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Nothing can save the BBC The product of the 20th century is struggling in the 21st

It's going to take more than fancy footwork. Credit: Dave J Hogan/Getty


February 14, 2022   7 mins

It’s Valentine’s Day, 1922, and we’re in a rain-soaked field in the village of Writtle, deepest Essex. Night is drawing in. The clock ticks towards 7.15. In a low, chilly army hut, a man in a thick tweed suit leans towards the microphone and prepares to make history.

“Hello CQ, hello CQ. This is Two Emma Toc, Two-ooo Emma Toc. Writtle calling
 Well, I think we’re ready to begin now, and the first thing I’ve got to introduce is a record entitled — Why are records always entitled, why aren’t they just called something? So here it is, a record entitled
”

Four years earlier, Captain Peter Eckersley had been a wireless operator in the Royal Flying Corps. Now, as an engineer with the Marconi Wireless Telegram Company, he was launching Britain’s first weekly radio station, broadcasting under the call sign 2MT (“Two Emma Toc”). Eckersley was a joker, a character, a bit of a card. And every Tuesday, radio enthusiasts across south-eastern England would tune their sets to catch his latest offering: a quiz, perhaps, or a spoof weather forecast.

Eckersley and his pals put on Britain’s first ever radio play, an adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac. They persuaded some of the capital’s most popular singers to trek out to Writtle and perform into the ether. On one memorable occasion the world-famous Danish-American baritone Lauritz Melchior even agreed to trudge across the fields to the Writtle army hut and sing to an audience of… hundreds? Thousands? Who knows?

What happened at Writtle a hundred years ago isn’t just a lovely little tale about the triumph of the amateur spirit. It’s the origin story of one of Britain’s most beloved and controversial institutions, the BBC, which celebrates its centenary this autumn. And since the BBC’s future has never been more contested, with Boris Johnson’s government publicly contemplating the end of the licence fee and a turn towards a subscription model, it’s worth looking back at how it all began.

To its defenders, the BBC represents the collective national good over selfish private interest. But is that really true? If you were feeling cynical, you might argue that it began as a commercial monopoly to promote the interests of the major electronics firms. Its champions celebrate it as modern history’s greatest vehicle for popular cultural uplift. But you could just as well see it as a massive exercise in selling radios.

To the BBC’s fans that probably sounds like sacrilege, so let’s go back to that man in the hut. Peter Eckersley didn’t just happen to work for Marconi. The fact that he worked for the Marconi Company, one of the most innovative, ruthless and expansionist firms in the land, was absolutely crucial. Since the end of the First World War, Marconi’s engineers had wasted no opportunity to promote the latest wireless technology. It was Marconi, for example, that organised Britain’s first live radio broadcast on 15 June 1920, when the soprano Dame Nellie Melba performed at its Chelmsford factory. This was a landmark in broadcasting history, with people reportedly tuning in from as far away as the Champs-ElysĂ©es. These days, though, the BBC makes little of it. Why not? Alas, it was sponsored by the Daily Mail. Quelle horreur!

You can draw a line directly from Dame Nellie’s performance, via Eckersley’s hut, to the formation of the British Broadcasting Company on 18 October 1922, and the Marconi name is there at every turn. In one crucial memo, the firm’s publicity manager, Arthur Burrows, argued that they could make an awful lot of money through the “radiation” of entertainment to the public, rather than by merely selling hardware to the government. So perhaps, in some parallel universe, there’s a Britain in which the Marconi Company really did establish its own private radio service, and where the papers are currently badgering the Marconi streaming giant to cancel Jimmy Carr.

But as we know, things didn’t work out like that. In a world obsessed with the danger of political and cultural disorder, the men who ran the General Post Office were anxious to avoid the “chaos” of the United States, where hundreds of radio start-ups had blossomed in 1921 and 1922. What was more, state control had been legitimised by the experience of total war, covering everything from military conscription to pub opening times. Much better, they thought, to have a single authorised broadcaster, a state-approved consortium: a British Broadcasting Company.

So in the autumn of 1922 the six largest firms, led by Marconi, formed a monopoly, authorised by the General Post Office and funded by a 10-shilling radio licence fee. And everybody won. The BBC set out on the path that would lead to Fawlty Towers, I, Claudius, Blake’s 7 and Eldorado. Arthur Burrows became its first director of programmes. Eckersley became its first chief engineer. And Marconi sold thousands and thousands of radios.

Why isn’t this story better known? The BBC’s centenary website, barely mentions it at all. Its timeline begins in the autumn of 1922, erasing poor Dame Nellie and skipping the Writtle story entirely. The explanation is obvious. The Marconi story just doesn’t fit. The history of the BBC is supposed to be an object lesson in paternalistic liberalism and public service, but the Marconi story is all about private enterprise. Marconi meant novelty; Marconi meant disruption. But today’s BBC is the guardian of continuity, a reassuring comfort blanket in a world of change. How do Dame Nellie and the Daily Mail fit into that?

It’s easy to see why the BBC has forgotten its entrepreneurial prehistory. By the time of its 20th birthday in 1942, it had transcended its buccaneering origins to become a genuinely national institution, the voice of a people standing together against the horrors of Nazism. For the next few decades, it was one of the chief pillars of the social democratic consensus, the broadcasting equivalent of the NHS.

This BBC didn’t just influence the national conversation; it was the national conversation. Famously, the very last show Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise made for the corporation, which went out on Christmas Day 1977, was watched by more than 20 million people. The supporting cast — Elton John, Michael Parkinson, Penelope Keith, Richard Briers, Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Frank Bough, James Hunt, Angela Rippon — was a Who’s Who of the British imagination, every name immediately recognisable. When you walked down the street the next day, almost half of the adults you met had seen it.

In his novel The Rotter’s Club (2001), Jonathan Coe uses that Morecambe and Wise Christmas special as a symbol of national consensus, the teenage hero realising that everybody he knows is watching it too. “It came to him,” writes Coe,

“that he was only one person, and his family was only one family, out of millions of people and millions of families throughout the country, all sitting in front of their television sets… all of them laughing at the same joke, and he felt an incredible sense of… oneness, that was the only word he could think of, a sense that the entire nation was being briefly, fugitively drawn together in the divine act of laughter.”

There’s an underlying melancholy to that scene, though. By the time Coe wrote The Rotter’s Club, the BBC’s paternalistic monopoly was already under siege. The first blow came in 1955 with the launch of ITV, followed by the advent of Channel Four in 1982. British Satellite Broadcasting arrived in 1986, Sky three years later. We all know the rest: the internet, Amazon, Netflix, Disney. Or to put it another way, change — the kind of technological and cultural innovation previously embodied by the men in that Writtle hut.

It’s change, not Conservative hostility — and certainly not Nadine Dorries — that represents the real threat to the BBC’s survival. In the last few weeks its defenders on social media have circulated a wonderful advert from 1986, in which pub bore John Cleese curses the licence fee and wonders what the BBC “has ever given us for fifty-eight quid”. Up pops a host of famous faces — Sir Michael Hordern, Barry Norman, Alan Whicker, Sir Patrick Moore — to put him right.

It’s heart-warming, nostalgic stuff. But to anybody under the age of 30 it must be completely irrelevant. Most of those people have long since died, retired or been cancelled. They’re relics of a vanished age.

It’s telling, then, that when people try to defend the BBC, they typically point to Strictly Come Dancing and Doctor Who — two shows that, one way or another, could have been watched by Sir Winston Churchill in his dotage. Strictly’s current incarnation dates from 2004, but in its original form, as plain Come Dancing, it dates from 1949. As for Doctor Who, it dates from 1963 and is now attracting its lowest audience since the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. In a bid to revive its fortunes, the BBC have just persuaded its former writer Russell T. Davies, who ran the show more than a decade ago, to return to the helm. You can’t get much more backward-looking than that.

I take no pleasure in pointing this out. For anybody like me, born in the Seventies or earlier, a world without the BBC seems unimaginable. I have merely to hear the opening bars of Grandstand, a staple of my Saturdays for decades, and the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. But Grandstand has been dead for 15 years, rendered obsolete when the BBC’s commercial rivals snapped up all the sports rights. And although Match of the Day endures, it’s easy to imagine a future in which Amazon bags the Premiership highlights. How long before that jaunty theme music vanishes forever? Five years? Ten?

Against that background, talk of the current government’s “attack” on the BBC strikes me as fundamentally inconsequential. Even if Boris Johnson’s successor kneels in penance outside Broadcasting House and promises to preserve the licence fee till the end of time, the basic problem remains: the BBC was designed for radio and television sets, not for mobile phones and iPads. It’s a national institution in a globalised world, a product of the twentieth century struggling to stay afloat in the twenty-first.

A few weeks ago a YouGov poll found that only one in four people aged 18-30 watch the BBC every week. A third of them never watch it at all. No doubt some will graduate to the BBC’s output as they grow older — but surely not all of them. What about today’s primary-school children? Will the Marvel and Mandalorian addicts be watching Newsnight in the year 2040? Will they really still be clinging to Grandad’s comfort blanket?

To some readers, I know, this probably sounds like heresy, a premature obituary for a much-loved institution. But I do like the BBC. (I don’t “love” it, obviously, because I’ve worked for it, and nobody who’s been a victim of its taxi-booking system is ever going to love it.) And because I’m a nostalgic, backward-looking sort of person, I want it to survive. I adore In Our Time, I love The Apprentice (I know, ridiculous) and I still watch Doctor Who, albeit out of a joyless sense of duty.

Much of what the BBC does, it does brilliantly. I’ll be sorry, then, when it goes. But it will go, eventually. Or rather, it’ll probably fragment into its constituent parts, some of which will charge for subscriptions. No doubt it’ll be a gradual process, and many people will barely notice. On Twitter, the BBC’s champions will lament the death of a common national culture. But our common national culture has been fragmenting for decades, which is why Jonathan Coe lamented its passing more than 20 years ago.

Cultural moments come and go. Institutions are born and they die. In fact, everything dies; that’s how history works. The future belongs to the ambitious, the disruptive, the change-makers — people like the engineers in that hut. But these days, people like that don’t work for the BBC. They work for Amazon.


