Sunday 14 December 2014

Gallimaufry for a Sunday evening

noun - a confused jumble or medley of things.
"a glorious gallimaufry of childhood perceptions"
mid 16th century: from archaic French galimafr√©e 'unappetizing dish', perhaps from Old French galer 'have fun' + Picard mafrer 'eat copious quantities'. (Not to be confused with Gallifrey, fictional home planet of Alastair 'Shuttity-up' Campbell).  
We had a curious work's Christmas party last night. For some strange reason they chose to put on a barbecue for us. In December. At night. On a car park.

That's the "unappetizing dish" bit.

Still, I "had fun" and "ate drank copious quantities". Perhaps as a result of that, this post might possibly read like "a confused jumble or medley of things", and it might (Gawd forbid!) take most of the day to write.


This morning's Broadcasting House featured a very funny four-minute 'introduction' to BBC Radio 4 (by comedian Jake Yapp) for the benefit of those contestants on BBC One's Pointless who failed to get a single right answer in a round devoted to BBC Radio 4 - something which must have really galled the folk at BBC radio 4. (Mustn't laugh!)

Now, if you don't laugh at The Archers bit then there's no hope for you!

The result is a bit sharper than might have been expected, nicely skewering Woman's Hour's queasy swerving between (and betwixt) radical feminism and discussions about shoes, and then the self-same programme's dull, worthy, right-on choice of books:
Jane Garvey: Here's a reading from a memoir of someone who grew up being gay in a working class town with a father who didn't understand but finally came to a state of acceptance:
Narrator: I hear the door slam downstairs. It's my dad. I turn up my Erasure tape.
And Jake is no less acute on the dull, worthy, right-on Afternoon Dramas that ruin many a weekday afternoon Radio 4 schedule:
Neil Nunes: Now it's time on Radio 4 for some drama. Set in present day Kabul, 'The Swans have Burst' tells the story of a young woman's struggle to reconcile the modern world and her traditional values.
(Sound of a muezzin's call to prayer)....
Young Afghan woman: When I was a little girl the stallholders in the market called me 'fatki', which means 'unbelievable cliche'.
Neil Nunes: 'The Swans have Burst', written by Tristran Fraser-Dunlop. If you're still with us, well done.

Both Sue and I almost got round to writing about an Afternoon Drama a couple of months ago but, for various reasons, let the matter go (at the time). Time to make amends for that:

It was a play called The City of Tomorrowwritten by the poet Glyn Maxwell. It was meant as a hommage to Under Milk Wood but sounded more like a hommage to Ken Loach. 

It started with a politically radical child being rudely patronised by an oafish Tory MP at a school speech day and ended with a pair of pantomime, UKIP-type baddies asking an elderly lady to sign a petition against allowing "people ‘not like us’" into the area. The elderly lady, remembering a Jewish refugee girl from her childhood, noisily ripped up the petition, and (for me) the word 'agitprop' instantly sprang to mind. As did the phrase 'Radio 4 drama'.

The acting took me back to my own school days. I came 30/30 in my Drama exam. I was playing a frightened elderly man hearing someone mysterious approaching his room. I had only one line - "Who's there? Who's there? Who is it?" - and had been working diligently on my 'elderly man voice', all croaky and quavery, in advance, ready for my big performance. Marlon Brando-style, I'd even been using my gran's walking stick to get into character. Unfortunately, on the big day, I went blank and completely forgot my line. Hence 30/30.

I'm re-living that traumatic experience for you now because both Sue and I observed that the elderly lady in this radio play would have made my childhood 'elderly man voice' (had I actually delivered it) sound like acting worthy of Laurence Olivier. And, on top of that, there was a schoolgirl character with a staggeringly unconvincing working class accent ("'ere, oo the 'ell speaks like tharhht, Westside, innit?")

Phew, glad to have got that off my chest at last!


Back to BH's mockery of Radio 4, and this not-inaccurate take on John Humphrys:
Twenty eight minutes to nine. Time for me to get all cantankerous and belligerent and try to 'point score' with someone over an issue I don't fully understand, and that I'll probably start moralising over as well. (Angrily) I don't understand why young people are looking at pornography in the first place! 
Now, that is what he's like, isn't it?


