BBC, PC and Bar

richelieu  kipar.orgOver the holiday period when the presidential candidates are silenced and the bureaucrats are off to the beach, life is quiet.
The fiestas of Christmas are over, those of the New Year yet to come; the organisers buying their potent fireworks from local shops who display a notice banning their sale on the very cabinet containing the display – everything from rockets capable of a Mars mission to landmines in hessian bags.

Although this is the dry season and the grazing has started to dry out we have had rain in the afternoons – just when I had been thinking of going down to the pool – so in intervals between feeding poultry, sheep, horses and cattle I’ve been watching more television than usual.

Generally I listen to the BBC radio which I can access without difficulty, but for the Test Match, because of rights issues, I have to use a system which hides my IP address and have to go through the same rigmarole to watch BBC television.

It annoys me that I pay for this when I could be paying the BBC direct…but the BBC doesn’t seem to understand that it has an enormous potential audience – not just among expats, but among people wanting to learn English by the best possible method – listening to the language as it is used in all its variety.
If the IP address hiding companies can sort out the technology, why not the BBC?

The resulting close encounters with BBC television have led me to think that those running the joint have lost touch with what Reith announced were the duties, the responsibilities, of the organisation: to educate, inform and entertain.
Just tell me where Bargain Hunt or the Puppet Game Show fit in to any of these categories, let alone the ubiquitous Stephen Fry and the murderous Eastenders.

Those currently running the BBC appear to me to be much more motivated by lining their own pockets by resigning with a whopping severance package and then returning to the same job as a freelance on a tax fiddle than by providing a public service….they are the clones of their counterparts in commercial broadcasting.

And yet they like to dress themselves in the clothing of their predecessors….telling us that they provide ‘quality’ broadcasting.
Up to a point, Lord Copper: I still remember the hash they made of the Jubilee River Pageant….more like Three Men in a Boat without a bung.

How would anyone interested in quality manage to present to the public an overheated pseudo-historical hodgepodge like ‘The White Queen’?

Or that mountebank performance on ‘Byzantium’ where the presenter manages to reduce the impact on its world of the Arian heresy to an anecdote relating the demise of its protagonist while on the loo.

And for the introduction to ‘The High Art of the Low Countries’ we are given the high treat of the presenter cycling through a low lying landscape of multi coloured tulips with a background of windmills just to make it clear to us that this is all about Holland. Except it isn’t, as the presenter makes clear almost immediately.

I can never work out whether the BBC and all its works thinks we, the public, are terminally ignorant or whether it is they themselves who have been dumbed down by the system which produces them and they are paying us the compliment of placing us on their own level.

Still, I brightened up on seeing a programme called ‘Pride and Prejudice…Having a Ball’ which promised to present an historically accurate depiction of the ball at Netherfield.
Despite relentlessly jolly presenters popping in and out of doors like weathermen on speed it was interesting….the clothes, the food, the dances themselves, explained by experts in their respective fields.

And then…..

Among the dancers representing the guests was a chap of mixed race origin.

In every other aspect we had had accuracy, from the men’s ‘ready boys’ trousering to the china blancmange moulds….but this was a glaring anomaly.
A chap of mixed race would not have been among the guests.
This was supposed to be the provincial society of Regency England….not the society of revolutionary France where the father of the novelist Alexandre Dumas could become a general despite his origins as the son of a French colonial planter and his black slave woman.
Carelessness…or political correctness?

Probably the latter to judge by the advance publicity for the BBC’s forthcoming production of Dumas’ ‘The Three Musketeers’, where we are to be treated to women ‘with a real sense of their own destinies’….Milady de Winter, who ends up on the block?
Women ‘as powerful and impressive as the men’….Constance Bonacieux, poisoned in a convent?

Not content with this the series will touch on domestic terrorism (!) and slavery while to crown the whole misbegotten gallimaufry the boastful musketeer Porthos will be – wait for it – of mixed race, having been born in the Cour des Miracles – the Paris equivalent of the Seven Dials rookery in London.

Those responsible for putting this on the box need urgent assistance to remove their heads from their backsides.
‘The Three Musketeers’ is a classic adventure story…not a vehicle for ticking politically correct boxes.

I can remember a previous television serialisation of ‘The Three Musketeers’ – I think in the sixties – but above all I remember when the BBC was capable of producing a series that was an accurate depiction of the book from which it was taken.

Who can forget Alan Badel in the ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’?
I can see that face in the mirror yet.

If the BBC wishes to be politically correct, it should apply itself to the manifestations of discrimination and exclusion in our own time…the past is another country, and attempting to push our own preoccupations upon it can only further pervert the way in which we see it.

Or is it, as I suspect, that political correctness is used to plaster over the cracks in society, not to dig them out and repair the faults within.