Dominic Sandbrook is an author, historian and UnHerd columnist. His latest book is: Who Dares Wins: Britain, 1979-1982

dcsandbrook

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Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

In the August of 1972, I came to the UK with my family as an 11 year old, out of Uganda and into a refugee center in Kensington where we stayed for a few days until my dad managed to rent some accommodation. I was a child with very little in the way of emotional antenna, but the stress of the situation was obvious even to me, the atmosphere was tense and fractious, and the memories of those days are still clear and vivid. The families were in dorms, but there was a common room, where I saw colour TV for the first time. We had a TV at home in Uganda – I even remember watching the first Apollo Moon landing, live, – but it was black and white. The first thing I saw on colour TV was a Morecambe and Wise movie (not one of their shows) on BBC1, and I understood the jokes barely, and the context not at all, but again the memory has stayed with me pin sharp. Like for everyone else the BBC, both radio and TV, was a daily mainstay over the years, everything from the pop music, to the dramas, to the blockbusters, to the science, to the perennial footballing and cricketing disappointments, that all was pivotal in binding me to this country.

But it stopped – my affection and need for the BBC. And when did it stop? It’s difficult to pinpoint, but the process started around 2015, and in 2018, I suddenly realised one day with a start, I hadn’t watched the BBC for several days. Why did it happen? I found it spoke to me less and less, it seemed to be representing me less and less, the people turning up on it were less and less sympathetic, and of a lower and lower quality.

And now? I look back with fondness, but am indifferent to whether the BBC survives or not. I too am nostalgic and backward looking (I do a fantastic line in vain regrets), but unlike the author, I have no trouble embracing change.

Last edited 2 years ago by Prashant Kotak
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Most successful migrants ever – the India/African Diaspora. Idi’s loss was our gain.

Christine Thomas
Christine Thomas
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Could possibly say that in reverse about what led to the British Raj?

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Very true: the malevolent stupidity of other countries has often resulted in Britain’s gain. And let us not forget the Huguenot and Jewish refugees, and doubtless others that I cannot immediately call to mind.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Perhaps the exuberance of Morecambe and Wise reassured you things might turn out just fine. A simple piece of mere entertainment may have, at a particular moment, settled you. Was that why the memory was pin sharp, too?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

It was the whole situation. To me as a kid it was all a big adventure, but there was no mistaking the sense of panic radiating from my parents. Some of the M&W comedy being slapstick was universal and I guess helped a bit, although I doubt my parents were paying any attention to TV at the time.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Great story, thanks. Impossible for people in my position to begin to imagine what it must have been like. A timely reminder of Asif Din (similar age to you, his family were also expelled) and his 1993 heroics in Cricket’s premier cup final, whose innings and backstory were brought to us live on the BBC.
It seemed easier to celebrate those things as a nation in back then – maybe less so if you supported Sussex!

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

I, too, arrived from Africa in 66. My circumstances were different in that I had been living there as an expatriate since my birth.
The BBC represented a common mindset that transcended class and race, a conservative (with a little c) culture and reflected the opinions of the nation on many issues.
We have spent 4 decades fragmenting the opinion of the nation and the BBC has suffered in the process. It no longer appears to have a core purpose and cannot be said to represent the values of the majority.
Key to that has been the loss of trust and decline in ethics with everyone out for themselves.

Richard Goodall
Richard Goodall
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Carr

The BBC has spent the last two decades at least fragmenting the opinion of the population.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Carr

We have spent 4 decades fragmenting the opinion of the nation and the BBC has suffered in the process.

Not that I disagree, but it seems to me that the BBC has itself been active at the forefront of that fragmenting.

Helen Moorhouse
Helen Moorhouse
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

For me disillusionment with the BBC set in when I found I could no longer identify with Women’s Hour because of its increasing hostility to the unborn child. Jenni Murray was a political activist quite inappropriately fronting what was once a national service.

Charlie Walker
Charlie Walker
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Great comment piece – thank you!

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
2 years ago

It’s very sad.
Back when I was a boy and teenager in the 80s and 90s, the BBC was the rock on which any thinking person got their news from.
It was sophisticated, thoughtful, tried its best to be impartial on difficult topics and covered an array of events that other competitors simply didn’t (or couldn’t) manage.
Since the Blair era it has begun a slow and steady decline, first of all dumbing down to match the likes of CNN (a reality immediately apparent from its rolling SMS-like headlines that popped up in the mid 2000s and which spoke of the contempt it held for its audience).
Since 2012 I’ve hardly listened to it it at all. This for someone that had a ritual of coffee and radio 4 with my breakfast.
The last decent documentary they showed, and I was shocked that it some how got through the useful idiot wall, was Once Upon A Time in Iraq. That was a rare glimpse into what the BBC was once capable of on a regular basis.
It’s sad and it didn’t have to be this way.
In a world where nobody knows what is happening, and where the distinction between psychological projection and empirical reality is blurred, a station committed to the pursuit of truth is very important.
Unfortunately, the BBC is not committed to seeking out truth, or to debating what truth is, but to political activism, where truth is an enemy to be overcome.
The reason in my observation that Joe Rogan, a one man band with no production facilities, can command a larger audience than a multimillion pound juggernaut, is that he approaches the world, and the conversations to be had in it, with a genuine curiosity and desire to unearth that which is true.
Events like Rotherham show that the BBC has lost any interest in truth. And from what I gather, rather than rectify this, they are doubling down like Corbynistas, asking themselves how the public could possibly be so stupid as to not want to be spoonfed what to think.
I would really like to see them reform, but judging by the conversations I’ve had with people who work there, the chances of this happening are about as high as Dianne Abbot winning a mathematics olympiad.

Last edited 2 years ago by hayden eastwood
Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago

Excellent post.

peter barker
peter barker
2 years ago

You’ve got to the centre of my main dislike for the BBC with “Events like Rotherham show that the BBC has lost any interest in truth. And from what I gather, rather than rectify this, they are doubling down like Corbynistas, asking themselves how the public could possibly be so stupid as to not want to be spoonfed what to think.”
The people in the upper/middle echelons there are arrogant, too highly paid, and out of touch. I daresay there are some good people “on the ground” but they aren’t steering the whole enterprise up a blind alley – on behalf of an ever decreasing minority of possible viewers.
I stopped having a licence mid 2020 after the “largely peaceful demonstrations” reports. I resent now not being able to watch any live TV because I don’t wish to pay money for their output. .

Guy Pigache
Guy Pigache
2 years ago

Seems to me that the licence fee is a subscription model. Remove the compunction and it is the same as a Sky package. Vast quantities of dross and the odd gem. Why the compunction? Why the lack of belief in what you produce? Ah but we have to do local radio. But there are hosts of local radio stations around my area. But they have adverts. True, a variety of adverts. Not just BBC adverts. If we the electorate/ the government want the Beeb to continue certain non-profitable activities well we can subsidised them. Without forcing us to pay Linekers enormous salary.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Guy Pigache

The BBC are rightly criticised for wasting vast mounts of airtime self-advertising – effectively telling people how wonderful they are – until the brainwash is complete.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

And still, the BBC news, every day, is stating that Boris made a ‘false claim that Starmer failed to prosecute Savile’.
Black is white. Starmer says he prosecuted numerous people, check out the quotes on Guido, but apparently he had nothing to do with the Savile case and therefore he didn’t fail to prosecute Savile. The BBC has laughably ‘fact checked’ this.
Its politically biased and I want it stopped. I don’t care about nostalgia. Move on.
(I tried pointing out in DT comments that as leader of the CPS he set and policed the criteria by which prosecution decisions were made, and the comment was censored.)

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Johnson’s statement is logically correct. How can this be a “false claim”. It’s a statement of fact. Starmer did not prosecute Savile. He could say the same for you and I and it could be equally true. If it is incorrect, Starmer can no doubt sue.
Of course, the BBC has long since given up any pretence of factual reporting where it doesn’t fit their narrative.
The question is really whether Starmer should have prosecuted Savile.
Starmer is however only one of many people who let Savile drift pass without taking any action. There’s quite enough guilt to go around here.
Starmer’s record as DPP is quite bad enough without bringing Savile into it. The success rate in prosecutions brought was appalling. The introduction of political bias and move towards a default of “believing complainants” worse.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter B

How did he become Sir Keir? Do they give these honours out like pulling sweeties out of a lucky packet?
Why not have a panel who arbitrarily make these decisions on personal whims and fancies. No-one with the name of Keir can be a knight. At least have some fun with it.

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 years ago

The ‘politically neutral’ top civil servant who subsequently became the leader of the Labour Party after being knighted for his apolitical public service. Hmmmm!

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago

Organisations like the BBC are not simply content with directing you what to think – they want to teach people how to think. It is not enough to brainwash viewers and listeners on particular issues – they also want to suppress any scepticism or questioning of their narrative.
The more such people drone on about so-called “critical thinking” and “diversity”, the less of these things there actually is.

Douglas H
Douglas H
2 years ago

Honestly I wish you were totally wrong but you raise some really important issues about Aunty

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 years ago

“Unfortunately, the BBC is not committed to seeking out truth, or to debating what truth is, but to political activism, where truth is an enemy to be overcome.” Spot on, Hayden!
We’ ve not viewed BBC TV since about 2014, and only listen BBC Radio 4 news bulletins out of laziness to tune into channels that offer balanced reporting.
The BBC is suffused with managerialism, run by the woking-class for the woking class and offers a perspective that is rooted in London metropolitan values and perspectives. it despises the general population outside of those horizons and has zero interest in seeking to reflect such views or to engage with them.
The so-called ‘licence fee’ (for watching not just BBC but all terrestrial TV!) is nothing more than a tax legislated by Parliament, which generates some ÂŁ5 billion in revenue annually. The BBC is out of control, arrogant and totally committed to imposing a worldview on the British population which mostly does not endorse, welcome or respect its postmodernist cultural marxism.
The BBC is no longer a force for good and should not be sustained by vast public funding.

