Saturday 10 May 2014

Forced out for playing 'The Sun Has Got His Hat On'

This is like something out of a Franz Kafka novel (and comes via Biased BBC). I would take a few blood pressure tablets if I were you before reading it...

(WARNING: Please don't watch the videos in this post if you are very easily offended.)

Imagine you're a veteran BBC local radio broadcaster who specialises in playing popular music of the mid 20th Century. You've had your own programme for over two decades, and played all the greats - Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Glenn Miller, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Nat 'King' Cole (i.e. my dad's kind of music). 

One day in 2014, twenty four years after you began broadcasting for the Beeb, you happen to select a classic pop song from the 1930s - one known to millions upon millions - called The Sun Has Got His Hat On [you'll all know it] and add to your playlist for this week's show, duly broadcasting the cheery old tune along many other old favourites when the time comes. 

Then imagine that one of your listeners [not a regular, just somehow who happens to catch it by chance] spots that the lyric of that old song - in both of the versions by which it achieved worldwide fame in the early '30s (those by Ambrose and his Orchestra and the Harry Hall BBC Dance Orchestra (yes, BBC Dance Orchestra)) - contains, in passing, the dreaded n-word ["He's been tanning Clarksons out in Timbuktu/Now he's coming back to do the same for you"]....

....and imagine that that that listener then declares him or herself to be "offended" by you for broadcasting that word (in all innocence) over the airwaves, simply by the act of playing The Sun Has Got His Hat On

Imagine further, that he or she then complains to the BBC about you and that, instead of politely dismissing the complaint and inviting the listener in question to consider the context and be reasonable, the BBC actually takes that complaint very seriously and takes you to task over it. (Frankly, you might as well begin metamorphosizing into an insect by this stage in true Kafka fashion). 

You offer to apologise on air (even though you've got nothing to apologise for other that "horrifying" some easily-offended weirdo) and, being an honourable type, you also offer to fall on your sword if needs be.

To you surprise, the BBC first advises you to say nothing on air about it (i.e. hush it up) and then tells you (because you're unwilling to do that) that they are accepting your kind offer to fall on your own sword. They are, therefore, 'letting you go'.

So you have to leave your programme and your job after decades of broadcasting classic pop songs to the listeners of your local area, all because you don't vet the lyrics of every single song you broadcast to see if there's anything in it that might, just might offend some complete and utter moron who just happens to be listening out there and might just find it "offensive". 

Extraordinarily, that is exactly what seems to have happened to BBC Radio Devon presenter (now former BBC Radio Devon presenter) David Lowe. 

Just mind-blowing, isn't it? What a bizarre country we now live in, and what a very strange public broadcaster we have in the BBC!

Update: The story moves on. The Daily Telegraph is now reporting this, and tells us what happened next:
But yesterday the BBC appeared to suddenly change its position. In a statement it admitted it had handled the matter badly and said: “We have offered David Lowe the opportunity to continue presenting his ‘Singers and Swingers’ show, and we would be happy to have him back on air. We accept that the conversation with David about the mistake could have been handled better, but if he chooses not to continue then we would like to thank him for his time presenting on the station and wish him well for the future.”
However Mr Lowe now feels unable to rejoin the corporation after the incident aggravated an existing stress-related condition from which he suffers.
He told The Sunday Telegraph: “Unfortunately my health has to come first. The way the BBC have handled this is terrible and it has aggravated my condition. It was an honest mistake, but I’m afraid I won’t be going back on air.”
I can understand that. 

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