One of my least favourite newspapers has to be London’s Evening Standard, also known as the Evening Boris, because of it’s slavish devotion to our ‘Mayor’.
It used to be the sister paper of the Daily Mail until it was sold to an oligarch. The only thing that can be said in its favour is that it is free – I encourage students to read it for this very reason.
At the moment The Evening Standard hates the BBC almost as much as it loves Boris. Which is a lot. This was the sort of thing it was running today.
Obviously it is entirely proper that bosses at the BBC are being carpeted for not doing the right thing over Savile – whether its not challenging his vile behaviour back in the 70s or scrapping the Newsnight investigation into his activities.
This was detailed in Monday’s Panorama, which revealed that BBC staff had their suspicions about Savile nearly 40 years ago, when he worked on a show called Savile’s Travels.
Yesterday, DJ Paul Gambaccini took the story to a new low when he went on record about rumours of necrophilia – which have swirled around Savile for a generation.
Obviously it all looks very bad for the BBC.
Shelving last year’s Newsnight investigation obviously smacks of a cover-up, but as someone who worked for many years in TV, it kind of made sense to me. Broadcasting the programme would have meant canning the raft of tributes to good old Jimmy that had been woven into the schedule for Christmas 2011.
Programmes like this one. Watching it now – as I did the other night – is cringeworthy. Chris Evans’s perky voiceover seems laden with heavy irony; I also find it embarrassing as it reminds me of programmes I made a few years back. Programmes uncritically gushing over old bits of pop culture – broken up with the odd arch or catty comment about bad hair or silly trousers. Televisual wallpaper for drunken thirtysomethings trapped at home by parenthood or lack of cash.
In other words, showing the investigation into Savile would not only have made the BBC look bad but also caused problems and cost a lot of money because they would have had to totally revamp their Christmas schedule at the eleventh hour.
Ultimately a bad call but I doubt whether other media outlets would have behaved differently. Look at the cover-up over phone hacking at News International, for example. And it was not just the BBC that seemed to be blind to Savile’s faults. He fooled the NHS, the Government, the Police, the Royal family and the Catholic Church. His tentacles wrapped themselves around the entire Establishment.
But the focus is entirely on the BBC. Why?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not blindly uncritical of the BBC. I’ve worked there a couple of times and the culture of waste was epic. Back in the 90s, it really was party time. An independent production company made junior members of staff take the tube and beg, borrow or blag what ever they could.
The BBC had budgets. For props, for entertaining, for cars – get hold of the right charge code and you were laughing. It all seemed a bit silly.
I worked there again in the early 2000s and it seemed a bit less lavish, though no one really seemed to work as hard as they did in the independent sector.
Senior members of staff were often very grand and clocked off early on a Friday afternoon to beat the rush on the M4 to the country retreat. Their children all had exotic names and attended very exclusive schools. An elitist culture that clashed with internal dictats on equality and diversity.
However, despite all this, I still hold back from bashing the BBC. It’s not perfect but I believe that the model of public service broadcasting is basically a sound one. I like the fact that there is a major news outlet that isn’t controlled by Murdoch or Associated Newspapers. Or Branson. Or some other chancer.
I like the fact that programmes like Women’s Hour exist, even though their content serves to incense right wingers and gives them the excuse to scream bias at every opportunity.
I like the fact that older people are valued. Like John Humphreys or Anne Robinson. I like the fact that Cbeebies has a presenter with a disability – Cerrie Burnell. I like the fact that the BBC makes comedy that is dark, sick and twisted. Like Nighty Night, or programmes about people making cakes. The BBC may not be perfect, but like the NHS (or even our unique weather) it makes Britain special.
Would this be the case if it was sold off to Murdoch or Branson or another one of Dave’s shady chums? Yes, some of its output is a bit naff, but on the whole the BBC is a GOOD THING.
As we draw towards the end of 2012, it’s fashionable to bash the BBC, but I say we do so at our peril. What we might get instead could be a hell of a lot worse.