Sunday, 8 July 2012

Auntie has got her man; now she needs some new ideas.

After a selection process even more turgid than the one on The Voice the BBC has finally got a new Director General. His name is George Entwistle and he is currently the corporation’s ‘Head of Vision’, if you’ve never heard of him don’t worry, neither has anyone else.

Lord Patten, Chair of the BBC Trust described him as ‘a creative leader for a creative organisation’. The added that the new DG was ‘passionate about the BBC and committed to its public service ethos,’ needless to say he is a man with a ‘vision’ for harnessing ‘the creativity and commitment of its staff to continue to serve audiences in ever more innovative ways.’

The ‘vision’ thing is hardly a surprise in someone who is the titular head of that nebulous quantity. All the rest though sounds like something of a tall order for one man to carry off.

In his first public statement after being appointed George Entwistle told the press he was ‘delighted that the Chairman and trustees have decided I’m the right person for the job’, then added ‘I love the BBC and it is a privilege to be asked to lead it into the next stage of its creative life.

Does that sound like a passionate innovator speaking? Not really, to me it sounded more like John Major reading a speech written for him by an automatic checkout on the occasion of being made secretary of his local golf club.

Perhaps I’m being unfair to George Entwistle; rising to the top of any organisation is a significant achievement. It’s just that my heart sank when I saw that after all the fuss and chatter of the selection process the BBC had settled, again, for a white man in a grey suit.

I don’t doubt him when he professes his love for the BBC or that Lord Patten is justified in lauding his creativity, but I also can’t shake off the feeling that a safe pair of hands are taking up the reins, at just the moment when that is the last thing the BBC needs. At a time when the idea of public service broadcasting is under threat like never before bold leadership is likely to be of more use than an incumbent who is adept at playing the bureaucratic game.

People refer to the BBC as ‘Auntie’ with varying degrees of exasperation. Like a maiden aunt the corporation has an ability to mix comfortable stoicism with flashes of brilliance, offset by a tendency to misjudge its attempts to be ‘with it’.

The new Director General needs to make the BBC more intimately engaged with the concerns of the moment, to hole up a mirror to the troubled and troubling country we are fast becoming. Too often the current output is more concerned with ticking boxes and avoiding risks than saying something meaningful about who and where we are at this moment.

To survive and thrive the BBC needs to be more awkward, to ask unsettling questions of the establishment and its own audience. That will only happen if it has at its helm a DG, the last such being Greg Dyke, who is able to ‘think outside the box.’ I don’t fancy Auntie’s chances of doing so under a man who looks like he’s just been unpacked from one.

Farewell to a cheerful anarchist.

Eric Sykes, comic, actor, writer and all round genius died this week at the age of 89. I have fond memories as a child of the 1970’s of laughing like a drain at the eponymous sitcom in which he starred alongside the later great Hattie Jacques.

Back then I had no idea that I was watching the work of a cheerful anarchist capable of finding surreally comic gold in everyday situations. By turning reality on its head without ever sinking to crudity or cruelty Eric Sykes managed to be more subversive than a whole regiment of today’s so called ‘edgy’ comics.

I don’t believe in heaven, but if such a place did exist I imagine there must have been laughter in its halls since the moment Eric Sykes arrived.

And another thing

The clever chaps at CERN have finally found the Higgs Boson, aka The God Particle, which makes me wonder what they’re going to do with their Large Hadron Collider now? Perhaps they could use it to look for something really elusive; Bob Diamond’s conscience.

Apparently the craze for American style ‘proms’ has finally got out of hand with helicopter parents hiring real helicopters to ferry their offspring to their big night in an arms race of one-upmanship. The cost is, needless to say, ruinous and I’d like to suggest a solution, maybe they should tell their demanding children that the lukewarm orange squash and meat paste sandwiches we had to be grateful for in our day are part of a 1980’s retro theme.

In his latest loopy pronouncement Education Secretary Michael Gove has accused school governors of being more interested in the status conferred by their position than doing good in the local community. How very different than the way our esteemed politicians behave. Mr Kettle, have you met Mr Pot? You two have got so much in common.

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