It is very lucky for the BBC that Channel 4 exists. Whatever imbecilic, supposedly attention-grabbing trash the BBC commissions, there will always be its commercial rival around to commission something still more imbecilic, still more trashy. Such as — if you remember — ‘Wank Week’, a series exploring the manifest delights of masturbation. Having gained sufficient exposure with this proposal, the series was eventually — er — pulled. But you can imagine the witless commissioning editors sitting around telling each other what an edgy and brilliant idea it all was.
And then there’s politics. However cringingly bien-pensant, politically correct and, paradoxically, politically partisan the BBC may be from time to time, it will always be easily outflanked on the metro-liberal white middle-class faux-left by Channel 4. If the Beeb’s John Simpson decides not to wear a black tie when some royal has just died then, never fear, over on Channel 4 the magnificently smug Jon Snow will be telling the world that millions died in two world wars to protect his freedom not to wear a poppy, m’kay?
The suspicion persists that over at Channel 4, in the commissioning departments, it is forever Wank Week. A perpetual circle jerk of low-achieving white middle-class males tugging away like there’s no tomorrow. The latest spurt of fatuity comes from its Head of Factual Programming, a very pleased-with-himself little semi-bearded monkey called Ralph Lee. Ralph has ordained that the channel will be broadcasting the Adhan — the Muslim call to prayer — every morning for the month of Ramadan. I had expected them to do something special for Ramadan, but I rather hoped it would be commissioning four special — if rather brief — editions of their (comparatively) popular programme Come Dine With Me. ‘And what’s on your menu tonight, Tariq?’ ‘Nothing.’
But no, sadly — instead there will be the muzzein wail emanating from the television sets of that vanishingly minuscule proportion of the population who watch Channel 4 in the mornings. The interesting bit of all this comes in Ralph’s justification for what is a prolonged cringe before an authoritarian minority religion. It is being done, he said, to ‘act as a form of provocation aimed at those associating Islam with extremism’. Ah, so that’s the purpose of commissioning stuff these days — to annoy the audience. Not to produce programmes that the audience might wish to watch, but for the commissioning eds to be able to wrap themselves in a sort of deluded radical chic next time they sit down at the commissioning table with their trousers around their ankles. Ralph has not grasped that the reason people associate Islam with ‘extremism’ is that these extremists carry out their atrocities precisely in the name of Islam, regardless or not if they are doing so mistakenly.
Ralph, I think, is an idiot, albeit a fashionable guardianista idiot — my favourite kind. He went on, did Ralph, to suggest that the call to prayer would generate ‘more interest’ than the ‘blanket coverage of royal affairs’. Will it? I suppose you would have to say that Ralph should be the expert on ratings and such like. But is he really expecting 15 million people to tune into the adhan, which was the viewing figure for the BBC’s last ‘blanket coverage’ of royal affairs — the Queen’s Jubilee? That gave the BBC a peak audience share of 65 per cent, which seems to suggest to me a certain interest in royalty among the population at large. But clearly not one which is shared by Ralph and the kind of people he hangs out with. Perhaps miscalculations of this kind are the prime reason why Channel 4’s audience figures are so shockingly, gobsmackingly bad. When they sit around that commissioning table with their boxes of Scotties, they are coming up with ideas which find accord with about 80 other people in the country, all of whom live in Crouch End.
Ralph also said that he thought it the right thing to do, to mark Ramadan with something a bit respectful, to serve Britain’s three-million-strong Muslim community. All well and good, I suppose. The same sort of respect with which Channel 4 serves Britain’s 40-million-strong Christian community, then. You can only imagine the delight occasioned among us Christians by Channel 4’s Alternative Christmas Message, which a few years ago was delivered by the then Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I bet that got them sniggering in the dinky little coffee shops of London N8.
And then there is the wording of the Adhan. I wonder if you can imagine, in your most psychotropically enhanced dreams, Channel 4 conceding to broadcast, every morning for a month, the following: ‘Jesus is Lord and Her Majesty the Queen is the only Supreme Governor on earth of the Church in England and the English Crown shall enjoy all honours, dignities, pre-eminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits, and commodities to the said dignity.’ That, I am told, would be a reasonable Christian equivalent of the Adhan. Perhaps they could do that every Easter?
I suppose we should think ourselves lucky that the channel has not commissioned rather more in the way of Islam-influenced programming, such as a peak-time reality TV special of Hang The Homo, or live female circumcision or the shooting of apostates. But perhaps, having coming up with the Adhan idea, they were spent, and further inspiration deserted them.