Friday, 1 April 2016

On the BBC

The BBC is embedded in my life. The first TV we ever had coming into the house: 1950s, black and white. I remember it being delivered, and where to put it. I remember Andy Pandy, and Bill and Ben. I have no memory of the switch to colour. I was allowed to stay up an extra half hour to watch Tonight, presented by Cliff Michelmore, who died last month. The Wednesday Play: David Mercer, Dennis Potter, David Rudkin, Cathy Come Home. I remember watching these with my mum and feeling awkward, I think both of us, when there was sex.

A lot of people still do watch TV. Occasionally, I do too: some sport, some films. And then, recently, an episode of the BBC’s costume-drama adaptation of War and Peace, and most episodes of The Night Manager, which was awful for so many reasons: sexist in its treatment of the female characters, racist in its treatment of the Middle Eastern characters; almost no acting, because of the poverty of the script (does anyone seriously think that looking serious and quizzical at the same time is good acting?); plot-heavy, while whizzing by so many holes in that; sex and violence input at quota percentages. All-star posh cast. Lavish scenery. £18 million, I’m guessing, from the mention on the BBC’s own website that it cost around £3 million per episode.

(There was a Guardian piece in the past day or so about a number of the male lead actors having a particular Oxford private school background in common: the continuing triumph of rich white males.)

The BBC is publicly funded through the licence fee, and is independent of political control. Good. But it is not independent of market control: most of the money we give it goes into fancy things that can sell to foreign networks. When they have to make cuts, they cut the bits that show on their minority channels, the bits that are surely the whole point of public broadcasting – that it doesn’t have to be dependent on the market. I have never really understood why the BBC has to be engaged in a ratings/numbers battle with the commercial channels: the latter depend on advertising revenue, so of course they have to appeal to as many viewers as possible; the whole point of the publicly funded BBC is that it bypasses that, so why can’t it just be good? BBC is currently not, by any stretch, a ‘jewel in the crown’ of anything. I’m not sure what the point of it is.


James Ferron Anderson said...

Anything that discourages critical reading or viewing or listening is to be abhorred. That would be done by praising this beyond what it was, which certainly happened. On the other hand there's no getting away from that enjoyment and pleasure that so many viewers got.
I guess you are in that quite appropriate critical camp. I saw many flaws, but still got pleasure from it, and was pleased it clearly gave pleasure to so many others.
That counts for something. A lot, actually.

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Charles

I am extremely concerned about the future of the BBC and have had letters published in both The Daily Mail and The Sunday Times on the subject. The extent to which the BBC is the social glue that holds this country together is often seriously underestimated. In the words of Joni Mitchell, 'We don't know what we've got till its gone.'

Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish

billoo said...

Charles, I grew up thinking the BBC was the real chiz but have for a while viewed it as something of a sad joke. It's not just the constantly rolling and repeated news. It's their shameless coverage of the Iraq war that makes you wonder if they actually have any proper journalists.

And to think that the only real political programme they have is Question Time, well, it's a huge source of embarrassment.

Unlike Simon I don't think it represents the whole of England. Instead, it mainly caters to a class of white people who think they're slightly more sophisticated than the illiterate hordes. A *bit* of culture, but nothing too intellectual or critical, thank you. A prime example of how the establishment works.