Sunday 19 November 2017

My Country: a Work in Progress

I watched My Country: a Work in Progress on BBC Two last night. 

This put onto TV a National Theatre play about Brexit by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and director Rufus Norris (both Remain voters). It interspersed acted-out vox pops collected from several parts of the UK (though not London or the South-East) with clips of politicians, all framed by dramatic moments from 'Britannia' and several 'Parts of the United Kingdom'. It ended with the words of Jo Cox captioned against a black backdrop - "We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us". 

Their declared aim was to leave their London bubble and to listen to voices beyond that bubble. 'It's the listening that matters', was the programme's message. 

Was it biased? Did Rufus Norris succeed in his stated intention to leave out his own political views (which are much as you'd expect) and let us listen to a full and fair spectrum of people's voices? 

I think the programme handled the matter of bias well - from the politicians to the vox pops. And I had to smile at the Guardian's account of how Rufus Norris managed to do so:
Norris has been careful to create a balanced picture, to the extent that his associate director has been tasked with counting each speech, and categorising it according to whether it is pro-remain or leave.
That sounds very much like the methodology used by groups like News-watch (and me). It's the good old 'stopwatch'/'number-crunching' technique so decried by the James Hardings of this world. I'm so glad the National Theatre agrees with us about this! (Of course this is the best way to do it, whether to monitor balance or to achieve balance in the first place.)

Anyhow, the Guardian continues: 
The completed script has more leave voices (more than the 52% of votes to leave), in recognition of the fact that more of the audience will come from a remain position.
That Guardian article refers to the original London play rather than the BBC audience, but that's still striking. Rufus himself is then quoted:
“We have been incredibly diligent, making sure that what will inevitably be perceived as our pro-remain bias is properly balanced. We push it further the other way because you understand that the majority of people who will come to see it are likely to be on the remain side, because theatres are seen as a liberal echo chamber".
As are BBC dramas! So it's good to have one that determinedly tried not to be seen as a liberal echo chamber for once. 

My main concern was its mood. It was just so gloomy about where we are now. Yes, the country is divided and there is quite a lot of anger out there and people aren't listening to each other as much as they should be, but the glum faces, the intensity, the anger, the worried Britannia, the wistful variations on Greensleeves playing throughout, were a bit too much...

...and I think that's where the bias seeped through despite its makers' best intentions. I doubt very much that a Leave-supporting poet and director combination would have gone for such a depressing tone, even if they were trying just as hard to be balanced from the other direction and giving Remain supporters the greater say.

Did any of you see it? If so, what did you make of it?


  1. I didn't see it. Having read the bBBC take on it I agree with your detection of "bias by gloom" -

    it pretty much confirms what I thought would be the case.

    It might have been mathematically balanced in terms of Leave and Remain comments, but as we know from the BBC there are many ways to get your bias in.

    From what I have read, it sounds like this was all part of the "left behind", "divided Britain", "poor, old and uneducated Brexiteers" narrative that has been pumped out relentlessly by the BBC and its allies in the soggy left.

    By way of contrast, some may recall that recent Newsnight panel of "ordinary people" from Sheffield which was actually full of perfectly normal, good natured humorous folk from different ethnic and class backgrounds, most of whom were either looking forward to Brexit or were perfectly happy to "get on with it". It was a very unusual panel for Newsnight, but one I felt was far more accurate about the mood of the nation.

    The BBC wants us to believe we have gone from a happy united nation, with beaming British peasants carrying garlands of wheat under the bright blue and gold flag of the EU, to a divided, hate-filled society ready to run up the black flag of Fascism whilst sinking into terminal economic decline.

    1. The BBC struggle to accept that there is an English identity which is separate from their own polarised London centric definition. They seem OK with the Welsh, Scots and Irish, but not the English. It has become routine now to label all English people with the pro Leave identity. Their powers of discernment have become blunted by their own biased preconceptions of what to expect from the ill-informed.

  2. I watched it more by accident than design, but in all fairness it was fairly even-handed although gloomy. However, I think a truly unbiased eye (ie someone who has no stake in Brexit either way) would take away the feeling that most voters in the referendum were ill-informed, ignorant or indeed both. Of course this is in line with the BBC Brexit narrative; wealthy degree-educated liberal professionals need to show poor, ill-educated bigoted pensioners that they are wrong.....

    1. Meanwhile the most prosperous and well educated region in the UK, the South, voted to LEAVE. The left behind narrative has never explained how that came to be. Surely, the South should have lined up with "prosperous" London to Remain. Of course it didn't because it can see what mass immigration is doing to the UK where its impact is strongest.

    2. MB, exactly again. The BBC loves to avoid the fact that the only 3 regions to vote Remain where NI (nationalist politics), Scotland (nationalist politics) and London (home of a distanced elite).

  3. The BBC "gloom" brought back to me my early adolescence when I first realized the BBC mindset wasn't for me. All those gloomy "Plays for Today" and mean-spirited, but self lauded, "comedies" like Steptoe and Til Death on top of the continuous sniping at anything new, successful or American.

    Ah, time changes everything ... except the BBC it seems. It's a corrupt model.

    1. Steptoe and Son is still a favorite of mine, but it's quite easy to see the narrative, Albert, miserly, old, ugly and continually preventing his modernistic, young, good looking son (Harold) from ever progressing and making anything of himself.
      Albert was a member of the local Conservative party,
      Harold was, of course, a Labour party supporter, this was used for comic effect in several episodes.
      Still we managed to elect a Conservative government though, despite the BBC.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.