeed it was, given the extraordinarily inefficient ‘trade union working practices’ that had been devised by the workers and agreed to by weak managements in the UK television industry.

Fast-forward thirty-plus years and these days nobody on the programme-making side of British terrestrial television thinks twice about making three episodes of a soap opera per week. In the ‘good old days’ you probably needed 30 behind-the-camera staff to shoot a scene and (because you were allowed to) you shot each scene ten or eleven times, just to pick the best one and maintain the quality of production values. Now you have probably just 7 or 8 ‘behind the scenes’ and re-shoot a scene only if an actor fluffs his or her lines and/or the set falls over. Why bother to take any more trouble over it? It’s only television, not bloody painting the Sistine Chapel, for God’s sake!

That’s my point for today.

Human beings get used to the status quo – they learn how to climb the slippery pole of career success, and if someone comes along and changes it (or takes it away), they worry about what is going to be left in its place. The answer of course is only and always “Another way to climb the slippery pole, you idiot”, not the end of the world.

For decades now I have held the view that the BBC should be funded by the taxpayer (not via a TV licence fee) and should be given a strict remit to make and broadcast true ‘pubic service broadcasting’ fare only, viz. basically news, current affairs, documentaries and educational programmes. All other forms of programming should be left to the market and independent producers to make (or not).

By such means I believe the cost of running the BBC could be cut by 80%.




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About Martin Roberts

A former motoring journalist, Martin lists amongst his greatest achievements giving up smoking. Three times. He holds to the view that growing old is not for the faint-hearted. More Posts