Enough cringing, Auntie; stand up and face the rottweilers
Published: 12 May 2013
After a BBC journalist had a suspected heart attack at his desk, worried colleagues immediately called 999. But when the ambulance men arrived, it’s claimed they were prevented from attending to the patient because the news was on air and the newsroom in which the stricken man worked was in the back of shot.
This, of course, is yet another example of the BBC making a complete hash of absolutely every single thing it does. As we speak, it is spending a considerable amount of its time and your money investigating the antics of Jimmy Savile who, last time I looked, was still dead.
And now there will be a second inquiry into whether, as has been suggested by one person, Stuart Hall was able to go about his vile business while on BBC premises.
Then we have so many accusations of bullying and ageism and drug abuse that we get the impression the corridors are full of charlied-up gangs of media types, smashing up wheelchairs and making fun of the fatties.
The message is clear. The BBC is run by a bunch of champagne-swilling lefties who spend all day gorging on peach and peacock at swanky London restaurants before popping back to the office for a spot of light paedophilia. That’s why they fill the news with Labour party propaganda and the rest of the schedules with reruns of Dad’s Army. Because they’re too sozzled and aroused to think straight.
And how does the BBC respond to these accusations of profligate waste, political bias and child abuse? Very tamely, usually. But I’ve had enough. Because the BBC that’s portrayed in the news is nothing like the BBC that I’ve known and loved for nigh on a quarter of a century.
The first thing you need to know is that there is no such thing as “the BBC”. In your mind, it’s run by a small group of sage old souls such as Lord Carrington and Baroness Williams who sit in an oak-panelled boardroom making considered decisions on what we watch and how. But the truth is: it’s actually run by a morbid and constant fear of distressing Daily Mail headlines.
No, really. It’s a collection of 23,000 employees who operate like Richard Harris in that scene from Juggernaut. If they cut the red wire, all is well. But if they select blue, they upset the tabloids and are passed over for promotion. As a result they mostly sit there sweating and not cutting any wires at all.
I read often about how I’ve had my wrists slapped by BBC “bosses” and you imagine me being hit on the knuckles with a blackboard rubber by some kind of whizz-kid who’s fiercely loyal to the concept of public service broadcasting. Not so, I’m afraid. With the exception of Alan Yentob they’d pretty well all jump ship to commercial television tomorrow if the price were right.
I’ve given up trying to get to know any of them. Because if you go for a coffee, which you pay for yourself to avoid embarrassing headlines, you know that none of your ideas will be accepted in case they fail, causing more embarrassing headlines. And then the next thing you know, they’re at ITV. Which means you have to buy yet more coffee as you chat to their replacement who just wants to keep her nose clean until she too can get the hell out of there.
Look at all the recent major developments. The move to Salford. Designed to avoid tabloid accusations of metropolitanism. The refusal to continue following the lead of every other organisation and give staff big lump-sum payoffs. Designed to avoid tabloid accusations of financial impropriety. The Savile inquiry. The Hall inquiry. The bullying inquiry. All designed to keep the red-top dog at bay.
I’m not suggesting for a moment there should be such arrogance that nothing is investigated. That would be stupid. But surely it is time for the much talked-about BBC chiefs to man up. And where necessary, tell the moaning minnies to get stuffed.
Almost everyone I’ve met at the BBC wants most of all to make great shows. Many are extremely talented. But every single one is so terrified of blotting their copybook, they spend all day under their desk saying in a panicked squeak, “Can we just show that episode of Dad’s Army where Mainwaring breaks Godfrey’s pearl-handled butter knife?”
This has to stop. The BBC has to accept that newspaper proprietors are duty-bound to attack the very notion of public service broadcasting and that, actually, it makes no real difference.
I’m constantly being hauled over the coals in the Daily Mail and the Daily Star and the Mirror for all sorts of things. Calling Gordon Brown a one-eyed Scottish idiot. Saying public sector workers should be executed. Sparking fury with fox enthusiasts. I’m portrayed as an evil, racist, homophobic misogynist who goes through life stabbing baby badgers for fun.
And I’ve worked out that it makes no difference. Taxi drivers still pick me up. People still watch my television shows. My books aren’t remaindered for weeks; sometimes months. That’s because the endless criticism is just a background hum.
The BBC should accept this. It should make decisions on what it thinks to be right, not on how that decision will be reviewed in the next day’s papers. It should remember that despite Savile and Hall and the jubilee debacle, most people still like and trust Auntie.
I do. When I’m abroad, I am filled with pride when I tell someone I work for the BBC. I still get a shiver of excitement every time I walk through its doors. I think the concept of commercial-free broadcasting is a good one and — whisper it here — I think it’s good value too.
I can say that, of course. Because I’m old and rich enough to not really care if I’m sacked for offending the tabloids. Sadly most of my 23,000 colleagues are not. So they must continue to whimper and acquiesce and apologise with yet another half-hearted, shoulder-shrugging admission of guilt, shame and embarrassment.