Sunday 9 January 2022

Mad Dogs and BBC Managers

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”, said the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, continuing that there's “a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to present a Radio 4 programme, and a time to stop presenting a Radio 4 programme”.

Meanwhile, L. Frank Baum in The Marvelous Land of Oz said, somewhat less poetically, “Everything has to come to an end, sometime”.

And so it is with Nigel Rees's 46 year run as host of Radio 4's Quote...Unquote. I listened to it as a teenager, which shows just how long ago it started. But the season has turned, and Nigel has finally left.

Though his “revels now are ended”, it's not true that they “leave not a rack behind” because he's made a few telling criticisms of the BBC on leaving.

The Sunday Times reports him saying:
There was nothing the BBC could say to persuade me to change my mind. It had reached crunch point. don’t want to sound like an ‘anti-woke’ backbench Tory MP (which I am far from being), but . . . ‘cultural issues’ were among the several factors that had contributed to my pulling the plug.
He tells the papers that a “prescriptive climate” at the BBC meant that “this [last] series was more unpleasant to do than the previous ones”.

For example, Radio 4 bosses apparently told him that “Reader of the Quotations” Charlotte Green couldn't deliver a line in a Yorkshire accent for fear of causing offence. And this sounds like Radio 4 wokery at its maddest:
For the 500th edition he wanted to include a round of “detached lyrics” in which the panel has to identify an excerpt from a lyric, including a quotation from Noël Coward’s 1932 comic song Mad Dogs and Englishmen. “I was pressured to remove the lines, ‘In Bengal/ to move at all/ is seldom if ever done,’” he says. “I was told that it ‘reflected colonial attitudes’ and so the woke police leant heavily on me to choose something else. This misses the whole point of the song, that it is the English colonials who are being mocked, not the natives.”
And, of course, prescriptive requirements were laid on the programme regarding diversity in its choice of guests, which sounds like being the straw that finally broke the camel's back [origin obscure]. must be said that these impositions have reached almost ludicrous proportions across the BBC. However well-meaning — or at least understandable — such measures may be, I just feel that they have been taken too far.
The Sunday Times emphasises how diplomatic he's being and how grateful he remains towards the BBC, but a BBC spokesman is on hand to add a characteristically sour and high-handed response:
We want our output to be representative of the UK and we want contributors on our comedy shows to be wonderfully engaging and funny. These two ambitions are not mutually exclusive and it would be highly condescending to suggest otherwise. We have creative, editorial discussion around every production and they are very much standard practice.

 Aren't they gracious?

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