Friday, 11 January 2013

The BBC And All That

The first time I watched TV was on Saturday, 29th April 1950.  A small number of us were gathered together by special invitation in the living room of our corner newsagent in front of his new very expensive TV set.  When the band struck up the national anthem, some of us stood so the rest felt obliged to.

It did seem odd to me, a Mr. Awkward teenager to do this in a domestic place when the band was just on screen, but these were the days when in a cinema at the end of the evening the anthem also would be played.  You had to be out fast because if stuck you would be at the back of the tram queue going home.

But it was the Cup Final, then an event which the media and the BBC had accorded being of the first importance in that the King was there, probably bored stiff, and sitting in an old garden chair in the Royal Box (been there done that rather later) watching Arsenal and Liverpool fight it out in the fullest sense of the term.

This was when my mistrust of TV was first born.  Having been to quite a few football matches in several stadia already it seemed that the relentlessly bossy commentator was mostly talking nonsense.  Things that were obvious he shouted at us, things that were not obvious or subtle were wholly lost to him.

Between then and the mid 1980’s not a lot of TV was watched and there were long periods when TV was just not there.  I can barely remember what was being screened apart from a very small number.  It is not surprising because having thumbed through a few old Radio Times for the period a lot of it was drivel and much of little interest. 

Sport was the main one. The rugby internationals were a must, mercifully mostly done by Bill Mclaren and the soccer that did find its way onto the screen.  For the soccer, the commentators were the usual again bossy superficial presenters in the way that characterised so much of BBC output.

Of the rest, there was a feeling that the news might be watched and some of the political programmes.  In the context of the questions arising about Jimmy Savile and the BBC, before he lurched onto the radio waves and screen we had Lord Boothby.

Amongst the many gruesome specimens offered to us by the BBC as people to be admired and listened to he was one of the foremost.  He was presented to us as a man of discernment and culture who might guide us in our thinking about higher things. 

When he fervently recommended the Red Army Choir and Dancers to us all, this made me suspect that he was a bit of a Red.  Rather later, I realised that there may have been other attractions. 

Boothby, now famously revealed, ran with the Kray Brothers East End gangsters, was provided with rent boys by them and cuckolded Harold Macmillan, the then Prime Minister.

He was just the man for the BBC to advise us on the ethics and morals of modern life at the time.  Another man favoured by the BBC as a potential leader of the Labour Party was someone called John Stonehouse, 1925 to 1988, see Wikipedia for his strange tale. 

In 1958, in company with a few others, I saw him talk in a private meeting and we concluded without disagreement that he was a “wrong ‘un”.  Quite how he then went through a spell of being a man of the future is baffling. 

But then we had Edward Heath presented to us a man of decision who could be trusted.  Harold Wilson, doing his latter day JB Priestley political tribute act was supposed to be the intellectual expert who really knew his economics.

That was the BBC and given its craven attitude to and unquestioning support for bossy exhibitionist arrogant shysters over decades the Savile business is simply par for the course only we now know a great deal nastier.

But we all paid our licence fees and many watched and believed.  In the 1950’s the Labour Party was almost all opposed to any commercial TV or choice of channels other than the BBC.  Later, there was strong Left Wing opposition to Sky and the much wider choice of channels.

Amongst the “what if’s” of UK media history is what might have happened if Lord Home had won the 1964 election and his government then opted for multi-channel competitive TV while scrapping the license fee for the BBC. 

But the BBC was largely responsible for scuppering Lord Home’s chances by running programmes which were not simply critical but mocking in a way that showed flagrant bias. 

It had become too big to fail.

1 comment:

  1. "That was the BBC and given its craven attitude to and unquestioning support for bossy exhibitionist arrogant shysters over decades the Savile business is simply par for the course only we now know a great deal nastier."

    Great post. Too many were taken in by the BBC. I was on the whole - or at least I assumed it was more well-intentioned than it ever was.