Do many women want to be train drivers?

Hold your wine glass steady: the BBC has news for you. This week it splashed the news that train drivers in the UK are ‘overwhelmingly middle-aged white men’. The story was accompanied by a picture of a black woman driving a train – under the supervision of a white man, it might be noted – as though to signal that this glass ceiling too can be smashed. Personally I would expect train drivers to be overwhelmingly middle-aged, white and indeed male. Most of the UK is white and half of the UK is male. And the male half of the species tends to be more train-oriented. You don’t see many

A helpful suggestion for Taylor Swift’s boyfriends

Sir Mark Rowley should not resign. We must try to break our habit of getting rid of each Metropolitan Police Commissioner before his/her term is complete. He has done nothing iniquitous or seriously incompetent. He is, however, systematically wrong about the right to protest, elevating it over the much more important right of the general public to own the streets. His parlaying with self-appointed Muslim community leaders privileges them. The weekly Gaza marches in London are effectively mobile no-go areas. This was confirmed by the altercation between Gideon Falter and the police sergeant who told him he was ‘openly Jewish’. It was true that Mr Falter had willed such an

CBBC’s The Famous Five shows you can update a classic without trashing it

The new Doctor in Doctor Who has blond hair, blue eyes and a firm handshake, dresses in a splendid red coat and has an exciting catchphrase: ‘Hounds are running! Tally ho!’ No, not really. The new Doctor is so very much what you’d expect the new Doctor to be like that you can guess without my telling you. And it’s not that I think that Ncuti Gatwa is going to be bad as the Doctor. On the contrary, from what little I’ve glimpsed of him so far, he seems charismatic, energetic, and fun. But I do wish the BBC commissars responsible for the series would try to make their social

Fascinating: Radio 4’s Empire of Tea reviewed

I can scarcely remember a time before tea: I started drinking it at around four, at home in Belfast, as a reward after school. Before long I was as fiercely protective of my right to a brew as the workers of British Leyland’s Birmingham car plant, who were famously spurred to strike action in 1981 when the management proposed cutting tea breaks by 11 minutes. Decades on, my passion is undiminished. There is no problem to which tea is not at least a partial solution: it restores flagging spirits, calms the over-excited, warms in winter and refreshes in summer. Sathnam Sanghera’s recollections in his Radio 4 five-parter Empire of Tea

How the BBC scapegoated Martin Bashir

I have become rather obsessed with Martin Bashir and his downfall. Three years ago, I began researching for a play based around his infamous 1995 Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, which he secured by forging bank statements and reinforcing her belief that there was an Establishment conspiracy against her. When I started writing I thought I would soon understand him. But he still baffles me. When we corresponded recently via email, he suggested playing himself on stage or, failing that, what about Idris Elba? I couldn’t tell if he was joking.   I knew Bashir pretty well back in the day. We were fellow reporters at the BBC and

I’m not convinced Thomas Heatherwick is the best person to be discussing boring buildings

Architects are often snobby about – and no doubt jealous of – the designer Thomas Heatherwick, who isn’t an actual architect yet still manages to wangle important building commissions. And he knows this. In his documentary for BBC Radio 4, Building Soul, where he examines what he calls the ‘blandemic’ in today’s architecture, he asks to interview fellow Spectator writer Jonathan Meades, who responds: ‘The last person who should be doing a series on urbanism is a designer.’ Heatherwick wears this as a badge of honour. Indeed, qualifying as an architect is no guarantee of quality – check out the past nominations for the Carbuncle Cup, the now defunct prize

A Radio 3 doc that contains some of the best insults I’ve ever heard

A recent Sunday Feature on Radio 3 contained some of the best insults I have ever heard. Contributors to the programme on the early music revolution were discussing the backlash they experienced in the 1970s while reviving period-style instruments and techniques. Soprano Dame Emma Kirkby remembered one critic complaining that listening to her performance was ‘as about as interesting as eating an entire meal of plain yoghurt’. Another critic, writing in Gramophone, pronounced the strings of the new ensembles ‘as beautiful as period dentistry’. Those strings were mostly made of animal guts. There was, as one of the musicians interviewed recalled, ‘a DIY atmosphere’ to the movement, which developed alongside

Enthralling: BBC4’s Colosseum reviewed

In the year 2023, the Neo-Roman Empire was at the height of its powers. A potentially restive populace was kept in check using a time-honoured technique known as ‘Bread and Circuses’. The ‘Circuses’ part consisted of a remarkable piece of technology in which spectacles could be beamed directly into the homes of the citizenry, filling them with awe, wonder, gratitude and a sense of their insignificance in the sweep of history. One such spectacle was a docudrama called Colosseum (BBC4), in which no expense was spared to recreate the majesty, power and cruelty of the original Roman Empire, as evinced by that grand precursor to the television: a vast amphitheatre

My run-in with Nigel Farage

To think I once thought cricket dull. For more than 40 days and 40 nights, I have been gripped by the Ashes. I still couldn’t tell you where short third man ends and deep backward point begins, but I have fallen in love with the rollercoaster ride that Ben Stokes and his team have taken us on. So much so that I covertly watched every ball of the final hour of the final day while on a family outing to Come and Sing: Abba. I could stand the tension no longer when the ninth wicket fell so made my excuses and left to watch the final act outside with a

University Challenge deserves Amol Rajan

I wish I could say that Bamber Gascoigne would be turning in his grave at what has happened to University Challenge. But unfortunately, I understand from people who knew the Eton, Cambridge, Yale and Grenadier Guards historian, playwright, critic, polymath millionaire and scion of the upper classes that he chose to compensate for his privilege by embracing progressive causes. So, chances are, the shade of Bamber is thrilled to bits at seeing his old quizmaster’s seat occupied by someone who drops his aitches and pronounces ‘h’ where it should be aspirated and landed a mere 2.2 from hearty, insufficiently medieval Downing. Bambi’s successor Jeremy Paxman probably isn’t too bothered either.