37 thoughts on “BBC, PC and Bar”

  1. Shades of ‘Disgusted from Tunbridge Wells’ here.

    I haven’t seen any of the programmes you mention, so can’t comment. But I saw ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ and absolutely loved it. It had a lesbian, a murderess, a drunken, feckless lecturer/writer husband and his drunken, feckless lover, a pair of school kids having a baby, a widow and a widower in their 70s having it off (off-screen) before getting married and assorted local Yorkshire yokels to fill in the background.

    PC? Not on your Nellie. But well scripted with decent pauses for words to find their natural echo, beautifully acted, characters worth savouring, all with lovely landscape shots to set the whole thing off.

    Only the Beeb can do that. I’m happy to pay the licence fee for a show like that alone.

    1. I saw the first series and loved it….is this a further one?
      It succeeded – for me – in despite of the box ticking characters because their parts were beautifully written and acted.
      And if the BBC can do this…why not do more of it? Without the box ticking characters.

  2. I never watch historical (or indeed any other) drama as they are not historical. They are ‘entertainment,’ whatever that means? The documentaries are also more concerned with fancy pictures than telling the story. I saw a few minutes of Byzantium and went off to read a book.
    ‘Bargain Hunt’ I quite liked, but there are hundreds of similar persuasion, but it obviously sells worldwide, just like the vile ‘Eastenders.’ ‘Bread & Circus’s for the masses,’ is the order of the day. The BBC offers the best quality programmes of any when it tries, but PC and dumb pap that sell appears to be all available today.

    1. There does seem to be more emphasis on selling programmes and programme formulae than on turning out consistently good programming on its own channels.

      I get so fed up with the ever present presenter….as if the viewer is unable to hear the spoken word without the speaking head on the screen….and then what is said is so often so banal.
      I gave up on Byzantium too….

      And as for what they promise to do to ‘The three Musketeers’……

  3. Good God, my dear woman. I really must applaud you on presenting to me the finest blog post of 2013. No fiddling with wishy washy adjectives, clandestine piffle or stone throwing from afar. I really could continue to wax lyrically in regard to your wry humour, but one feels the need to once more encapsulate the blood in your words and read it over again. Please come to supper quite soon in order for me to enhance the enjoyment further. I shall serve fish and the general table wine will naturally be of a pleasurable vintage.

    1. Since I can no longer manage the stone thrown from afar I have to content myself with the rock dropped on the toe at short range.

      In respect of the fush supper par excellence I shall be checking Iberia’s rates in short order….

  4. Drama that fails to question our reality can only ever be a panacea for the masses. There are some good quality dramas being broadcast but far too many are one series wonders designed to appease the acquisitive who want to buy a nice DVD box set for a loved one come birthday or Christmas…

  5. I saw the publicity for the Three Musketeers when I was in the UK and let out a heavy sigh. I also raised my eyebrows in the series Merlin where the girl playing Guinevere is of mixed race. Historical accuracy has been replaced by PC entertainment. She’s a lovely girl, but Guinevere she is not.

    I don’t understand why they do it either. There are plenty of shows and series where non-white actors and actresses can take parts that are colourless (as it were). It just jars when you see an historical anomaly, and I tend to switch off.

    1. I can quite see why producers want to give prominent roles to non white actors and actresses that reflect their ability to act rather than what used to be regarded as the non whites’ ‘place’ as servants or curiosities but as you say there is plenty of opportunity to do just that.

  6. I find this an interesting post, Helen, and agree with a lot of it, specially the disgraceful way some of the top brass at the BBC go on and the way they’ve castrated the organisation.

    As for historical accuracy, I have given this subject a lot of thought because when I was writing my biography of Lewis Carroll I was constantly coming up against the question of imposing our present day preoccupations on the past. I found it a HUGE problem.

    There are two issues to grapple with – firstly, we don’t know what actually happened in the past anyway, only what people thought appropriate to record, PLUS what has happened to survive. That is going to skew any modern depiction of it big time.

    Secondly, attitudes that were absolutely common then can be so baffling to us now that we might completely miss what was going on. For instance, as part of my research I read a memoir by a doctor who tells how, in 1860, as a medical student, he went to the seaside with his friends and was horrified at a woman who was collecting for charity on the pier. He literally did not know what to say or do when she asked him to contribute and remembered the incident all his life.

    That’s it. He gives no further explanation, assuming his readers will laugh with him. Multiply that kind of small incident a hundredfold and it can be hard indeed to know what might have been really going on in a Victorian’s life. I think it’s even harder as you get back further, and there’s less surviving material about everyday life and you have to infer more and more, or know more and more obscure background.

