The BBC

What's wrong with Auntie?

Philosopher Bertrand Russell Philosopher Bertrand Russell
The BBC, it's a job to know where to start. People fresh to taking a look at the corporation as opposed to their programmes can be forgiven for thinking that the present critical mood is all down to the headline problems. Oh no, that would be wrong! Yes it's true that the Jimmy Savile revelations along with the '28 gates' , see HERE and other scandals are the centre of attention. But there's far more to it than just this and it goes much further back than the time Savile worked for the BBC. An organisation is, especially so in the case of the BBC, defined by its people. Those who work for the BBC want to do so, they do not arrive by accident. Also they tend to stay working for the BBC. Few people are sacked and it absorbs them while in return they become the BBC.

The BBC is a bit like the Vatican, surrounded by Italy but deemed fully independent. The BBC, the state broadcaster, is surrounded by the state that keeps it alive and upon which it is dependent but regards itself as wholly free from it. The relationship has nothing to do with allegiance or with responsibility to the people of the state. In fact the BBC has little affection for the ordinary UK citizen, they are not attracted to us either. They are convinced it is we who should be grateful to them and their job is to carry on being the BBC come hell or high water. Hence what's really going on at the BBC eludes them.

The naming of somebody from the Thatcher era as a paedophile, part of the present BBC crisis, is very interesting. It would be a very generous person indeed who did not wonder if the BBC was settling old scores with Thatcher, their favourite hate figure. We see that Lord Patten is not over-keen on Lord McAlpine so this is a distinct possibility. This is totally corrupt but then also typical of the way the BBC has worked for years. But perhaps the best approach is to look away from the present mess and back to the past, they do say you can learn from history!

We start with a look at Brian Redhead who began working for the BBC in 1975, through the eyes of Nick Robinson presently a senior political reporter at the BBC. Robinson tells about his introduction to the BBC via the Redhead family; his school friend was Will Redhead son of Brian Redhead the BBC Radio 4 Today presenter. Robinson was captivated, or perhaps totally fooled and taken in, by Redhead senior who we now know was not much bothered by facts. Stories about Redhead abound and many of them tell of his astonishingly high sense of self worth that bordered on the delusional. Normally this could be thought of as a problem but perhaps not at the BBC, then or now. Close study of this attitude may even have helped Robinson along the journalistic way.

One favourite Redhead story is about why he once thought of taking holy orders but did not. Redhead would explain how after some preliminary research he made contact with a senior member of the church. Redhead asked for a reading list to help him prepare himself but was disappointed to find that the first books on the list were written by himself so dropped the idea. Only the very misguided would regard this as a loss for the church. Indeed, the Wikipedia list of books under his own name or written in collaboration with others include -

Manchester - a Celebration, Personal Perspectives, and with a co-author, A Love of the Lakes.

These titles hardly seem a must-read for those preparing for a course in divinity studies. Furthermore, some people claim to have heard this story from Redhead himself on a radio programme after he retired from the Today team. And another story worth a look is -

Alistair Cooke, of both BBC radio and star Guardian reporter , was in Manchester to receive an honorary degree and asked Redhead (then Northern editor) to the Midland Hotel for a late night drink. A waiter hovered, autograph book in hand. His wife would never forgive him, he said, if he didn't get a signature from that famous voice. At this, Redhead grabbed the book and signed it.

Redhead would also claim to have a first class honours degree but did not go to university. His attitude may have charmed Robinson and the good folk of Macclesfield but others where not impressed. Many people who today are watching the BBC fiasco with amusement will remember Redhead as the grating ultra-chippy northerner who thought he was God's gift to the nation. They would also single him out as the origin of the downward spiral of Today presenters who continue with the remit to annoy the nation at breakfast time.

Simon Hoggart, also a Guardian reporter and not unknown to the BBC, some years ago described Redhead as

the most solipsistic man I’ve ever met

Oh how polite! By contrast in the jargon now popular Redhead would be described as so far up himself as to be out of sight -much cruder but totally correct. It may have suited Redhead to describe the political figures he met as 'berks' and to have given Robinson a moment of pleasure to repeat this and reveal something about him too. However, the problem for the BBC is that is how an increasing number of people who have to pay for this 'service' see them.

Following on with the idea that an organisation is defined by its people we come to John Simpson. Big John is the BBC World affairs editor and yes it's hard to imagine him as a cub-reporter doing a short piece about the village flower show for he has always 'up there' and looking down on us. Like many past and present in the BBC he has been good enough to give us his thoughts on the matter.

His article in the Spectator is so typical of the many similar offerings being published now from past and present employees of the BBC. The common feature of them all is that you struggle to find a reference to the listener, viewer and licence fee payer. Generally all you get is a personal view of the internal office politics of the BBC. These offerings simply ignore the listener element and concentrate on a mix of self promotion and defence of the BBC. With Simpson you can detect both irritation and bewilderment that anyone should want to discuss the BBC in the light of the Savile revelations.

In his mind the BBC is wholly trustworthy, it simply does not make mistakes, it cannot, it has himself and his clique onside so it's impossible. Remember this is from a man who knows that people like Peter Sissons are wrong when they claim the BBC is biased. For Simpson the BBC plays it straight all the time. For that's what he said when the book by Sissons was published suggesting otherwise. Don't forget that Sissons has worked not only for the BBC but also for ITV, unlike Simpson who you could say has a more limited range of experience as the BBC has been his sole employer.

It's this uncritical and dismissive approach that catches Simpson and his like minded BBC friends out and does as much to damage their employer as any bad news about the errant behaviour of a dead disc jockey. Anyway that's enough for now, as they say in broadcasting, "more on this story later".