Last edited 2 years ago by Julian Pellatt
Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago

It is extraordinary that the BBC chooses wilfully to bite the hand that feeds it – over and over again.
The BBC is politically centre-left and culturally much further left. One hears terms like ‘Cultural Marxism’, but you’d encounter very few actual political Marxists at the Beeb. Yes, they are broadly anti-business whilst being pro-neo-liberal EU. They are anti-Monarchist, anti-Christian and pro-open borders, but (outside of the young 20-somethings) you’d find their antipathy for Corbyn was almost as great as their fear of Boris.
The BBC is a bubble of sub-Blairite group think. Hence both Corbyn supporters and Conservative supporters felt they were getting adverse coverage.
People on the centre-right point to the routine running-down of the Conservatives as evidence of hard Left-wing bias – it is not. Others on the left-wing point to Laura Kuenssberg mocking Corbyn as evidence of Rightwing bias – again, it is not.
The bias in the BBC is for a fairly narrow, left-of-centre worldview and anything that falls outside of that is viewed as extremist by the majority of BBC newsroom staff. This colours their reporting and so both ends of the political spectrum feel aggrieved – and they have every right to.
When the BBC promotes – or propagandises – its own agenda, an agenda often seeming to be at odds with the majority view – then that skews the national debate and paints an untrue picture of the world which undermines the ability of the electorate to make informed decisions.
“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”– Thomas Jefferson.
They have been openly disdainful of the choices of over half the electorate – sneering at any who don’t fall in with the BBC approved view of the world.
BBC programming in general has decided that older viewers should be ignored – all in a vain attempt to chase a younger audience, none of whom would ever think to spend an evening in, watching 2 terrestrial channels.
They’ve taken long running and much loved series – Dr Who being a good example – and remade them as activist propaganda.
BBC Drama has decided to rewrite the classics by inserting C21st liberal agenda issues into adaptations of 18th and 19th century literature.
Each one of those decisions has actively discouraged previously loyal viewers.
Issues that chime with BBC virtue projection, such as Climate, Austerity or most recently with Covid or BLM stories, are presented with no balance, no counter-narrative. Simple propaganda is enough.
When a national broadcaster fails to give viewers accurate and impartial information, when it distorts the debate to fit in with its own narrow worldview, then that damages democracy. There is no more intellectually bereft argument than “both sides think its biased which means they must be doing a good job”. But every time the BBC comes under fire for their bias, some unctuous BBC Corporate spokesperson is wheeled onto a show to “laugh off” such criticism by making precisely that case.
When it came to Brexit the bias was all the more stark – not merely in the news coverage but right across the piece. Take almost any panel show and the sneering tone it adopts to all things Brexit. Look at the shoehorning in of the topic into programs that have no relation to our leaving the EU – where viewers/listeners are constantly reminded by phrasing stories in terms of “Despite Brexit” or “Amid fears surrounding Brexit” 
 it is always slanted negatively, never looking at potential opportunities Brexit may offer, only the difficulties and downsides.
This is probably understandable given that programme makers are almost entirely pro-EU, pro-Remain, young metropolitans so even whilst they might try to maintain a balanced tone they cannot see the bias that creeps into every report and programme. The fact that it is understandable, however, does not excuse it or nullify it. It is the job of senior editors and exec producers to maintain an even-handed and informative tone – this they have singularly failed to do.
The BBC has a charter obligation to provide balanced and impartial news and comment. It no longer comes even close to achieving that.
I am a great supporter of “the idea” of the BBC. To have TV & Radio channels entirely free from advertiser or owner-led interference, supported by licence fee payers, that can produce quality programmes without having to pander to lowest common denominator tastes to chase viewing figures, was (and should still be) what made it one of the great British institutions.
However, if the BBC fails to meet its charter obligations then it gives up the right to its funding. If they want to continue receiving state funding then the BBC needs to face up to this and be brave enough to change.
Auntie needs to grow some b a l l s!

Last edited 2 years ago by Paddy Taylor
M P Griffiths
M P Griffiths
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

An excellent post.

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

A great post. I stopped listening to News Quiz 4-5 years ago. For almost 40 years it had been compulsory listening on a Friday night or Saturday morning.
I just got tired second-rate comedians going on about Brexit and disparaging half the UK population as if they had some superior intellectual competence.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jeff Carr
Roger le Clercq
Roger le Clercq
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

As a sad person I still have 10pm BBC news on auto-record and attempt to sit through simply as an intellectual exercise to see what the bias level is each day. Last night (Sunday) there was a visually beautiful article about an expedition of Chagas people landing on a beach fifty-five years after being “thrown out by the British”. It appears that the lady being interviewed had been pregnant and that the English had “shot her dog”. A balanced report might have given perhaps 30 seconds reminding viewers of the world political situation around 1970 and the Western world’s strategic reliance on Diego Garcia in the decades prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not a peep. Anybody taking the report at face value could only conclude that this was a simple continuation of the expansion of the Raj.
I am still a sad person but mostly now because I know this kind of bias-by-omission will become “somebody’s truth”. But I am less sad reading all the comments to this article as I now feel a little less alone.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

I stopped listening to Radio 4 in the morning and evening news about 10 years ago as it became rabidly anti UKIP. I stopped listening to 5 Live news as it did the same.
I stopped watching BBC tv news in 2018 as I couldn’t take its anti Brexit position anymore. I only watch it now to watch presenters squirm when they have to report something positive about the Tories.
I stopped watching various tv comedies about 5 years ago as these became vehicles for jokes against white people, Brexit and the Tories but never against other ethnic groups, Remainers or Labour.
And I’m on the point of stopping watching nature documentaries by the BBC, especially Attenborough, as he lectures us on climate change for about half the programme.
My only comfort is old documentaries on BBC4 (since they aren’t commissioning any new ones) that I’ve missed.
Close it down please – I won’t miss it now after being a great supporter for most of my life.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Is it really only his climate change lecturing that will stop you watching DA? Not his bias towards shaky science and illogical assumptions? His national treasure status comes by way of snake oil salesman-like story telling, gorgeous locations and incredible cinematography. Most fall for it. Obviously he’s not the only one but singularily highly revered. Sad really.

Alex Tickell
Alex Tickell
2 years ago
Reply to  Marcia McGrail

Glad someone finally had the guts to say that! Hope you’re not on skitter Marcia.

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
2 years ago
Reply to  Marcia McGrail

Absolutely. Most people seem to forget that St David is a very rich man, largely from the money he’s earned from his long association with the BBC. His latest presumptions on climate etc are just as dubious as most other stuff spouted by the BBC on this subject

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 years ago
Reply to  Marcia McGrail

David Attenborough used to be blunt in stating his view that ‘climate change’ (what a meaningless phrase!) was simply down to overpopulation. In that he was wholly correct and dared to say what almost all the world experts did not as this was not politically correct. Since his elevation as a UK ‘national treasure’ and his peroration at the Glastonbury Festival he has stopped banging this drum and has joined the climate change propaganda machine. Presumably he’s making money out of this too!

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago

I used to watch and listen to the BBC incessantly. I haven’t bothered to tune in for maybe seven or eight years. In my world it is dead and gone. And I’m not young.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

I have been an occasional commentator on the BBC since before Corona times, but have repeatedly commented during Corona times.
Most of these comments have been in the form of questions to so-called experts on Corona and the woke propaganda, often devoid of science, that continually comes from these so-called experts.
My comments were edited, in some cases, to indicate the opposite of the point I had raised. For example, when I asked about booster shots for the fully jabbed, I also asked for an apology from the “experts” who discouraged second shots in the name of “vaccine equity,” and for continually parroting the phrase “No one is safe until everyone is safe,” which is a huge lie that has nothing to do with science. My aired comment seemed to praise the experts
I celebrate the demise of the BBC, as it is merely government sponsored woke propaganda. Many programs have presenters whom I can’t understand and whose names I can’t pronounce. What ever happened to RP? Wasn’t RP aspirational for England and the world? Now it’s just a relic of the past while ghetto talk (in the US) and unrecognisable and often incomprehensible foreign accents is the norm on the BBC and celebrated.
And the content is even worse. The BBC had a good run, but is has “jumped the shark” and it’s time for it to get off the stage. Get the hook!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

You sound like you embrace change about as much as the BBC itself! I share a lot of the criticism you have about the BBC’s cultural, political and metropolitan biases, but as far as I can hear, your comment about ‘ghetto talk’ is quite an exaggeration, and in my experience almost everyone on the BBC articulates very clearly. I think that the gradual removal of the monopoly of one permitted way of speaking and allowing presenters to speak in regional accents, including West Indian inflected English, is a thoroughly welcome development.
Also, you rather talk as if ‘woke’ propaganda, as you put it, wasn’t mainstream on almost all broadcast media, whether private or not cf CNN. I expect that is ultimately mainly about money and catering for the (presumed) youth audience.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Let me know if anyone on the BBC has a Birmingham or Black County accent. The regional accents seem to be most Oxbridge-filtered ones.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

With respect, I largely disagree, though I’m not exactly sure what you mean with the first sentence. BBC has changed–from being a respected source of news–yes, with RP–to being a woke propaganda organization with world-wide accents. That’s change, mate, and yes, I’m against it.
I said that “ghetto talk” is common in US media and also in BBC interviewees and even the occasional presenter. I object.
I strongly disagree that the replacement of RP with worldwide regional accents is a positive development. If the accents were limited to regional accents in the UK it might be better, but I still long for the days of RP as something aspirational, something to strive for, something that helped people around the world learn proper English.
I never said that most media was not “woke,” even UnHerd to an upsetting degree, but with the BBC it’s compelled speech–you have no choice but to pay for it. This is why public funding of NPR, as woke as it comes, is controversial. What they get from the govt. is small but they should never, ever get even a penny.

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Of course the BBC is not the only woke broadcaster – they mostly are. The difference is that the BBC is funded by public taxation on a vast scale – we are forced to pay for a publicly funded broadcaster that uses such resources and gigantic power to brainwash its audience. Not good. If the BBC was funded via subscription it would very quickly have to reoriantate its approach in order to deliver services designed to meet the needs and interests of its wider audience, not merely the London metropolitan elites and their regional copycats. Failure to do so would result in its demise.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

I stopped using the BBC News website on Jan 1st. Partly because it often irritated me and partly because I have cancelled my licence fee and it seemed wrong to keep using it.

