Thursday, 16 July 2015

Shaking the BBC

Nathan and I are both exhausted. I've been utterly wiped out by a combination of jet-lag, many early starts and a tummy bug. I'm like a walking corpse!

It astonishes me to think that we were in Madrid less than twelve hours ago. It was lovely to walk through the streets of the city as it awoke. Early morning seems to be the only time in that particular city (at this time of year) when the climate is conducive to anything other than hiding in air-conditioned buildings or walking really slowly!

On our way to the airport from our wonderful hotel, we went around two sides of a huge park, which was filled to the rafters with joggers, all taking advantage of the lower temperature.

The flight was pretty good, by flight standards, which makes me think that the problems we encountered on our way out weren't simply the result of Ryanair being a dreadful airline, and more the combination of Ryanair and Stansted Airport just not working as bed fellows. I think the problem is that both companies (if we can call an airport a company) put money before the needs and desires of their customers. The powers that be at Stansted, for example, have now made it impossible to pick someone up from the airport without paying for parking. There's no free pick up zone. There used to be. In fact, there were plenty. This decision, of course, has had a negative impact on local people (like my parents) who sometimes want to use the train station at Stansted to go to London or Cambridge. Before it became impossible to access, I'd often go to Stansted train station when I was visiting my parents. Not any more. For the money they spend in parking to pick me up, I might as well get a taxi to Thaxted. Or a taxited as you might call it!

As I parked the car back in Highgate this afternoon, I passed two little Asian girls in the street who were walking home from school. They were teaching their Dad a song they'd learned: "Goodbye-ee, goodbye-ee, wipe a tear, baby dear, from your eye-ee..." What a charming song to hear two little girls singing, not just because it knocks 1 Direction songs out of the water in terms of melody and sentiment, but also because it implies that school kids are learning about the First World War, which I think is vital in an era where violence is all too often glamourised or at least misunderstood by young people.

I read today that the beloved BBC is about to be subjected to some sort of parliamentary review. I've said it many times: I would go to the grave defending the rights of the BBC. It is a vital British, nay world, institution, which is envied everywhere. It's therefore vital that it remains independent from any government control or intervention before we find ourselves aping the misery of Italy, where telly is absolutely dreadful, largely because most of it is controlled by Berlusconi.

With all this in mind, I find it really painful to admit that I feel the BBC IS in need of a major shake up at the moment. I think too many people within the organisation are either arrogant, or too frightened to be daring. There are too many people in middle management positions creating too many layers of bureaucracy. When you govern by committee, everyone ends up playing it safe: the programmes which get made are everyone's second choice. Everyone is too busy trying to track down projects which might lead to high ratings. Second seasons of rubbish show are commissioned, well, because "better the devil you know..." The organisation IS in a mess. Independent production companies are thinking twice before taking their ideas there because it can take months for the BBC to make a decision, or even set up a meeting. Meanwhile, in some quarters of the organisation there still exists a "we're at the BBC and we've got jobs for life" mentality which can promote a climate of deep laziness. Worse than this, staff become jaded. Live wires with brilliant ideas get bored of constantly coming up against red tape, and I've witnessed so many brilliant, beautiful minds, leaving the BBC because they're simply bored of trying any more.

So there's the dilemma: the BBC in my view does need a shake up. It needs to understand why it exists, and huge numbers of staff without creative or practical skills, unfortunately need to lose their jobs. The quality and originality of its output needs to improve and it needs to be braver and less obsessed with ratings. But I don't want a government to tell them that!

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