    And on that topic, I actually wonder if it is impossible that there would have been a black or mixed race man in a grand country gathering of that period? I believe sometimes black servants acquired quite a privileged role, were considered a “curiosity” and shown off and not treated like ordinary servants. Or, the black person might have been someone of high note in their own African society who had been sent to England to live with an English family and learn Western ways.

    Hope you don’t mind this long comment. That issue is on my mind somewhat at the moment. And thanks for alerting me to the programme, which I managed to watch on BBC iplayer or whatever it’s called. I would have missed it otherwise.

    Happy New Year!

    1. And a happy New Year to you and your family!

      I was delighted to receive your comment, especially as the problem of accuracy is one with which you are dealing in your work on Lewis Carroll.

      How to know about the past? As you say we rely on what has survived and that has automatically a bias to the possessors of property and power to whom records were important – just think of the Minoan records!

      Chronicles record what is important to the chronicler….usually a representative of the property owning classes….and usually men.

      The spread first of printing and then of increased literacy broadens the pool of what is available….but it is still in many ways top down….

      As to whether a black or mixed race man would have participated in such a gathering as that at Netherfield, I feel that you can never say never with history, but in an era where there was still debate as to whether a slave was a chattel – though interestingly enough popular sentiment was in advance of the lawyers (as so often) in regarding it as impossible for someone to be a slave once he was on English soil – I would regard it as more than doubtful.
      And in the case of this programme it dealt peculiarly with the ball at Netherfield where had Austen introduced a person of mixed race it would certainly have been noted as such.

  7. Yes, I agree that Austen would have commented if there had been someone like that at Netherfield. Might have been because he was in the dance company they used, would be rather hard to exclude him because of his colour – ?

    1. I agree…it would be difficult…and this is largely the fault of the PC mentality.
      We seem to pussy foot round questions of race and colour – and it would certainly be illegal to advertise for an all white dance troupe – but how then do you meet the advertised aim of the programme – accuracy?

      I cannot help but feel that the PC mentality has fragilised debate – made discussion almost impossible, where it should have been possible to come to an agreement with a dance troupe on the grounds of dealing with an historical, not a current situation.

      Without watching the programme all over again I cannot be sure…but I don’t recall non white staff visible in the back up teams……those not on display, as it were….so why in the dance group who were representing the guests?

      I suspect that the answer is the PC shibboleth.

      I was young when there were notices advertising rooms to let…’no dogs, no blacks, no Irish’….I was working when laws against racial discrimination came in….but I think we have taken a wrong turning in concentrating on race and colour, handicap and gender when thinking of discrimination and how to overcome it.
      It would be more effective to think in terms of general deprivation and attack that on a wide front, starting with available affordable housing and decent education.

      But I also think it serves our masters better to divide and rule by using the PC vehicle.

  8. I watch very few BBC TV programmes nowadays, precisely because as you say they are so relentlessly dumbed down. In place of intelligent analysis, we get buffoons earnestly confiding empty platitudes to the camera as if they’re telling us the secret of existence. Utterly depressing.

  9. I loved the three Musketeers but I seems to remember when I saw it, it was in black and white, Hmmmmm what a give away!! Maybe I do not want to see it again and spoil first impressions.

    Hiding our IP address is not going to help too much with cricket as Sky has all the rights for International games so far as I know. Good job probably we cannot get it here as I would never get any work done!!
    Wishing you both all the very best for 2014. Diane

    1. I think you’re right about it being in black and white!
      I have to hide my IP address to get Test Match Special on the radio as someone – who I have no idea – owns the rights and it can only be broadcast in the U.K..
      It was O.K. when in France, Radio Four longwave reached down to the Loire Valley…but it doesn’t cross the Atlantic!
      I’m just making supper in the slow cooker as the Fifth Test starts this evening my time…and I have been given to understand by Higher Authority that if he sees one more salad leaf he will go doolally.

      Have a lovely year ahead…..I often wonder if you will manage to empty all those preserving jars in time for next autumn!

      1. Gave a lot of jars away for Christmas gifts in the UK but still a lot to get through before next year!! Problem is with giving them away I end up low on jars, they are soooooooo expensive to buy.

  10. The BBC have sold the programming rights to Foxtel pay TV here in Australia, breaking the alliance they had with our national broadcaster since day dot. It is sad they went that way. Fifth Test starts tomorrow in Sydney ~ are we predicting a whitewash. I actually listen to the cricket on the radio rather than watch on TV ~ far more entertaining. Happy New Year Helen, BTW.

    1. I’ve always listened to Test Match Special on the radio – though the sooner they pension off Henry Blofeld the better – but it would be nice to be able to watch from time to time.
      The last year we could watch it was in 2005 – such an exciting series that I don’t know whether I spent more time on the sofa or hiding behind it!

