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Much like Doctor Who’s Tardis

Lawrence Lettice on the ongoing travails affecting his former long-term employer, The Beeb

Not so long ago, former BBC Director General Lord Tony Hall decided to finally throw the towel in! Or more politely, he scarpered, just as the political barbarians were about to breach the outer wall of Broadcasting House.

Now it seems that his successor, Tim Davie, is also feeling the burning heat of criticism pointing squarely in his direction. For a time, he must have felt like the last man standing alone at the Alamo!

With recent events concerning the BBC never off the, erm, BBC news. The legitimacy and relevance of the TV Licence Fee, and the future of the Corporation itself, is come increasingly under threat.

Now there’s talk of the yearly licence fee escalating upwards towards £170, enough to make any government Culture secretary (not forgetting the impoverished pensioners) chuck their 50-inch telly’s out of the window.

I pondered upon the future and status of the BBC (once upon a time, I was a former employee, before they gently showed me the door) in a chapter of my published BBC memoir.

For example, I readily recall a slightly similar scenario occurring back in the mid 1980’s, when Maggie Thatcher let it be known that she viewed the BBC, with about as much warmth and fondness as the Miners Union!

However, as we all well know, the broadcasting playing field is a vastly different arena these days – even more so than it was some 10 years ago. The steady rise of Netflix etc, has led to the general viewing public having a far more jaundiced view of the Beeb and all that it provides. The furore over the swift removal of free licences for the over seventy-fives, which were once free.

It’s rapidly becoming apparent that the public’s affection for the BBC has slightly soured, like a once passionate romance that has over time slipped into dull familiarity. Which brings us to the Gary Lineker controversy of a few months back

Regardless of whether you think his Twitter comments were bang on the money (all £1.35m of it) or bang out of order, it has certainly stired up a fiery hornet’s nest.

It was also later revealed that Mr Lineker believed he had a ‘special arrangement’ with the Corporation over his social media outlets; allowing him to say whatever was on his mind.

Well, if it’s ok for him to spout about political issues, is it now not okay for “Mr Ordinary Joe BBC Employee” to do the same? Speaking as a former employee myself, I can well imagine that the staff could be feeling a little disturbed and disillusioned that the impartiality rules (once sacrosanct) are now being stretched and pulled apart (like the threads of an ancient parchment) to suit the needs of the select few.

Of course, back in my day, (that makes me sound as if I am tottering into antiquity!) official staff members far outnumbered freelance/contractors. A fact that I believe has gone through a role reversal in recent years.

I remember an old colleague of mine, getting regularly hot under the collar about the exorbitant salary given to the late Sir Terry Wogan. He would rant and rave that the housewives’ favourite was getting paid thousands for (and I quote) “Sitting on his fat *******arse! While I’m knocking my ******* pan in every day for ****all!!” Oh dear, what can you say?

No doubt he would have been apoplectic to learn what Mr Lineker (and his pals) are currently creaming in from the UK’s licence payers.

You might also be surprised to learn that not every BBC employee owned a television licence. A few of my former Beeb colleagues point blankly refused to purchase a TV, and equally firmly & stubbornly, refused to pay a licence fee! Make out of that what you will.

Of course, during my time as an employee, there was no such thing as social media. If you wanted to discuss, debate, moan, groan or complain about issues of all types (or have a right expletive fuelled verbal go at your boss!) you couldn’t go online to do it. Along with your chums, you just headed for the nearest hostelry (in our case the former Beau Brummell in Hanover Street) and enjoyed a right old lager fuelled rant about every subject under the sun!

So, with yet another crisis hovering over the BBC, the current DG in tenure, finds himself assailed from all comers. Simultaneously batting away any form of external interference, inevitably emanating from the current occupant of 10 Downing Street. Or is it more complex than that?

In this case, you could throw corrosive social media and the notion of free speech into the blend. Yet, I have the strong feeling that with the way things are shaping up, it’s not going to end well.

Not so much keep watching the screen, but just keep watching this space, as the BBC as we once knew it, could very well vanish into the stratosphere, much like Doctor Who’s Tardis! ■


Someone’s in a hurry to get out

A few of my former Beeb colleagues point blankly refused to purchase a TV, or pay the licence fee!



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