It was very easy to do and comes with the benefit of not slavishly following the headlines. I find I am oblivious to some stories that people talk to me about and feel no worse for it.

I get my news here and from the Spectator and find absence of breathless journalists straining to give the early take very refreshing.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

I use Reuters, it’s factual, with no bias that I’ve been able to discern.
https://www.reuters.com

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Having said that, I find that to get to something close to the truth I need to use a variety of sources, no single news supply is reliable on it’s own.

stephen archer
stephen archer
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

James C Smith, chairman of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and board member of Pfizer.
Quotes from twitter :
“.. also deeply involved with the Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum, and sits on their International Business Council, as well as their ‘Partnering Against Corruption Initiative’..”
“Reuters has failed to disclose this conflict of interest in all of their very favorable coverage of Pfizer & their vaccine.”
I was previously under the impression that Reuters was one of the few media organisations to give non-opinionated news. I no longer place any trust in their impartiality and their so called fact checking on Covid.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  stephen archer

What a let down, there’s always something.

stephen archer
stephen archer
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

What’s the alternative? The MSM or the alternative channels with conflicting information and theories? Like you say, you have to sift through the information and decide for yourself what you’re willing to believe.

John
John
2 years ago
Reply to  stephen archer

I use spectator (as they have commentators from both sides), unherd (for similar reasons) and quilette (as that has both sides).
I have to say, these three have really helped me navigate what’s going on.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Disappointment everywhere. But – as you say – the best answer is a wide range of sources.

R Perspectives
R Perspectives
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Hmm I wouldn’t be so sure:

https://christopherrufo.com/the-price-of-dissent/
Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  R Perspectives

Thanks for that, though the link does’nt work, I had to use G. Disappointing.
As I say the only thing to do is to read as widely as possible.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Reuters and Associated Press have “partnered” (whatever that means) with the World Economic Forum, so not sound on anything under WEF purview.
Edit: I should have scrolled down a bit – I see it’s already been mentioned.

Last edited 2 years ago by Sharon Overy
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Associated Press certainly has bias so therefore I’m sure that Reuters has too. Edited to say ‘appalling’ bias!

Last edited 2 years ago by Lesley van Reenen
William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

99% of the world’s population can use the BBC website without the slightest obligation to pay fir any licence, so it is like foreign aid being scattered to everyone rich and poor. No need to feel guilty about using it.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Day after referendum was “jump the shark” day for me. I’m from a working-class area in the North, but worked in the City of London for 20 years as an adult.
BBC’s “Racist Britain” programme that evening was disgustingly divisive and should have resulted in immediate withdrawal of the Royal Charter. A snide petty revenge war on 17m+ voters, quite a few of whom would have been happy to pay the licence fee up to that point. It’s still happening and has gone on longer than some world wars. And those who pay the licence fee help fund it.
Life is complicated. You might think you are an open-minded ‘citizen of the world’ but you don’t really know until an area you call home changes colour and/or culture around you.
I grew up in the ‘Rock Against Racism’ era and, okay, it was dominated by the left but at it’s heart were different colours and cultures mucking in together based on hearts, minds, talent and contribution. A much under-rated achievement of the post-war generation, the foundations of which were then undermined completely 1997 onwards.

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

But it’s OK to insult your best and most local customers – as long as they are not actual paying customers ! This must be one major reason the BBC will not voluntarily move to a subscription model. That and the fact that they actually seem to enjoy insulting their customers.
I can’t wait for the day when the “BBC talent” find out what the market reveals what they are really worth.

David Wildgoose
David Wildgoose
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

Their Brexit coverage was the final straw for me as well. I telephoned to cancel my license saying the news seemed to be being read by Lord Haw Haw. Sadly, I doubt my reference was understood.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

I watched them strangle the Doctor Who series from after Tom Baker got rolling as the best Doctor ever, mid 1970s from when I left UK – And then occasionally seeing the more recent Doctors (Just strobe like flashes of the later incarnations – from USA TV occasionally, likely some old VHS Blockbuster rentals, later streaming on an early VPN to BBC I-player and some American PBS kind of TV….) till in the end I loathed it for what they had made of the once great show.

It was like watching some lovely lake slowly turn into a stagnant mess…….

“the basic problem remains: the BBC was designed for radio and television sets, not for mobile phones and iPads. It’s a national institution in a globalised world, a product of the twentieth century struggling to stay afloat in the twenty-first.”

The writer says the issue is not the License fee, not the content, but the medium. I disagree completely. It was the National British Broadcaster whose apparent mission had later become to make the viewers loath Britain, its history, people, and culture, and by succeeding at that it also destroyed its purpose and audience.

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

The writer says the issue is not the License fee, not the content, but the medium. I disagree completely. It was the National British Broadcaster whose apparent mission had later become to make the viewers loath Britain, its history, people, and culture, and by succeeding at that it also destroyed its purpose and audience.
Agreed. I’m American but I lived and worked in the UK for a few years in the 80s and remember great shows such as Only Fools and Horses.
In the US, many BBC shows are available on DVD from the public library and it’s painfully clear they’ve become ever more ideological in the past decade or so. Even the BBC website is blatantly left-leaning. I don’t think public money should be used to fund a politicized institution whether left or right-leaning.
Very sad. The BBC used to be an institution the Brits could rightly be proud of.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Did you catch ‘Till Death Us Do Part’?, done in USA as ‘All In The Family’, or ‘Sanford and Son’ USA, the British version was ‘Steptoe and Son’?

A great many sitcoms are duplicated on both sides, with very distinct differences – and the differences are very interesting. Alf Garrett….Archie Bunker… it was an innocent world back then….

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Yup, but years after they were originally made.
Till Death Us Do Part was way better than Archie Bunker, and Steptoe and Son was a masterpiece compared to Sanford and Son.
The British versions were much more raw. Steptoe and Son was a profound tragedy hiding behind comedy. The son, Harold, was desperately trying to rise above his social and economic circumstances and sometimes he almost succeeded but, with a malicious grin, his old dad would scupper his plans every time and the son, out of misplaced loyalty, would return to his old life. That show was a masterpiece.
If you haven’t seen it, I recommend the British version of Shameless about a working class family living on a dilapidated council estate. Again, on the surface it’s a comedy, but underneath so many of the characters are desperate to make a better life but their class gets the better of them. It’s painful to watch their struggles sometimes. The American counterpart, also called Shameless, is watered-down nonsense. I couldn’t watch it. The characters never came alive and I don’t think the US producers/writers had the same instinctive understanding of social class to capture the spirit of the original UK show.
The Brits used to make fantastic television. It will be so sad if they lose that ability.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Steptoe and son…. Took place in Shepard’s Bush – A part of London I know – back then it was cheap housing, but rough but not too much, it is where the Tube goes underground from being surface – then Acton – weird how memory works, would have been a place to buy then – now is another world, but then all West London is…… His ilk long gone, a rag-and-bone merchant junk yard (still horse carts in this show, as were then, mid 1960’s London) – I go back far enough I remember their call as they would go down the road…… this world is another world now. The entire series is on youtube.. If you care for the old days of my London….. Old days of the BBC

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxG-l5808f0&list=PLZfCg1PYKx-MPofApFn5RHPYsEH9VeEvj&index=2

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Although the entire series is on youtube as you say, it may have already been ‘sanitised’ by the BBC for your ‘protection’.
Apparently such ‘politically incorrect’ programmes as Steptoe & Son from the 60’s & 70’s are being scrutinised as I scribble, and offensive material removed!
This may of course be a bit of a problem for the Black & White Minstrel Show!

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I thought the US version of The Office was much better than the U.K. version which tended to be a single theme based on Gervais.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

‘Man About The House’ = ‘Threes Company’ and so on

For youtube mainstream sitcom (the whole series is there) I liked ‘Spaced’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDl_OwhtoFg&list=PLCK5Lcs_vqSB3Zz9URbIB3dcJy9FmtL3I&index=1 If you feel nostalgic for some British stuff

I hung in the Art World for a number of years, and so really liked episode 3 – OTT, but not entirely……

And for the best send-up of the ‘British Arts Council’ and theater in general, ‘Coming Soon’ is really great – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSY8DoDisO0

about a ‘Devised Theater’ group off to tour Scotland for various reasons….. if you like High art sort of shows…..

And remember, if you are in La Ju Theater Group, it is very important to always be ‘In The Moment’…..

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Thanks. I’ll check those out.

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I agree. It’s both and the combination is more than the sum of its parts.

Bronwen Saunders
Bronwen Saunders
2 years ago

My breaking point came in 2015, when one woman’s malicious twisting of a joke told by Sir Tim Hunt was the lead news item on World at One. My first thought was: “This is not news. It is a personal misunderstanding that can easily be resolved by the two individuals involved.” And because the BBC’s motivation for presenting a smear as news was ideological, it did not seek any corroborating evidence for the charges. It also remained silent when Connie St Louis was unmasked as a fraud and a liar. My trust in its news programmes evaporated and in recent years I have not seen anything that might induce me to change my mind.

Andrew Taylor
Andrew Taylor
2 years ago

The BBC, like the NHS, is done for and both, pretty much, for exactly the same reasons. It’s not that their services are not valued (mostly) or that a significant number of their employees are dedicated and professional. It is that both have become engorged with useless management who are consumed with their own importance and their own agendas. Both have ‘Moneytree Delusion’ and are voracious consumers of other people’s cash, without due regard to true results or value for money. They dig their money holes ever deeper and ever wider and then demand that we throw yet more money in. Refusal causes petulance. Any attempt to properly audit either is seen as reactionary “far right” activism. Anyone who disagrees with either’s world views is vilified and labelled an ‘ist of one kind or another. The BBC’s constant and biased position on Brexit is a good example of its hubris, as is its determination to pursue Boris Johnson over ‘Partygate’. The two are related, the former caused intense hatred of Johnson within the Corporation and the latter forms the BBC’s (hopefully) attempted revenge. If it wasn’t for the inflation and prioritisation of ‘Partygate’ as a BBC leading news item it would have died quickly and months ago. The NHS has been weaponised by the ‘left’. No rational discussion can be regarding meaningful change for either organisation for the real world that we live in. Like the EU, which suffers exactly the same problems as our two British institutions, refusal to consider and adopt change will eventually be the death of all of them.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Taylor

Good post. When they flew a helicopter over Sir Cliff Richard’s house I knew the game was up. This was no longer good old Aunty Beeb, home of fair play and decency. I refused from then on to support their poop sifting. I watch Nana Akua on GB News now and ‘Talking Pints’ with Nigel Farage.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Taylor

Excellent post. The Left currently try to ‘weaponise’ every criticism of the hated Tories, and seek ‘disarmament’ of any criticism of themselves. I cannot blame them for trying to get the best ‘optics’ – but the BBC is the willing delivery system for their fancies.

