The BBC and Me and We…

Watching from afar as the recently minted 2015 Conservative Goverment (sans Lib-Dem safety valve) starts yet another ideological assault on a beloved institution, I find myself bewildered as to how they think they are ever going to receive popular support for their nefarious game, and yet it would appear they can spin it nonetheless.

Of course the BBC has her detractors, one could hardly claim the first “B” for British if there was not some portion of the population ready to whinge bitterly about the death spiral of moral, intellectual, artistic or political standards that are ruining Aunty. Let us not even dwell upon the thoughtless idiots who complain about the licence fee whilst failing to recognise that in return for less than fifty pence a day they are taking delivery of a unique public service broadcaster that is the envy of the World, when almost nothing else British, apart from luxury housing in London, is envied by anyone, anywhere. More than that, the elderly and the vulnerable in society are given a licence (currently) so that they may at least be informed, educated and entertained as the Tories slowly strangle the life out of them in every other way in the name of the neo-liberal conspiracy.

But hold on, didn’t “Our David” get in on the backs of the Radio Four audience, or at least the largest chunk of them? What’s that David, your base are devotees of the most diverse, innovative and familiar sound of Middle England? Hmmm, I do not entirely believe that they are going to be ok with you taking away Gardeners’ Question Time and Just a Minute. Perhaps the policy machine deep in the blackened heart of Conserative Party Central Office is hooked up to a Sky Dish and is mindlessly forwarding its real master’s agenda? Any comment Mr. Murdoch?

Now I know what you are thinking… You are smiling to yourself and thinking that your correspondent has form, not only as a dreadful Pinko Liberal, but also as a former employee of the BBC herself! Yes, I believe in the BBC and so much so that I worked for less than market rate in my field on three separate occasions to be a part of the organisation that has given us everything from Newsnight to Strictly, Last Night of the Proms to Eastenders and far more besides. In my last tour of duty I ran the engineering team that looked after the websites for The BBC World Service, a finer ambassador for the country of my birth would be hard to name if you ask me, but by working for World Service I got a flavour of the funding gap and it is not something that anyone ought to allow to grow at all, in any direction.

Consider, if you will, a possible future. Ten years from now the BBC is no longer funded by the Licence Fee or the UK Government in any capacity. There is a small income stream from fanatical supporters who buy a subscription to the organisation, a bit like the memberships offered by public sector, not-for-profit radio stations dotted around the USA. Aside from that, in true Tory style, the vast majority of the BBC’s radically reduced budget comes from corporate sponsorship; “The Archers, brought to you by Monsanto, shaping the World through innovation.” or “BBC News at Ten, brought to you by HSBC, The World’s Local Bank”, and while news programming is uninterrupted, entertainment shows are peppered with adverts every twelve to fifteen minutes. BBC Two is a distant memory, Radio Four barely has any original programming, but thank goodness for the Archive, and there are no black, disabled or gay people anywhere to be seen or even heard on the airwaves, lest the advertisers grow restless.

Sound like a legacy that you want to give our country, let alone the World? Do you want to explain to your children or nephews and nieces how there used to be unrivalled factual progammes about the fabric of the Universe on BBC Television, but now there are four different variants of Strictly Come Dancing crossed with The Voice and the worst excesses of Tabloid Television, because that is what Nestlé are hoping for when it comes to reaching the largest number of undiscerning purchasers for their new breakfast cereal, made from real African children.

There are those that say that the measure of a society can be made simply by examining the place that the Arts occupy in its culture and zeitgeist. What does it say about British Society that we are apparently okay with the Government of the day eyeing up the greatest and most respected guardian of the Arts anywhere in the World as a juicy privatisation plum, ripe for the plucking, perfect to sate their misguided, twisted appetite for austerity, as long as its the kind of austerity that hurts lefties and intellectuals and poor people and anyone who likes unbiased news coverage. There are no Tory Culture Vultures who are going to suffer if their party guts the BBC, they will gorge themselves on expensive tickets to the Opera at Covent Garden – now sponsored by Halliburton once the Arts Council has finally been given the old heave-ho with the follow through after punting the BBC into the tall grass – and congratulate themselves that they are supporting the cultural life of the country whilst consigning Radio Three and BBC Four to the fire.

