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.