Portrait of the week: By-elections, dangerous dolphins and Djokovic’s £6,000 smashed racquet

Home Ben Wallace said he would cease to be the Defence Secretary at the next cabinet reshuffle and would not stand again for parliament. The Conservatives endured three by-elections – at Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Selby and Ainsty and Somerton and Frome. The left-wing mayor of North of Tyne, Jamie Driscoll, resigned from the Labour party after a rival was selected to stand for the newly created mayoralty of the North East. Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said he would not reverse the Conservative limit on claiming child tax credit or universal credit for more than two children. On universities, Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said: ‘Our young people

Rod Liddle

The BBC’s biggest problem

As I write this, the director-general of the BBC is being quizzed on the corporation’s future by people who were around when Sir John Reith kind of set the whole thing up. A cheap crack, I know – and I have nothing against the House of Lords. Anything which mediates our dangerous experiment with democracy is to be welcomed – the peers, the royals, the judges etc. I have been dipping in and out of the event and have yet to hear Tim Davie asked if he plans to bring back It’s That Man Again or whether or not the injunction ‘sod off’ is suitable for post-watershed viewing. If only

The BBC and a 21st-century media madness

The story of the famous BBC television presenter who, at the time of writing, has still not been named, has all the elements of 21st-century-media madness – something allegedly sexual which may or not involve a person too young for such things; a desperate hue and cry to see who will dare to name the accused first; anonymous accusers; a clash between strong legal rules about the accused’s anonymity and the strong social media custom of ignoring them; a confusion as to whether the ‘victim’ is a victim or whether he/she even believes he/she is a victim; gabby lawyers; the Sun; an angry mum; a stepfather; ‘fresh allegations’; a ‘concerned’ government

Portrait of the week: BBC presenter scandal, EasyJet cancellations and a baby boy for Boris

Home The government pondered whether to accept pay-review bodies’ recommendations on rises in public sector salaries. ‘Delivering sound money is our number one focus,’ Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said in his Mansion House speech. ‘That means taking responsible decisions on public finances, including public sector pay.’ Regular pay in the March to May period was 7.3 per cent higher than a year earlier, although it rose less than inflation. Unemployment rose from 3.8 per cent to 4 per cent; vacancies fell by 85,000 to 1,034,000. The average two-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 6.7 per cent. Jeremy Hunt confirmed that he was refused a bank account with Monzo last year on the

The changing face of the BBC Proms

There are two faces of the BBC Proms. The faces are somewhat at odds with each other. The one that everyone knows, whether they have an interest in music or not, is the Last Night of the Proms. It’s a concert consisting of a series of small musical items, or ‘lollipops’ as Sir Thomas Beecham used to call them. It culminates in a sequence of sea shanties, ‘Rule, Britannia’, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Jerusalem’. Classical music has gone from being a supreme cultural statement to just another curious musical genre The other face, much more substantial, is the series of concerts that precede that last one, from mid-July

The problem with podcasts

A few months ago, a clip from a podcast went mildly viral online. A lightly dressed woman sits in front of a microphone, explaining her sex life in pedantic detail to an offscreen interviewer. It was strange and unpleasant, which was why people couldn’t stop looking at it. What kind of podcast is this, exactly? Who’s listening to it? The answer was nobody. The woman was a porn actress called Vicky Banxx, and the podcast didn’t exist. Across the world, thousands of people are doing the same thing: plonking themselves down in front of mics, setting up a camera and talking in a genial, conversational style to absolutely no one.

The English have always loved gossip

Our national conversation is overwhelmed by tittle-tattle, rumour and gossip. Last week, a salacious email listing George Osborne’s alleged improprieties was circulated among the Westminster bubble. Inevitably, it was then circulated to everybody else, too. Meanwhile, the internet is aflutter with rumours about the identity of a BBC journalist who’s alleged to have paid a teenager tens of thousands of pounds for sordid pictures – and this isn’t even the first sex scandal involving a broadcaster this year.  Foreign visitors were amazed at this insatiable desire to ridicule the private follies and foibles of high society Some might think our modern obsession with grubby tales shows a lack of seriousness. But a love

Time to take your meds, Kanye

No one does agonising quite like Mobeen Azhar. In several BBC documentaries now, he’s set his face to pensive, gone off on an earnest quest to investigate a touchy subject and reached his conclusions only after the most extravagant of brow-furrowing. There is, however, a perhaps unexpected twist: the resulting programmes are rather good, creating the impression – or even reflecting the reality – of a man determined to get to the often dark heart of the matter. For a while, it did look as if the programme’s main appeal might be as a comedy of liberal discomfiture In the past, Azhar has applied his methods to such issues as

Glastonbury has become the new Last Night of the Proms

Time was when the pinnacle of the summer’s musical experiences – certainly from a UK television perspective – was the Last Night of the Proms. Preceded by weeks of more staid performances of classical music which most people did not tune in to, the conclusion of the Proms season, which dates back to 1895, was a collective cultural experience. Watched by those at home, as well as the audience of the Royal Albert Hall, it was and remains an effervescent outpouring of costume, flag-waving and patriotic singing – more an example of massed karaoke than a traditional virtuoso performance, particularly during the annual rendition of Sir Henry Wood’s Fantasia of