What can we do? A Million marched against the Second Gulf War and not even a dent was made; we barely moved the needle. Please don’t think that there are a Million ready to march for Aunty Beeb, they are all so complacent; “The Beeb’s always been there and it always will be, it’s as British as afternoon tea, cricket and the Changing of the Guard. What are all these bloody adverts? I thought that Countryfile was on the Beeb!”.

We need to voice our displeasure, and keep on chanting over and over the refrain:

“Hands off our Beloved BBC!” (Feel free to add “You Tory Scum”, if you so choose; who am I to prescribe)

every time that the subject comes up. Write to your MP, write to your MP’s wife or husband, write to every party activist of every stripe you can get contact details for, and tell them that the very last British Institution, after the NHS, that should ever be mentioned in the same breath as the word privatisation is the BBC.

Not only that, write to the BBC Trust, the Director General, and anyone you can get contact details for at the BBC voicing your full-throated support for the BBC remaining publicly and adequately funded, impartial, non-commercial and OURS!

People often trot out the plattitude that politicians work for us, which of course they do, but for every whinging git that thinks The News Quiz is somehow evidence that the BBC is a nest of Communist vipers waiting to envenom society at a moment’s notice and that it should be burned to the ground for the common good, there are twenty, thirty, fifty, nay a hundred quiet, unheard voices that adore the BBC in their own personal, special and fabulous way. Whether it is The Goon Show or The Sky at Night, there is a good bet that there is something on the BBC that you love with all your heart that simply would not exist without the Charter, without the Licence Fee and without the Corporation’s unique raison d’être; to Inform, Educate and Entertain(*). Bear that in mind that it is not just something that you love, it is also yours, ours and utterly unique in the entire World.

Please, please, please do not let Cameron and his merry band of axe-men destroy something so utterly wonderful in all of its imperfect striving to be worthy of our love – you will so definitely miss her when she is gone.

Going Home…

As you may or may not know, dear reader, I have been experiencing a little turbulence in my career of late. A little over six weeks ago I gave my notice at Vivastreet after a year of highs and lows and a great deal of stress, a decision made when it became clear that I was not likely to be able to achieve the things that I set out to do by remaining there. In many ways it was a very difficult decision, in others it was very easy – is this not always the way – but by the time a day had passed I was quite certain that in terms of career and my personal happiness and health it was the right way to go.

Clearly this decision has led to a job search, and in fact the day after I handed in my notice I spied an interesting staff role at the BBC, which I applied for and promptly forgot about, as the deadline for applications was weeks away. To my genuine delight, about ten days later, I received an invitation to have a telephone interview, which I took and must have done quite well with as this led to a coding test and finally a face to face interview with three members of the senior engineering team on News. Despite the complexity and time cost of the process, which I would say is probably inevitable with an organisation of the BBC’s size, the entire process was challenging and fun, and as I left New Broadcasting House after the interview I was quietly hopeful that I had done and said the right kind of things and that there was a good chance that I would be offered the job.

Well, yesterday afternoon I verbally accepted and today I had written confirmation of the offer, which I have also formally accepted, and so now I am officially going back to the BBC. I have entitled this post “Going Home…” for a very specific reason; in all of my twelve years in software engineering, despite some other really excellent experiences, the only place that I have ever felt truly at home, truly in sync with the culture, the ethos and the goals of the organisation is the BBC. Now it is fair to say that I am a ridiculous fanboi for the BBC anyway, and while I am not unconditionally on their side, I have been known to fight their corner in a rather partisan manner, when the organisation has been criticised by others, long before I ever worked for them.

I can’t easily explain to you how much of a thrill I know it will be to walk into work at New Broadcasting House every day, to feel that I am contributing to the workings of an institution that is dear to my heart and feels, to me at least, to be one of the foundation stones of modern British life. I am not a very patriotic person, one might say I have a quiet love for my country; the kind of honest love that sees her faults and is not afraid to own them, but I do have a strong attachment to much of what I would call Anglicana. Tea, cricket, the Lake District, English Literature, the British Museum, Red buses and of course the BBC (to name but a few of the things that strike a chord with me in particular) – these are all things that matter to me, and they matter because they are the expression of the character of my country.

There is no question that today, now that I know where I am going to be working, I feel a lot less stressed than I did yesterday. Yesterday was filled with uncertainty, so much so that I fluffed a telephone interview with another large organisation that would in many ways have been a great opportunity, but today my mood is not just improved by the security of “I have a job”, my calm and happiness are magnified tenfold by “I (will soon) work at the BBC”.

Right, now to go and hang up the washing…