A manifesto for the BBC’s top job
Messrs Egon Zehnder, headhunters, are helping the BBC find its next director general. The involvement of these swanky international executive search agents is depressing. Their American-‘flavored’ website brags about helping companies seek ‘competitive advantage’ and identify ‘talented business leaders’. If the BBC is to have a future, it must raise its vision above such mercenary concepts. But at least Egon Zehnder may ensure that favourites for this influential position are drawn not simply from the upper, left-facing slopes of BBC management. That danger was evident when the Guardian (whose editor may also be a contender) ran an early list of possible runners. Driven to rage by that slew of establishment liberals, I decided to offer myself as a candidate. This has met with a certain level of mockery, but we fight on, as Mrs Thatcher said, we fight to win.
Let Egon Zehnder schmooze the grandees. Here, in the cold print of day, are some of my proposals. Let us imagine them being read in the style of the old News at Ten bongs, perhaps by one of those mature matrons (Julia Somerville, Anna Ford, Martyn Lewis) the BBC hierarchy has lately ignored.
BONG! Ratings paranoia to end. Senior BBC execs obsess about the ratings, chiefly for their narrow career interests. If the BBC is doing what it should do — providing programmes the commercial channels will not touch — low ratings are almost inevitable. Fleet Street papers which attack the Beeb for poor ratings should be ignored.
BONG! Let the luvvies loose. More high-mindedness in the BBC’s arts coverage, please. Why is Radio Three being dumbed down? Why have short stories been cut back on Radio Four? Why is coverage of architecture’s Stirling Prize in doubt? I have been attacked by, among others, Anne McElvoy in the Evening Standard for proposing the return of Play for Today on BBC 1. I find her criticism baffling. Play for Today would bestow far greater kudos on the BBC than primetime coverage of the Lottery. But maybe all those highly paid BBC executives like the idea of redistributing money from the working class to the middle classes. The Lottery and the licence fee have that in common.
BONG! Radio Four to start half an hour later in the morning, with its old theme tune revived. Sarah Montague and John Humphrys of Today to get more of a lie-in. It might stop Sarah sounding so whacked and John from being so scratchy.
BONG! Weather forecasters to gush less and stop the amateur theatricals. They are there to convey information briskly, sensibly, without wincing when they mention frost (‘brrrrr’). If that means losing the intensely irritating Chris Fawkes to Channel 5, so be it.
BONG! Cut the DG’s pay to 10 per cent of its current value. Departing director general Mark Thompson has been on more than £650,000. Scandalous. Pour encourager les autres, I would do the job for the salary of a backbench MP, let’s say £65,000.
BONG! Further to reconcile MPs, the new DG should request a confirmation hearing in front of the Commons culture committee. Parliamentary approval could help a DG boot BBC ostriches up the backside.
BONG! Axe the tweets. BBC staff should not have to waste their time and stories on comment-heavy social media sites.
BONG! The BBC always insists that it is not left-wing, but does anyone believe that? It’s about as balanced as George Best on a unicycle. It has badly lost the trust of the Conservative party, particularly on Europe and in its attitude to the deficit. BBC producers reliably regard government spending as a Good Thing. No it ain’t.
BONG! Time for a corporate diet. The palpably political move of many programmes from London to ‘MediaCity UK’ in Salford was wrong on several counts, the worst being the cost. The BBC should be chopped in size, particularly the executive ranks who are paid sums higher than even university vice-chancellors.
BONG! That’s all for now, folks. Witless BBC 3 should go. Radios One and Five Live would be better suited to the commercial sector and should be sold. The BBC Asian Network — how is that station not racist? — must be closed. Why is there such a need for programmes round the clock? The news website is overblown. And once the Scots have voted for independence, BBC Alba can be dumped. Will its viewer notice?
BONG! Coming soon? Why is there so little coverage of the Supreme Court, of high courts, of judges who make controversial rulings? Lawyers are the last estate of public life to enjoy such neglect. That needs addressing by the BBC, as does its failure to use more material on domestic TV from its foreign correspondents.
BONG! Miles to be used instead of kilometres.
BONG! Less background music on programmes, particularly in documentaries.
BONG! Less shouting. Why do so many BBC presenters and journalists — particularly the sports people — bawl at us as though we were half-deaf? BBC aces Martin Bell and Charles Wheeler never shouted. Today’s most likeable news voices include Hugh Sykes and Alan Johnston. They do not shout. Others should emulate them.
BONG! Mind your language. BBC newsrooms need stronger subeditors. I sympathise with last week’s guidance to BBC staff not to call Abu Qatada an ‘extremist’. But ‘radical’ is not much better. Reduce the number of adjectives. Dry, stiff language should be the aim of the BBC in its news reports.
BONG! BBC broadcasters should not be afraid to use highfalutin words and accents. The Queen’s English would be a unifying force and would assist clarity. ‘Too elitist,’ fainthearts will say. My exact point! The BBC should provide mass-market elitism, just as grammar schools aim to do.
AND FINALLY… Sack Jeremy Clarkson. His act is becoming a little stale. Anyway, after the above list of policies, the left will need to be thrown some red meat. His remark about public sector strikers was beyond the pale. Throw Clarkson to the lions.
Quentin Letts writes for the Daily Mail.