Tuesday 24 September 2019

Plus ça Change

More from John Humphrys in today's Daily Mail showing that his friend John Simpson's attitude towards criticism of the BBC hasn't changed much over the years...

After Richard Baker was pushed out from presenting BBC One's main news bulletin at nine o'clock and the two Johns, Humphrys and Simpson, brought in to replace him, the audience wasn't happy:
The audience did not like us. In fact, they hated us — partly because we’d ousted Richard Baker.
So what happened next? Over to JH...
If we’d had email and the ludicrous Twitter mob back then, I suspect the bosses would have pulled John and me off the air immediately, crawled to Dickie to beg his forgiveness and pleaded with him to come back. 
But snail mail took longer and when the letters finally began to flood in, John came up with a brilliant strategy. 
When the BBC is criticised by the audience, its instinctive response is to say sorry. [Haha! Really???]. John took the opposite view.  
We agreed that instead of handing all our hate mail to the department responsible for complaints, we should deal with them ourselves. Every single one. 
Instead of grovelling and promising to try harder in future and be a bit more like Dickie, we would fight fire with fire.  
The more abusive the letter, the more abusive our reply. And we awarded each other scores for who could write the most creative abuse. John always won. 
I almost felt sorry for the poor viewer who wrote to tell him that he was the news-reading equivalent of an inarticulate talking dog. 
To this day, I wish that I’d been there when he opened John’s reply to find himself accused of being lower than a camel’s crotch and far more smelly. 
Our replies didn’t have to be clever, you understand, just rude. 
And here’s the extraordinary thing. We’d expected retribution to be visited upon us by our bosses who would, obviously, be overwhelmed by complaints from the recipients of our bile.  
But exactly the opposite happened. The more vicious our abuse, the more cringing their apology when viewers wrote back to us — as, invariably, they did. 
They almost always began: ‘I’m so sorry if I’ve offended you by describing you as the worst newsreader in the history of broadcasting . . .’ I’ve never been able to figure it out. 
But, eventually, the flood of letters reduced to a trickle and then pretty much dried up when the poor old audience realised they were never going to get their beloved Dickie back.
I don't think that would work quite as well these days.


  1. Whenever the BBC is criticised on for example Newswatch or Feedback, some producer or editor seeks to justify him/herself rather than accept that they had got it wrong. If they do admit they got it wrong, it is a quick "we got it wrong" and a lot of verbiage on how hard they try to get it right. Heads never roll unlike in the private sector, and the relentless leftie liberal viewpoint is maintained. Roger Harrabin the climate change reporter spouts nonsense and no one is challenging his assertions on doom and gloom. The BBC doesn't look at facts, but airs opinions as if they were factual.

  2. Hmmm...a tale improved in the telling at dinner parties over the years. I can imagine dinner party conversation with either John will be a bit one-sided. Who would you say had the more massive ego? John 1 or John 2. There's always Jon to give them a run for their money.

    Yes, the idea the BBC instinctively says "sorry" is risible - it only does that in relation to groups with "protected characteristics" as the charming phrase goes.


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