Last edited 2 years ago by AC Harper
Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Taylor

Very well articulated.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago

We should definitely keep public sector broadcasting in some form – but the need to “inform” people well is too important for the current BBC organisation to be allowed to retain that job.
A news organisation that appeared to be “actively campaigning” for Lockdowns, BLM, Net Zero, Remain etc. is surely not fit for that purpose.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Barton
William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago

I ought to be one of the BBC’s hardcore fans. I am 68 and have listened to Radio 4 for most of my life. But the last few years have just killed my interest. Their insane COVID coverage was the coup de grace, though my attention had been waning for years. Especially as the coverage was so blatantly and crassly Government directed.

I was very sad to hear of the death of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. But at least it got ******* COVID off the news for five minutes. 52 people died in a plane crash. Absolutely tragic. But at least it got ******* COVID….

I gave up watching conventional TV years ago. YouTube alone is infinitely better. If 99% of YouTube is worthless rubbish, the sheer volume of material means that there is several lifetimes worth watching. And I can instantly pick programs in which I am interested, from aviation to all the music of all kinds to Gresham College’s 2,000+ lectures with superb teachers.

Last edited 2 years ago by William Murphy
Charles Lawton
Charles Lawton
2 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

I agree with you on many points, I wondered where it all went wrong for the BBC? Although I have never worked either indirectly or directly for the Corporation, I am going to have to admit I know a number of people who did, they are all retired now. Everyone, of them is unhappy with the current output , not so much directly about bias but about quality, the dumbing down is a frequent complaint.One of them who is now in her 90s makes an interesting point about NEWS. She feels the BBC from the early 1990s has made itself political more generally by focusing on broadcasting news 24/7 up to the minute coverage, as entertainment, whereas before, the News was short to the point and factually accurate,Now it’s constantly discussed and done to death which is so boring. There is no doubt in my mind that News/current affairs has come to obsess and rule the BBC to its detriment, it leads to constant political discussion which results in both conscious or unconscious bias. Like other commentators, for years i listened to Radio 4 all the time. Not now though I still listen to some programmes of choice but never the News or current affairs. I long for the BBC to stop trying to do everything and stick to what it is good at. I suppose reading the FT and following the news on Reuters makes me sound boring. My real sadness is the lack of decent contemporary drama on Radio 4 which dates from the major dumbing down in the early part of 21st century.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Lawton

It’s the difference between Theroux’s latest programme and his old stuff. Now he’s moralising and challenging weird people, whereas before he was neutral and let them expose their weirdness.
BBC News is moralising and challenging politicians instead of being neutral like they were in the old days.

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

If it is moralising, then it is moralising without morals !

William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter B

It’s moralising based on an utterly different set of morals: the urgency of tackling climate change, granting access to a wide and bizarre range of opinions, giving sexual minorities airtime out of all proportion to their numbers, taking every assertion from green lobby groups seriously…….

Jaden Johnson
Jaden Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Lawton

I wondered where it all went wrong for the BBC?

It started with John Birt’s Mission to Explain (Mission to explain – Powerbase) which had noble aims but has resulted in every editorial comment and decision becoming a vector for bias.

M P Griffiths
M P Griffiths
2 years ago

The BBC, especially Radio 4, was the background/soundtrack to my life as I went through the phases of clever grammar school lad/”redbrick” student/post-grad/young professional/married man approaching middle-age, etc. I could cope with the Beeb’s biases and assumptions as my politics shifted towards the centre.
About ten years ago, I began to listen less and less, as I preferred music via my iPod (now via my phone, where I listen to podcasts more than music). I’m now 62, and I can no longer stand even short bursts of the BBC, with its glib, smug question-begging stance and the effing wokeness which infests also-bloody-lutely everything.
I didn’t become “right wing”, not really; it’s just that certain areas of British civil society veered off the side of the road into the bhundu about ten to fifteen years ago whereas I stayed where I was. The BBC was aboard that bus. I occasionally still hear them, gibbering and pontificating from deep within the tree cover, but their outbursts mean little, if anything to me, and have no bearing on my life.

Last edited 2 years ago by M P Griffiths
D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  M P Griffiths

Indeed. I didn’t leave the Beeb – it left me.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

In 2019 one Jo Brand, a BBC Comedian made a grotesque ‘joke’ about ‘throwing battery acid in someone’s face’ *. The BBC decided to take no action, thus effectively endorsing her remark.

About the same time another BBC Comedian, one Danny Baker made a mildly offensive joke about the recent Royal birth linking it to a baby Chimpanzee.** In this case the ever so righteous BBC went ballistic stating that Baker’s joke :-
“goes against the values we as a station aim to embody”, and summarily fired him.

Such is the state of the organisation that we used to admire. Now it is no more than a worm eaten facade, and a national disgrace.

(* A popular method of attack with the Criminal class.)

(** The child of the Duchess of Sussex.)

,

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

In both cases there should have been no response at all. Edgy comedians, albeit of the wrong political persuasion.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Precisely!

Antonino Ioviero
Antonino Ioviero
2 years ago

The pivotal year is 2012.

That year, the BBC:

Trashed the jubilee flotilla
Did a fantastic job covering the Olympics
Got exposed as a child abuse organisation (yes, Keir, the one you’re still covering for)

The BBC had used its near monopoly of news production in this country to cover up a gigantic child abuse scandal. It wasn’t to be the last.

BBC News needs to be broken up or abolished to prevent it ever happening again.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago

Now you say it, I wonder whether the opening show of the Olympics – that seemed to suggest that all British history before the Attlee government was as unpleasant as it was irrelevant – was the beginning of the end for me and the BBC.

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

I worked at the time in a fairly nternational office and that opening ceremony, though nobody was dwelling on it, did elicit some puzzling questions. Never mind Brexiteers recently being accused as parochial the question I was aksed by a German colleague was first whether this was some joke some British humour he hadn’t quite understood. I told him it wasn’t. Then he asked whether Brits thought there were the only peope who had hospitals or doctors.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

I remember overhearing an Italian and a Ukrainian (strangely enough) in our office saying much the same thing to each other at the time.

DA Johnson
DA Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

As a naive American I was also puzzled about the elaborate dance number in praise of the NHS. It seemed strange to me that any country would choose to showcase a bureaucracy–which, at least in the US, is the very definition of inefficiency and waste of taxpayer money.

John Shelton Reed
John Shelton Reed
2 years ago

Yes, the coverage of the Diamond Jubilee was disgraceful. ITV was so much better. Google “thames diamond jubilee pageant bbc itv” if you don’t remember.

Ann Roberts
Ann Roberts
2 years ago

What has killed my respect for the BBC is the use of the Trusted News Initiative to stifle alternative viewpoints. I still wonder how BBC news lost its way, MMmmm perhaps it hasn’t and my eyes have just been opened by the way the last two years have unfolded. I no longer watch BBC News, it makes me too cross:)

Last edited 2 years ago by Ann Roberts
Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

The reason hundreds of radio stations popped up in America in the early Nineteen Twenties is that they broadcast on AM (amplitude modulation) – the signal back then did not go far. Or the early radios did not receive such signals from far away.
So, if one of these days somebody cares to look at an atlas, it will reveal that America is huge and Britain very, very small.
Therefore on a continent-sized country, no one radio station was ever going to cover the whole USA.
What looked like “chaos”, American-style, to the General Post Office back in Britain, was, I am sure, just an effort to give radio coverage to all Americans.
Did the managers not understand the physics?

I am no engineer. Far from it. And maybe I’m completely wrong. But a lot of things can be explained by looking at a map.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

Is there an electronics engineer or radio enthusiast (a passionate technologist, to use today’s parlance) in the house who can make my day and nod in sympathetic agreement with my wild theorising about those early days of radio broadcasting?

As an aside, it’s well worth reading about the exploits of EH Armstrong, the American radio pioneer who made hearing speech and music possible. He invented, among other things, FM radio. Whereas Marconi could only send out morse code, Edwin Armstrong gave Marconi (and the world) the inventions that made wireless radio as we know it a reality.
Edwin Armstrong, by inventing FM radio in the 1930s, enabled the broadcasting of crystal-clear music, including the burgeoning black music, into white middle-class homes a reality. Edwin Armstrong came from a conservative-enough Presbyterian family in New York State, I think. His were the hands that took listening to music to the next level. I suppose people today just take it for granted that if not for him, somebody else would have come along with the patents.
Not necessarily. And maybe not in good time, either. Tens of thousands of people in the music industry in 1930s and 40s America got their stuff out there, to a very wide audience, that probably would have burrowed into the sensibilities more than we’ll ever know – thanks to one inventor.

EH Armstrong’s original FM radio tower that he erected in the 1930s, in I think New Jersey, was the new tower used by various TV and radio broadcasters who saw their own masts destroyed when they collapsed with the Twin Towers on 9/11.

William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago

Thanks for your fascinating contributions, especially the work of EH Armstrong. In 1992 I drove down the west side of the Olympic peninsula in Washington State. Fantastic scenery… But not a Radio station in range. I scanned up and down fruitlessly. But only 2,000 people live in that area. I was lucky to find a good B and B to stay overnight. On the east side of the mountains you would get 30+ stations from Seattle. The sheer size of the USA and local factors like huge mountains create all sorts of problems. The owner of the B and B got his TV via satellite. Ditto radio, if he ever used it.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

The wavelength of long wave kind of matches the distance between the peaks of mountains — so is absorbed. It gets cancelled.

