Saturday, November 22, 2008

The BBC doing what it does worst

The BBC Trust report on Editorial Standards and the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand affair would make a good little drama. Something for BBC Four, maybe.

The BBC has always been run by well-intentioned, clever, admirable people. They would probably have difficulty prospering in a commercial organisation; however they are ideally suited to the demands of a bureaucracy. At school you can imagine them organising societies while the cool kids were busy having ill-advised sex behind the cricket pavillion. Dashing they are not. Dash is not called for.

Ever since I've had anything to do with the BBC, its executives have seemed to have a kind of crush on the cool kids. Their role as custodians of the biggest train set in media and entertainment has provided them with the chance to play with those same cool kids. This would never have happened otherwise.

The problem with the cool kids is that they soon want you to prove your cool by letting them drink your dad's Scotch or borrow his car. If you balk, you're not cool. This is particularly difficult to take because you know they're right. You're not cool. You used to run the Film Soc.

The blow-by-blow of the Brand/Ross affair tells the tale of a sequence of events in which nobody wanted to grasp the fizzing cartoon bomb of responsibility and tell the cool kids that what they did was half-baked, tasteless and only funny for those who were in the studio at the time. Instead responsibility was passed up the line in the hope that somebody would be prepared to be the wet blanket. And nobody wanted to do that where the cool kids were concerned.

Consequently somebody has to go in and bat for them. They can't build a defence on the grounds that these people are courageous, unconventional, ahead of their time, highly principled or even particularly funny. Of all the dumb reasons to lose your job, defending the cool kids is about the dumbest.


  1. Maybe the solution is that the BBC need to employ some quality control people who's professional interpretions and subsequent decisions are based on common sense, rather than on staying in the game of a spurious popularity contest.

    This doesn't automatically mean a polarisation to the extremes of the cool-uncool axis - except for the immature and week minded.

    I guess you actually do need people who are 'bureaucrats' in the traditional sense to do this. "The rules are the rules and that's it". Kinda like the BBC circa 1950 - 85 ?!

  2. forgive my 'weak' spelling.

  3. But wasn't' that supposed to be the role of the Head of Compliance for Radio 32,OP? This is the man who was described to me six months ago as 'completely useless' and who 'has no idea what he's doing'. The fact that the Head of Compliance thought the antics were 'very funny' illustrates David's point very well - that he just wants to play with the cool kids; ditto the fact that Mr Brand was allegedly spotted in Lesley Douglas' office, sitting on her knee.

  4. Radio 32. New digital station.Not.

  5. Yes agreed Clair, that was the role and still is - I was trying to say that the Beeb need to employ people who have good professional judgement and are not starry eyed. If the Corporation have the right roles but the wrong people in them - I hope they employ people with a different decision making criteria now.

    Some people actually don't care about being 'popular', only about being 'effective', I guess they're going to have to try and entice some of them back..

  6. It is well worth reading the rather hefty report, to which David links, in his excellent piece on the subject.

    There are some interesting aspects to this whole caboodle.
    The Brand programme attracted only two complaints before the Mail steamed in. Would anything have happened if the Mail had not picked up the story?
    Whose interest was the Mail serving in running this story as its front page lead?

    The producer of the 'show', and, the Head of BBC Compliance found the controversial parts of the show, either "funny" or "v. funny". It would be valuable to know if they still hold to that view today.

    The Head of Radio Two sent a one word answer from her Blackberry, when asked if it was ok to transmit the "funny/v. funny" parts. That one word was 'yes'.

    There are decisions, within the report, on another bizarre 'interaction' from Jonathan Ross on his tv show. It sometimes can bring sense to a situation when the words used verbally are reviewed in printed form. In this case, such a review does Ross no favours at all.

    In summary, would it have been asking too much for 'someone' to have made a judgement on the 'broadcast-ability' of these exchanges, based on simple human values, rather than considering whether they 'complied' with some self-scripted BBC set of 'values'?