And then there's Jake's take on Radio 4 comedy:
Neil Nunes: This is Radio 4, the home of radio comedy, simply because we're the only people who have the budget for it. Perhaps we shouldn't sound so smug. Time now for 'The Oxbridge Chronicles':
Audience: Hurrrrayyy!!!!
Hugh Punt (speaking quickly): Hello, we're a cavalcade of young, white men who speak reasonably fast and deliver a script that's been so laboured over it might as well have been...CARVED OUT OF MARBLE!...with a vocal delivery that has the subtlety of a snooker ball smashing into a row of teeth, giving the audience nice, easy cues for...WHEN TO LAUGH! All that effort and expense, all that fretting, totally wringing out any instinctive comedic flair leaving you with a contrived morass of puns and tired observations. Doesn't matter though cos all our mates are...IN THE AUDIENCE!
Audience: Hurrrrayyy!!!!
He forgot to mention though that many of the 'tired observations' concern politics - relentlessly left-wing politics - and largely consist of bashing UKIP, the Conservatives, social conservatives, opponents of mass immigration and, of course, oh my God, the Daily Mail!


Oh dear, I've allowed myself to get waylaid by a rare Harry and Paul-like bit of BBC self-mockery there so, as Billy Bragg favourite used to sing (maybe), 'Back to life, back to reality'...and something more serious...

Andrew Marr's paper review this morning over on BBC One began, as ever, with Andy's own run-through of the newspaper front pages, ending with the Mail on Sunday's front page attack on the BBC for choosing to broadcast a highly controversial short story by Hillary Mantelpiece as part of its Book at Bedtime - the one which fantasises about assassinating the late Margaret Thatcher.

Lord Tebbit is understandably angry about the BBC's decision, calling it "sick". Nadine Dorries is, perhaps, more opportunistically angry about it too (though you probably shouldn't read people's souls so quickly perhaps and maybe she's genuine too). 

Andrew Marr, as is his way, was somewhat dismissive, describing it as the Mail being "cross" with the BBC and adding "We probably won't be talking about that at great length" before moving on to his guests and, indeed, never mentioning it again. Had he been as keen on Mrs T as me he might not have been so 'intensely relaxed' about it. 

I have to say that I've got a conflicted knee-jerk response to this. 

My instant knee-jerk reaction - as it was when I first heard about the short story existence - was one of disgust. Hilary Mantel betrayed very bad taste in writing the story in the first place and the BBC is hardly betraying much less bad taste in choosing the broadcast the piece barely a year after the lady's death. 

But, my knee then jerked back in the opposite direction. When it first came out I thought that, however disgusting I might find it, if a writer wants to express her disgusting fantasies about killing my favourite (recently-deceased) prime minister, well, that's her own affair - Voltaire and all that. Bad taste isn't necessarily a bad thing in a writer, and we on the Right shouldn't be as censorious as some on the Left are about such things, especially when it's a work of fiction.

However, given that the book of short stories in question contains lots of stories, it remained a very real option for the BBC, knowing the controversy surrounding this book, to have either (a) chosen to broadcast another of the collection's stories in place of this one or (b) held off for another year or so (to show respect to Baroness Thatcher's family) and then broadcast it. The BBC decided to do neither of those things and is ploughing ahead, just over one year on from the former PM's funeral, with its broadcast.

On balance, my knee is still firmly jerking against the BBC here.


Returning to Broadcasting House, that programme's paper review also discussed the Hilary Mantel story, and both of Paddy O'Connell's paper reviewers defended the BBC's decision to broadcast the Mrs Thatcher assassination story on Book at Bedtime

Those guests were regular BBC presenter Anne McElvoy and flautist James Galway - though the famous, ever-chuckling flautist didn't sound overly on top of many of the stories, seamingly preferring to play his flute and try to charm the socks off everyone with his ever-present chuckling.

I must give credit to Paddy here for doing the decent thing and playing devil's advocate. When Mr Galway said that it's up to people if they decide to listen to this, Paddy shot back with the point that, no, it's the BBC's decision to broadcast it that's the point and that many object to that decision.


Hopping back, like a squiffy kangaroo, to the Andrew Marr Show, its paper review featured former Labour postman Alan Johnson and the increasingly ubiquitous Spectator columnist Isabel Hardman.

I say "increasingly ubiquitous", but I don't mean that in a cross way, merely descriptively. Personally, I'd like to see Isabel on every BBC current affairs discussion programme, every day, 24/7.

In fact, even though it ruins my instinctively over-neat sense of where my next picture in this post ought to be placed, I'm going to post an extra-large picture of Isabel here now, on the grounds that Is the BBC biased? shouldn't miss out on her ubiquity - and wouldn't want to (but please don't tell the missus):

Isabel is a Conservative supporter, Alan a Labour supporter. Neither are UKIP supporters. And nor, I think, is Andrew Marr. 