Armstrong, as still a student, I think, in the very early 1900s, before the Titanic went down, invented the Audion, at home. According to his sister, he jumped around saying “I’ve done it! I’ve done it!” Then something called the heterodyne. Which is in all radios, just about. I try to recall from memory what I read. He had a lot of legal battles in terms of patents and what not, including even in terms of getting FM going, which the big record or communications companies did not want. He was a terrific problem-solver, and inventor.

Stephen Walshe
Stephen Walshe
2 years ago

“Much of what the BBC does, it does brilliantly”. I don’t think that is particularly true any more. Much of what it does is flabby and complacent. A small, but unusually measurable, example is the repeatedly dismal UK performance in the Eurovision Song Contest, a competition in which the UK used to regular contenders. Then, those responsible in the BBC knew how to produce something which could credibly compete. Now they don’t.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Walshe

In the beginning it was run by people who had led real lives in the real world, creatives and technical, and many with historical, scientific, Political, and geographical work experience. Engineers, tradesmen, accountants, and such down to earth people, also Many in classic arts, theater, entertainments.

Now it is staffed by people with degrees in Media, and given their positions by political appointees and agenda promotions – their jobs are advertised in the Guardian, which says it all.

In USA it has bees said University Professors in the Humanities and Social Sciences are 97% hard Liberal/Left. They are the only creatures which can survive in that habitat – and so the BBC, and so it actively vilifies what two thirds of the people believe in, the center Left, center and right leaning.

Steve A
Steve A
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I think your whole letter could also apply to the elite who ‘do’ the BBC appointing. I may be wrong but I cant think of any of our Ministers, for example, who have had a real job before becoming an MP.

William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve A

I suspect this lack of “real job” experience contributed to the visible Government panic over COVID. Ministers had no perspective or independent knowledge or expertise or self-confidence and had to trust blindly in “experts”. Even historical awareness of past pandemics (like 60,000 dead on the UK in 1976, which seemed to go unnoticed at the time) might have prevented the more deranged episodes, such as Matt Hancock threatening to lock us up 24/7.

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
2 years ago

I agree with the basic premise of the article. The politics will follow the technology because the technology is where the people are and the people are where the money is. Sandbrook is great at showing that our forebears were not strange old fuddy duddies but the same mix of “movers and shakers” and “old stick in the mud’s” that we are. I am 60 and about 15 years ago I would have listened all day to R4. Watched the BBC News, and tuned into “Question Time” followed by “This Week” as a weekly politics “fix”. Now I don’t listen to R4 I listen to long form podcasts on politics and current affairs. As for the news, I can literally see the agendas in the news such that I can predict the arguments that will be deployed, and those not deployed, even before they are shown. I could just write it, and I am easily annoyed by the attempt to force a complicated nuanced issue into a 2 minute slot. Janet and John’s news for people that aren’t listening that hard.
Sky has now launched SkyGlass. The screen does not receive broadcast signal it operates entirely from the internet. You subscribe to the whole lot, the set and the service. Why is that important? Well the second B in the BBCs name is also going to be massively downgraded.
The end of the BBC is inevitable but for some reason the BBC itself is intent in hastening that end. The one thing which they could do to slow their demise is quality. And what do they do? They get rid of Jeremy Guscott as a Rugby pundit and Brian Moore as a commentator. The latter being about the only person willing to explain the mysteries and call out without fear or favour what is happening to whom in that scrum. The former to be replaced by Ugo Monye who explains nothing and says exactly what is expected.
Just one more nail…..

Last edited 2 years ago by Samuel Gee
Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 years ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

“Janet and Joh news”. Love it!

R Wright
R Wright
2 years ago

I’ll never forgive them for destroying Doctor Who with its terrible retcon aimed at owning the gammons.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
2 years ago
Reply to  R Wright

Doctor Who was originally an afternoon children’s programme (pre-6 p.m. slot). Yet when I last worked (8 years ago) it was mostly talked about by adults, bizarrely in my view.

M P Griffiths
M P Griffiths
2 years ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

That attitude infests everything. For example:
“The News Quiz” used to be unmissable; then Barry Took died; then it became a vehicle for Jeremy Hardy’s metropolitan snarkiness and whingeing.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
2 years ago
Reply to  M P Griffiths

It was Sandi Toksvig and that ilk that made me leave it behind.

peter lucey
peter lucey
2 years ago

Thanks for this, Mr Sandbrook: informative and interesting, as usual. A social historian might be interested in the current impact and enforcement of the BBC Licence Fee – it is an outrageous imposition on the poorest in our society. An edited version of my letter below was printed in the Spectator some weeks ago:
Martin Vander Weyer (Spectator, 22/1/22) well describes the BBC licence fee as a “stealth-tax irritation”. I can agree. Although I object to subsidising the BBC’s asinine political views, that is a minor irritation, and I can easily afford the financial cost. However, there are many in our society to whom £159 is a significant sum. Lone parents, the unemployed, and those in debt and attempting to pay off loans – all must pay the regressive telly tax whether they use the BBC or not. The licence fee thus acts as a protection racket imposed on the poorest in our land, and enforced, incredibly, by the criminal law. At the very least this Government should remove BBC licence fee enforcement from the criminal justice system: the Magistrates Association has long pleaded for this (their courts are clogged with licence fee cases). The vast majority of those prosecuted are women, often single parents, financially vulnerable and trapped at home when the Capita enforcers call. And as 30% of all female criminal conviction are for licence fee “evasion”, the Government would see a dramatic fall in the crime rate.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
2 years ago
Reply to  peter lucey

this site is fascinating – http://www.bbctvlicence.com/
From the beginning of 2006, I decided not to renew my television licence. Click to view letters from 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Stay on this page for letters in 2021″.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

Excellent work, and an invaluable primary source, thank you!
Interesting to see that Gauleiter/ Enforcement Officer John Hales stuck at it for ten years! Unlike the others.

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

Very good. Wouldn’t it be great if someone organised a national TV licence strike in protest. Do you think the BBC would cover it on the news?

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

Someone needs to sue them for harrassment.

hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago

I just do not want to be hostage to a Licence fee anymore. Freedom of choice must rule OK. The BBC has been played and drained by more family dynasties than Dallas. But oh boy can you imagine the golden good-byes and the legacy of that massive pension lake.
It`s a swamp of over paid, over educated left wing liberal elitist guardianista, and has-been-hangers-on like the creature Lineker.
ps by the way Basil Brush could front Match of the Day with no adverse effect on viewing figures…actually they would probably go up!

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  hugh bennett

Brilliant! I used to love Basil Brush and “Mister Derek”. Basil Brush would never have flown a helicopter over Cliff Richard’s house. Dirty poop-mongers!

William Shaw
William Shaw
2 years ago

The BBC is nothing more than an institution comprised of condescending left wing pseudo-intellectuals who imagine themselves to be members of an all-knowing, superior, metropolitan social elite. A group that engages in cynical, pro-EU, anti-British rhetoric and prides itself on running down the country, its government and its institutions at every opportunity.

Last edited 2 years ago by William Shaw
Albireo Double
Albireo Double
2 years ago

I too miss the BBC dreadfully for what it was in my youth. But that is not the same thing as the BBC that exists now. The current BBC is no more than a megaphone for our sad, self- loathing, obsolete elite class.

I agree with much in this article, but it fails to mention the only thing that really matters, which is that the BBC has become completely politicised and has a overt and obvious political agenda, which it pursues ruthlessly. That will ensure its undoing, and that is what is happening now.

The people in the BBC who have steered it in this direction and continue to do so, by the way, bear responsibility for the outcome. Nobody else does.

Last edited 2 years ago by Albireo Double
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago

I’d be interested to hear a defence of the BBC. I’ve given up on them and genuinely don’t understand the value of a public sector broadcaster. Why do need one, what are its advantages?

That they once produced good light, and serious, entertainment is irrelevant in a world now awash with it. Even if we pretend they’re unbiased, the quality of news reporting is no better than any of the others (I find Al Jazeera as good as any).

I understand the world service might be a valuable source of soft power, but after that what, really, are the arguments?

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Bollis
Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

They need to reinvent themselves.
Perhaps as a global media giant like Netflix, and charge worldwide, but free for UK citizens. God knows we need a tech giant originating out of Europe. They and ITV between them have started Britbox, but it’s too small scale and parochial. Think big, like the Americas and the Chinese.

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

I cannot comprehend why the BBC with its international brand profile has been unable to develop as a global media channel. Does providing a streaming service require massive investment in hardware infrastructure? Surely, BBC iPlayer would lend itself to subscriptions with UK registered subscribers paying a lower (zero) rate.
But the BBC prefers to operate as a partner with Amazon and Netflix.
We are but 60 million in this country. The global audience is massive in comparison.

Jaden Johnson
Jaden Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Carr

Does providing a streaming service require massive investment in hardware infrastructure?

No, but acquiring rights to the software / content does. The BBC and other UK free to air broadcasters are prevented by law (2003 Communications Act) from acquiring or controlling the right to exploit the programmes they commission beyond the primary UK broadcast. (It’s more complex than that, but that’s the essence.) They could pay for those rights but then they’re in competition with Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Apple etc. and they simply don’t have the money to win. The consequence of the Act was to enrich a whole army of independent producers (many of whom had been trained by and worked for the BBC) who could sell their programmes to the highest bidder (Netflix etc.) and limit the BBC’s capacity to launch and build a global service.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jaden Johnson
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Too late for that. They needed to do that about 5 years ago before the big guys were established.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

The BBC has always been, as the article suggests, a strong supporter of the Establishment. But the Establishment is wandering off in some very strange directions, drawing the BBC along with it.
I can see the viability of an impartial public news service, but the ‘entertainment’ service is dying on its feet, and the education aspects long gone.
The BBC should be told that there will be no more license fee funding after the end of the current Royal Charter. It has until then to reorganise itself and sort out its finances. Otherwise it will hang on, living on past glories, like a modern day Miss Havisham.

Last edited 2 years ago by AC Harper
Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

I doubt the BBC will change until it has to beg for its supper. Remove the TV licence fee and replace it with pay per view and free for over 75s. As the article says, under 30s don’t care; even if they are the BBC target market. The left are well provided for by The Guardian, diminished in print but alive and well digitally. Not all the Beeb is bad, if Channel 4, Sky and ITV commercials are to be heeded every household contains a hugely disproportionate number of gay, black and mixed race with a feeble low IQ old white grandparent grinning in the corner. Starting with the woke BBC is only a small step. Next, OFSTED and the universities.