  11. We don’t have any ‘live’ television in either English or Spanish which suits me down to the ground. I used to listen to Radio Four all the time but it seems to have become very repetitive and rather boring recently…or else I’ve just lost interest in what they choose to broadcast.
    ‘Lost Tango in Halifax’ was recommended recently and I rather think I’ll check it out now based on the reference here… Long may you enjoy the cricket, Helen, however it’s delivered. Axxx

    1. Leo started watching it which is how I came across it..I hadn’t known that there was another series as he has now turned to watching South Korean soap operas. He’ll be calling for kimchi any day now….

      I do agree about Radio Four. It used to be my mainstay but it does seem to have become much more trivial somehow.

      I love cricket and have done since my grandfather first took me to matches at The Oval…always on the wrong side of the tracks even then!

  12. It sounds like a good thing you didn’t catch The Hidden Dangers of The Victorian Home (or something like that) presented by Suzannah Lipscombe. It was an interesting subject but the camera concentrated on her beautifully manicured hand caressing a door handle or lingered on her blonde corkscrew curls or panned down her legs, thus showing that if you’re female, relatively young and pretty it doesn’t matter that you’re a lecturer and have published several books, it’s looks that count not ability.

    1. I didn’t, but my husband did.
      He said he would have preferred it on the radio.

      I think it is this aspect which irritates me about the emphasis on presenters…I want to know about the subject, not to look at the person presenting it.

  13. I don’t watch much TV on any channel nowadays, Helen, so didn’t see the Netherfield programme. I so agree about the intrusiveness of most presenters, though I did persevere with both Byzantium and The High Art of the Low Countries for the sake of the images of places and paintings I will probably never see in person.

    Much of what i watch is on BBC Four, since when they do manage to get it right, their programmes can be very good. There was a marvellous three-part series last autumn called The Fabric of Britain about the history of knitting, wallpaper and embroidery. Each episode had a different presenter, expert in their field and passionate about the subject, and I was totally fascinated. However, I definitely won’t be watching The Three Musketeers, though DH might. 🙂

  14. I must try to use the alphabetical search on the iPlayer to see if I am missing good stuff such as that which you describe.
    i didn’t persist as I have a fair number of books on Byzantium and its art through the ages; likewise the Flemish stuff – which I hope to be able to see again in the flesh as it were!
    My ideal is to be shown something with an explanation off the screen, if you see what i mean; I want to see the item without distractions.

  15. I had similar thoughts when I wrote my post on Everypic about Little Black Sambo. I then started thinking about the Black and White Minstrel Show, a classic at the time and with good viewing figures. Spin-offfs didn’t work.

    The point about all these issues is that you can’t sit today’s views and attitudes on yesterday’s shoulders (for want of a worse metaphor).

    Yes, the BBC did get complaints about the B&WMS back in the 60s, but your average person in the street was not aware of racism, just as they weren’t when Helen Bannerman published Little Black Sambo and the books continued to be published many years after her death.

    I’ve got mixed views on this, because I am very much in favour of anti-discrimination measures, but I can’t bear meddling with history. Strikes me as being rather Nazi-ish. That was then and it needs to be recorded as such and analysed as whatever it contributed at the time. But not to reinvent history, whether it is Netherfield, or re-writing LBS, or whatever, because it offends people today. When I wrote about LBS most people had a similar point of view. Prob all a similar age – ish.

    But on discrimination, re a comment above, and your reply, I disagree that we should approach from a general anti-discriminatory angle. Great in theory, but you know as well as I do, that most people don’t give two hoots about anyone else and unless you nail down the specifics of race, colour, religion, disability, gender, sexuality etc etc then the same people will continue to be discriminated against. Look at the viciousness against homosexuals in Nigeria for example.

    Sure discrimination can be tackled at a legal level with new laws, but the real problem, as ever, is changing attitudes. A token black at Netherfield doesn’t do it. That sort of issue should be portrayed in contemporary media, not stories from hundreds of years ago.

    And in terms of generality, I used to know the H&SAW Act backwards. Virtually every section and every subsequent Code or whatever always had the get-out clause – ‘as long as it is reasonably practicable’ aka so long as it doesn’t cost the employer too much money.

    But I’ve got to the age where I despair of everything really and am happier coping and making changes in my tiny milieu.

    And as for female presenters and their appearance, don’t start me on that because that embodies everything I am saying.

  16. Leave history alone: things were as they were….and while you’re at it stop trying to get financial compensation for wrongs done to your ancestors. They could have done with the money…you have means available to you to get your own.
    On discrimination the more I look back on the fate of anti discrimination legislation the more it seems to me that we should have and should now concentrate on full employment, living wages, adequate housing and good education for everyone.

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