UKIP has had a bad press today. From the BBC to Sky and ITV, and across the spectrum of pro-Tory and pro-Labour newspapers, the latest outburst of 'free speech' from a UKIP candidate (albeit a 'latest outburst' that goes back a couple of years or so now), has seen the party rounded baited again by the massed ranks of the MSM pack, along with the strange, lingering story of Roger Bird and the bird he appears to have rogered. 

Andy Marr introduced this section of the press review with the words...
It has to be said that UKIP are shooting themselves in the foot. Page after page, paper after paper. And you've chosen a great story there from the Sunday Times, Isabel. 
...and Isabel and Alan Johnson duly sniggered at/besmirched UKIP.

But, I'd say - in contrast to Andy - that it "has to be said that UKIP are being shot at by the MSM. Page after page, paper after paper, BBC programme after BBC programme".


Hunger. That's been the BBC theme of the week. The spectre of famine seems to be stalking the land. So, therefore, it's a good thing that Michael Buerk is back from the jungle:
Dawn, and as the sun breaks through the piercing chill of night on the car park outside Craig's Christmas do, it lights up a Biblical famine.
And this morning's Broadcasting House featured the story of a woman who is having to starve herself because she's a single mum with two children, one of whom has a serious medical condition. And, later in the day, the Food Programme, in an episode called Feeding Britain, also focused on hunger in the UK. 

I joke here but the story of the woman on BH was clearly a genuine one and it raised a lot of serious questions. The BBC's Paul Lewis then number-crunched her predicament and found that she is missing out on certain benefits she's actually entitled to but didn't know about. 

My thought here is that the benefits system (obviously) should help people who genuinely need help and are doing the best they can - and especially those who are claiming less than they are entitled to - and if the BBC helps her get her life back on track, then good on them. 

Similarly, though the Food Programme added a rather left-leaning coating to the matter, it was good to hear about imaginative, helpful, non-tax-payer-funded concerns working to help those who need help. 

The whole 'hunger'/food banks issue is one that stirs up passionate feelings and sharply contrasted opinions. Some people think that food banks signify the existence of a genuine problem of hunger in this country. Other think that there's no hunger crisis and that most people are going to food banks only because food banks (and their free food) now exist. 

Personally, I can't make head nor tails of the statistics here but if food banks, relying on people's generosity and in salvaging waste food from supermarkets, help meet a real need (however large or small that need really is) then good on them. 

Is the BBC just Tory-bashing though? Would it be carrying on about hunger, in exactly the same circumstances, if a Labour government was in power?

It's latish on a Sunday evening and I just can't answer that kind of question. (Is that the kind of cop-out politicians could try on John Humphrys?) My instincts would say 'yes' to the first and 'no' to the second, but, on the evidence before me, I just can't say that for certain.


Focusing again on matters of bias (and ignoring any superfluous photos of Isabel Hardman), I've read comments today that the BBC has been downplaying/actively counteracting (in defense of Labour) Labour's part in the rendition/torture/CIA/Democrats/Republicans story.

I have to say, listening to both the Andrew Marr Show and Broadcasting House, that both Andrew Marr and Paddy O'Connell didn't shy away from questioning their guests about whether Labour people - Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Hazel Blears, etc - should, potentially, be placed 'in the dock' over this matter.

That doesn't demonstrate pro-Labour bias then, but it might suggest anti-US, anti-War on Terror bias, #biasfromtheLeft


And  that, for what it's worth, is pretty much all I've got to say. Everything else I've heard today (which isn't much) has struck me as good BBC stuff - including Roger Scruton's excellent (non-political) A Point of View on Kitsch in the arts and Mark Tully's Something Understood on world-weariness (whoops, as I type and hope to add a link down goes the BBC website, so you'll have to find that for yourself).

Things may get somewhat quieter here at Is the BBC biased? in the coming couple of weeks. Both Sue and I have lots of family matters to deal with (in the nicest possible way), so please bear with us if things occasionally go quiet.

Cue dots.


1 comment:

  1. I don't have a lot of respect for Isabel. She never seems to present anything as her own opinion. She always hides behinds someone else's viewpoint. Compare and contrast with someone like John Simpson whom I really respect as he offers a definitive prognosis on events and, more often than not, is right.

    Dan Read


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