Bill W
Bill W
2 years ago

I have been sceptical about the BBC ever since I was old enough to watch its news and current affairs output which was when we returned to the UK in the 60s. Even as a child I detected a huge whiff of bias and inconsistency in its output. It only got worse.

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 years ago
Reply to  Bill W

In 1966, following UDI in Rhodesia, BBC TV filmed black office workers snoozing at lunchtime on the lawns in Cecil Square in the centre of Salisbury and reported this as a massacre of black people by the Ian Smith régime. Another BBC TV team threw half-crown pieces (worth a lot of money in those days) into dustbins and filmed little black kids frantically scrabbling heads-down to retrieve them. Their subsequent report was about starving kids in rebel Rhodesia.
Post-WW2 BBC has long had form in the bias/misreporting department!

Robin Noble
Robin Noble
2 years ago

At the advent of broadcasting the presenters, respecting their audience either talked up to them or treated them as equals. Presents, especially on the BBC talk down to their listeners, it’s no longer about education, just indoctrination.
There was a programme on radio 4 last week about the history of Wales, with absolutely no balance and typical of the biased reporting for which the beeb in now famous.
I would just keep Radio 3, although that’s changing for the worse.

mike otter
mike otter
2 years ago

BBC, used to be Auntie, now its Anti: anti British, anti Semitic, anti Business, anti Open Society….its change that killed these a**eholes, and its their change. They failed to adapt and the millions of usn that regarded it fondly up to about 2001 despite its middle class bias now want it closed down asap.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

The Morecambe And Wise Christmas Special of 1977, broadcast on the evening of Christmas Day, was watched by 28 million people. (Should have phrased it as nearly 30 million). Half the country, in other words.
Perhaps, at the time, in London, behind heavy curtains and tall windows, the ambassadors of Iran, the Soviet Union and Saudi also watched it with their families? With their, say, teenage or university-age children visiting? Unless there was something even more entertaining on the two other channels.
Probably the ambassador of Iran and his family watched it, I guess. While the going was still good in 1977, you see.
And maybe the Russian ambassador and his family did watch it.

“They would make good Russians, these two guys. Crazy, but good.” I imagine the main man saying to himself.

Comic sketches were delivered up for the big screen, back then. For the big old cathode ray tube television that the family and friends gathered round.
They say they haven’t gone away, the comic sketches – but they are viewed on tiny screens now, chiefly alone. The equivalent of drawing heavy curtains around oneself, the experience of watching today. But no ambassador of some benighted country is going to stumble upon such “uplift”.

The clowning is now only performed by a handful of bumbling politicians. They and only they are game. Think back to Boris and his Peppa Pig hilarity. But they are not exponents of the art.
Could you imagine the busy and wrought-with-concern environmentalists joining in the fun of a Saturday night’s “uplift”? Today? (If you can find a Saturday night’s uplift, mind you. There are millions of frowning-with-passionate-zeal environmentalists).

The business of laughs in the 2020s is out the window. You know, laughs for laughing’s sake.
Morecambe and Wise’s bed scene skits (the two sharing a bed, Eric Morecambe smoking a pipe), in which they share a bed, may well have caused a lot of pre-broadcast discussion and preparation. Well, I don’t know. But when television broadcasts went to colour, things turned a little more serious and real. But such situation comedy like that – well, it’s just not on, anymore, you know.

Yet when you go back even further, when old Laurel and Hardy shared a bed in their shorts and feature-lengths on several occasions (probably inspiring the Morecambe and Wise offerings), nobody had said nothin’.
And that was that! And people saw the joke. They got a laugh.
And now the world has gone to rot.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dustshoe Richinrut
Alexander D Macmillan
Alexander D Macmillan
2 years ago

I lived in East Africa between 1966 and 1970 and there were major political crises in all three countries, Kenya Uganda and Tanzania. The BBC was the only reliable source of information. People would gather around short wave radios in the evening, Big Ben would bong out into the African night and the reassuring words would follow in a masculine RP voice “This is the BBC World Service …” We would get the truth and we would be reassured that back home there was clarity, stability and order. That was then.

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago

Just read the Anita Singh TV review in the Daily Telegraph. It’s of Louis Theroux’s latest rubbish. Like Theroux’s offering, Singh’s review is completely rooted in Marxist cultural analysis. How did this happen?

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago

Very excellent article, thank you. I knew very little of that.
But the Beeb has lost the plot; under different ownership and made audience responsive and with clever management, maybe it could survive.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
2 years ago

When I first went to the UK, I answered the door to a bloke wanting to know if I had a TV license. I thought he was playing a prank and shut the door.
My peer-reviewed gut feeling is that more records are titled than entitled.

Last edited 2 years ago by Tony Taylor
Raymond Inauen
Raymond Inauen
2 years ago

In the hopes off pleasing everyone, sorry appeasing everyone, the end result is nobody is pleased or appeased. It’s an old cliche but it’s a lesson that seems to be forgotten over and over again.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Raymond Inauen

Remember the BBC charter is not to “please” people but to “educate and inform”. Its has done neither of these things well for a long time.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Barton
Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
2 years ago

So in the autumn of 1922 the six largest firms, led by Marconi, formed a monopoly, authorised by the General Post Office and funded by a 10-shilling radio licence fee.

So, the BBC was created by a conspiracy between corporations and the gubmint.
I had No Idea!

William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago

Ten shillings for a licence was no laughing matter in 1922. It would have been more than a day’s wages for most people.

peter lucey
peter lucey
2 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

That is a good point. Even today ÂŁ159 is a sizable sum to those less fortunate. And it must be paid to the BBC if you want to watch any broadcast TV, from any provider.

Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago

I think BBC TV has brought about its own death knell with Dramas that have limited audiences – high on political correctness and director/producer ego – but low on public appeal, and their repetitive News programmes have no bite. In fact I watch RT News more than I watch BBC News.
However I would be lost without Worldservice, Radio 4 and Radio 3. I put Worldservice first because – for a world audience – it is less biased than Radio 4 and its documentaries are more informative and thought provoking. I would pay for radio not to have adverts

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  Iris C

World Service has “become unlistenable” (sic) in the last 5 years

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

It used to be a laugh, carefree, yet serious and responsible when necessary: like Corporal Jones.
Now it’s just Corporate Drones.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
2 years ago

Excellent article! Marconi angle very insightful too.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago

A thoughtful piece – and “bang on the money”

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
2 years ago

Interesting history and the end of the whole technology of broadcasting must be nigh. I suspect the subscription model can work for news, if it is low enough, but entertainment will end up on a pay per view basis as viewers find that everything they want to watch is so dispersed among providers that they get a poor return from a subscription. Just not encouraged by the quality of alternative output. Lets hope young viewers are willing to seek out well informed news.

Stephen Spurdon
Stephen Spurdon
2 years ago

A contribution from Dominic Sandbrook is always welcome, him being both informative and entertaining – just like John Reith’s original aspiration for the BBC.
He also has the fortunate habit of opening up a discussion, rather than closing it down.
The idea that the BBC has gone from objective, factual programming/news to something else is an illusion. All it has ever done is to represent the world-view of those in control – whether Reith ‘inform and entertain’, Birt ‘mission to explain’ or d**e ‘hideously white’.
The problem with the BBC is the same as the other major state institutions – health and education; to provide for all means that payment is compulsory to all.
And yet, in all three instances we have varied but also some good outcomes.
Focusing on the BBC, it is fairly obvious that the licence fee is a double-edged sword. While the ‘guaranteed income’ ensures output, it may also induce complacency. The alternative funding models – advertising and subscription – also have their up and down sides.
As Sandbrook indicates, the BBC is challenged to provide public services on all available platforms – radio, TV and now internet. The scope of its activities are determined by agreement with Government and enacted in the form of a Royal Charter.
This brings us to the proposition that it is spreading itself too thinly or, by being so comprehensive is squeezing out space for commercial operations to innovate.
BBC ‘news’ is – with the notable exception of ‘Outside Source’ – now a place where comment is conflated with a highly selected set of ‘information’. However, the BBC still sometines excels in documentary output, with strands such as ‘Storyville’.
So, it is a ‘mixed bag’.
The current government has indicated that the BBC Licence fee is on its last legs. That may not mean its demise as a future government may decide otherwise. But, if the BBC was to continue in its present form and hence need an ever-growing income to meet its output this would imply an ever-increasing licence fee or increased subsidy from general taxation.
A form of ‘solution’ to this problem may be to abolish the licence fee and fund a slimmed-down basic service through general taxation – perhaps just BBC 1 and 2 TV channels, with radio restricted to just Radio 4 and some regional stations. The remainder of its services would be available via subscription to iPlayer.
An alternative ‘final solution’ would be to abolish the BBC. While this might appeal to some, it would have the effect of reducing choice. And that may go against the interest of the consumer.

Cat Fan
Cat Fan
2 years ago

Ah, the. BBC! When I was growing up it was a source of great entertainment; Grange Hill, Blue Peter (OK, sometimes BP was a bit boring) and The Really Wild Show. Neighbours coming on signaling that dinner was nearly ready. It also provided a great little program, Newsround, which gave a version of the top stories in a format understandable to children and only lasted 5 or so minutes.
As I got older I switched to BBC2 for the documentaries like Horizon and the Friday night comedy selections. I enjoyed watching Question Time. Christmas specials were always good. New Year’s Eve meant Jools Holland.
The seasons turned on the sports broadcasting, Wimbledon, The Grand National, test cricket, the rugby. Not to mention Formula 1.
I would say for much of my life a lot of the conversations at school or work involved talking about something we had seen on the BBC the night or weekend before.
Do I sound a bit ‘jumpers for goalposts’?

