Steerpike

Is this the BBC’s best defence?

Is this the BBC's best defence?
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Proposals by Nadine Dorries to scrap the BBC licence fee have produced something of a meltdown over at Broadcasting House. The Culture Secretary wants to keep the licence fee flat at £159 a year until April 2024, after which it will rise in line with inflation until 2028 when it will be replaced by an as-yet-unknown funding model. The news has induced dozens of the Beeb's highly-paid stars into paroxysms of rage, not seen since the days of Brexit, as the Corporation's biggest names rush to defend their employer on Twitter.

Mr S has a soft spot for Auntie but some of the arguments being mounted in its defence are simply laughable. First up, was £295,000-a-year BBC Breakfast frontman Dan Walker, who tweeted a graphic of the Corporation's services captioned '43p a day'. This, of course, ignores the fact that the licence fee is mandatory and effectively paid at the barrel of a gun, regardless or not of whether one uses the Beeb's services. By contrast the cheapest Netflix plan, which costs less than 20p a day, is voluntary.

Next up was Adil Ray, creator of Citizen Khan. He asked 'What has the BBC ever done for us?' with a video of a bemused John Cleese defending the licence fee. That clip is, er, 36 years old and features a litany of stars, many of whom, sadly, are no longer with us while none of the rest actually work for the Beeb. The one exception is perhaps the nonagenarian David Attenborough, who opted three years ago to make his flagship series Our Planet with Netflix instead. 

How would a current line-up of BBC 'top talent' compare to that of 1986 when it could boast Ronnie Barker, Sir Patrick Moore and David Jason? It's doubtful whether Cleese himself would even appear, given his recent clash on the Corporation's news channel and previous comments that 'There’s no way I want to work in TV, especially at the BBC. I have a nasty feeling a large proportion of the commissioning editors have no idea what they’re doing.' 

Then came Simon Day, who starred in the Fast Show 25 years ago. The comedian listed 16 shows – only one of which (Fleabag) was made in the past decade, and even that owed more to Phoebe Waller-Bridge's one-woman show. The inclusion of Little Britain is somewhat laughable too, given the Beeb now censors its episodes on its own platform iPlayer. How many of those other much-vaunted comedies would get made today?

Historian Dan Snow weighed in too, somewhat pompously declaiming an attempt to bring British broadcasting into the twenty-first century as a 'deeply unpatriotic assault on a great British institution.' His claim that: 'Like Johnson I owe my career to the BBC' manages to understate both the primary importance of print media in the PM's life and the role which nepotism played in Dan Snow's. For it was by fronting multiple documentaries with his BBC broadcasting father Peter that a 23-year-old Dan was able to make his name and subsequent millions.

And finally there was Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, whose loyalty to the Beeb is worth a mere £1.3 million-a-year. His defence of the licence fee amounted to retweeting the self-justificatory content put out by the Corporation's press office and declaring that it was 'something true patriots of our country should be proud of' as 'the BBC is revered, respected and envied around the world.' Presumably that's because of the Corporation's famed reputation for impartiality thanks to those guidelines which Lineker has seemed so keen to flout.

If this is the best the Beeb can do, good luck defending that mandatory licence fee.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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