Yvonne Aston
Yvonne Aston
2 years ago

The BBC was always supposed to be non political and non partisan. Well if you believe that of today’s BBC you obviously believe in the tooth fairy and Father Christmas. The BBC pushes a leftist view, a populist approach to politics plus, where are the good dramas? Where are the excellent story lines, the open ended discussions moderated by a real moderator not just a stooge to enable a particular viewpoint to be elevated during the discussion. ITV and its various offspring have overtaken the BBC in the quality of most programmes but we don’t pay a levy to watch their offerings. The BEEB needs to stand on its own merits. It sells many of its better programmes abroad and could generate a lot more income than it does. Let’s do away with the fine imposed for watching the BBC and make this station pay its own way. Fine? Yes, as it is a criminal offence not to pay the licence fee.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago

The best think about the woke fascists of the Bolshevik Broadcasting Co-operative is Radio 4 Extra and old thrillers such as Paul Temple, The Toff, and Agatha Christie, to remind one of the Britain that they have helped destroy…

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

I worked for the BBC in White City for six months as a contractor, and I do have a fondness for the place. One thing I recall is that the canteen, which always served excellent food, did curry for lunch on Wednesdays which was brought in from an Indian restaurant elsewhere, as a consequence of which the BBC had to charge its employees slightly more than it did for the food made in-house.

The difference in price, hilariously, was six pence, something that I am sure I would never have noticed at all were it not for the fact that it kept being apologised for.

Anyway, the above article is good, but misses a crucial point that the BBC may well be a national institution, but it does succeed on the world stage too. Top Gear and CBeebies, I understand, bring in revenue from global sales, and while the existing news and current affairs programmes are hopelessly skewed by their devotion to supporting the UK’s liberal-left establishment, it is clear to me that they have the makings of a proper globalised rolling news operation, one that will be much the better once it is released from its domestic political obligations.

The world service is of course the first ever global broadcasting operation and whatever else happens, I devoutly hope it will keep going.

Last edited 2 years ago by John Riordan
Andrew Mildinhall
Andrew Mildinhall
2 years ago

Surely the matter is simple. What is the BBC for? Surely not to be merely a state sponsored version of commercial broadcasters. At the moment if asked what the BBC does well and isn’t done by anyone else I’d say Radio 3 and 4 and World Service. Others may add in other BbC radio stations. I’d struggle to think of much on TV. There’s David Attenborough of course but other channels do similar things. To be fair the BBC doesn’t have as much dross but that’s hardly a reason for its existence. Other channels do the news and current affairs at least as well. Again it does some great drama but so do others. For me the great joy of watching BBC drama is the lack of adverts. Again not the greatest justification for it. Perhaps it’s about producing high quality programmes which are not dependent on ratings and viewing figures to justify them. Essentially doing what the others do not

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago

I’ve read through these comments and I don’t think there’s a single one defending the BBC. If there is, it’s swamped by fierce criticism by many people like me who have been lifelong supporters of the BBC and now feel insulted and betrayed. If you’re like me, you’re not going to take this lying down.
If this organisation had any collective brain, they would realise this is not the time to go round making enemies. They’re losing the battle to stay relevant in a fast changing media and technological world as it is. The fact that I cannot – as a licence payer (still – just) – receive BBC services when I am travelling around. This is a trivial technical problem to solve these days and they have spent 10 years not solving it.
It needs to be split up. There are still a few parts I might still voluntarily fund. But that’s no more than 10% these days and I really, really don’t like the remaining 90% and wish to exercise my rights as a consumer to stop funding it. We should be allowed to do so. If the BBC as are good as they think they are, they will have nothing to fear. It’s not like they’ll be reading these comments and paying any attention to them …

James Chater
James Chater
2 years ago

An honest piece, written in good faith; free of the usual, half-expected BBC-phobia, thankfully.
But of course the BBC brand/s will survive…

Claire Jones
Claire Jones
2 years ago

I enjoyed this article partly because I had heard some of the story on a recent Rest is History podcast episode about 1922 and partly, because I was aware of the story of the beginnings of the BBC having lived not far from Writtle for many years.
The BBC has annoyed people for most of my life and it’s fascinating how that irritation and anger has changed over the years – indeed Prof Sandbrook has written about it many times. Whether its dramas and comedies caused outrage in the 1960’s and 1970’s or its news coverage showed bias against a group (left, right, women or whoever) or its documentaries failed to challenge enough or challenged too much or its competitions for frankly pitiful prizes were a sham. And of course, its funding model through a licence fee. We have spent decades moaning about something which somehow just keeps going.
I actually do not think enough research has gone into the reach of the BBC vs its competitors. The received wisdom is the likes of Amazon Prime and Netflix are busy putting the nails in the BBC’s coffin. But are they? Recently, Netflix had to admit that some of the most popular shows streamed on its service were content from the BBC. And who was watching? That very 18-30 group that never watch the BBC. Let’s see a more forensic, balanced view of who is watching and listening to what in the UK (and the rest of the world for that matter).
And I don’t agree with Prof Sandbrook’s assertion that the BBC is only designed for a world of TV sets and radios. There are some examples where the BBC not only entered the 21st century, it either broke new ground or took advantage of the new world of the internet and streaming.
Every time we think the BBC is going to wither, it somehow does something that helps it survive (and at the same time annoys some group or other). Take BBC iPlayer – invented in 2007, it instantly became popular. So popular the likes of Sky complained bitterly that the BBC had an unfair advantage. A planned service of combined channels’ content including the BBC and ITV had to be scrapped. And we had the bizarre rule that the BBC could only share programmes for a month after broadcast. I don’t hear the same calls for Amazon, Netflix and Disney to be shackled. But it is fascinating that these online services bear a remarkable similarity to iPlayer – come on Apple and Amazon with all your supposed advantage where’s your ground breaking new service?
Podcasts are hugely popular at the moment – I know the BBC didn’t invent the podcast. Prof Sandbrook and his colleague, Tom Holland have produced a brilliant podcast, The Rest is History. I love what both of them have done and I love being a member of the Rest Is History Club. But go look at the current chart of podcasts in the UK and its littered with BBC content. And at number 1 on 14 February 2022 – Global News by the BBC World Service. Some podcasts have become huge hits by accident – many of my American friends listen to Americast because of its approach to reporting American politics. Praise be that it doesn’t appear that the moaners have got to influence any of the BBC’s content – yet.
When I read debates about the BBC at the moment, it’s a very narrow view of what the BBC does. This article falls into that trap – I really don’t care about Dr Who, or Strictly but as regards Grandstand, it is interesting that both rugby union and cricket have recently discovered terrestrial TV does wonders for the popularity of a sport. I did enjoy the outrage when it became clear that the Discovery Channel had the rights to last year’s Olympics and the BBC couldn’t do what it had done with its TV and web services in 2012 and 2016. In 2016, every sport in the Olympic Games was shown live somewhere on the BBC’s services. Meanwhile, my chums in the US, were moaning that they had to wait until the US TV channels showed the men’s 100m at prime time (hours after Usain Bolt had won) so they could get the best advertising revenue.
As for drama, come on, Prof Sandbrook, you seem to have missed the Jed Mercurio drama fest of the past few years. The shared experience of Line of Duty and Bodyguard – Monday’s in the office were all about talking through the storylines, maddening as many of them were (sometimes whispering because some were yet to watch it on iPlayer). 
The range of the BBC’s radio, TV and web services is huge and I think that research into understanding its real reach is a really important part of understanding its future. Sometimes in our haste to state what we don’t watch on the BBC, I think we forget what we actually do. I wonder how the UK’s place in the world would change if we reduced the BBC to a couple of TV channels and Radio 4?
One of the areas of debate is about news. I actually, read The Times, The Guardian, the BBC News website and the likes of Unherd because I want several lenses on the news. I watch Channel 4 and BBC News. I listen to various podcasts – some from the BBC, some from providers around the world. And I listen to the radio – BBC Radio Five Live and LBC. It has never been the case that one news service could provide that Holy Grail of completely balanced news. And these days, I’m not sure we collectively want balance. We seem to want news that agrees with our argument. But even in the past, we shackled news providers to make sure the right story came out – reporting on the Falklands War or D notices anyone? 
But I do care about access – whether it’s local or national radio or local TV or the BBC doing its stuff for kids learning at home during the pandemic or broadcasts from the government during times of crisis, no one had to think about who has access because they could rely on all but a very few households having a TV or radio. Whatever funding solution we abandon the TV licence for, needs to make sure we provide for everyone not just those that happen to have decent broadband or mobile signals.
And maybe, if we just let the BBC off the leash (or Tim Davie just held his nerve and let his team off the leash more) and were rather more critical in our understanding of and assessment of, the BBC and the rest of the TV, radio and streaming services, the BBC would be still with us and we might just see some very different services and programming appear in the coming years.

David Woolley
David Woolley
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire Jones

A very good post indeed

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
2 years ago

Lauritz Melchior started out as a ‘baritone’ but eventually, for the greater part of his life, settled into being a ‘Heldentenor’.

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
2 years ago

Sad but accurate. In this house we didn’t know about the BBC’s origins with electronics giants like Marconi. It’s rather a neat illustration of why we stick with Capitalism. However imperfect it may be, it’s still the best way to add value to human endeavour.

Last edited 2 years ago by Deb Grant
Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
2 years ago

I lived in England for most of the 70s and my memories of the BBC are of a public service that produced quality output.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
2 years ago

At the moment it looks very dull, without Gardeners’ World on a Friday evening.

Ian May
Ian May
1 year ago

I don’t watch much TV. It’s always been more of a last resort thing for me; something I do when I’ve run out of other things to do.I watch a little more lately as I don’t go out so often in the evenings, but even so most evenings are spent reading or listening to music.
I don’t watch TV news as I prefer to read news and pick out detailed articles on what I am interested in, rather than the visual tabloid version that TV provides.
I do find that the BBC still produces some excellent documentaries and they always seem to do Royal events and such like very well. I watch BBC 2 and BBC 4 when I do tune in.
I use the website sometimes and also listen to some of their podcasts.
Most of my watching is ‘on demand’ these days rather than live TV, and that goes for pretty much everything I watch not just BBC.
I still don’t think the licence fee is bad value, considering that cable TV can easily be north of £100 a month, and a percentage of the output is old BBC stuff anyway!
As for the bias, I recall the last Labour administration complaining that the BBC was a Tory mouthpiece. Perhaps it’s good that the BBC has the freedom to criticise the Government of the day as they all mess up.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian May