Index | Homepage | Good Links | Bad Links | Search | Guestbook
"In a now famous statement, Mark Fowler, President Regan’s first appointee as head of the Federal Communications Commission (the main regulator of the American media industries) declared that as far as he could see ‘Television is just another appliance. It’s a toaster with pictures’.
He spoke for all the men in suits who reach for a calculator whenever they hear the word ‘culture’ They regard television first and last a business, and claim the rights to pursue profits with minimal interference from government or the viewing public.
Ranged against this, is a definition of broadcasting as a public service whose prime responsibility is to develop the cultural rights of modern citizenship. As the screenwriter, Dennis Potter insisted, in a fiery speech to the Edinburgh International Television Festival in 1993, broadcasting ‘is not a business trying to distribute dosh to its shareholders… but something held in trust in law for every citizen’.
The contest between these two views is increasingly acrimonious........."
[Extract from: Behind The Screens - Money Talks: Broadcasting, Finance and Public Culture - Graham Murdock 1994]
Telephone 01509 222845
Formed in the 1930’s to ensure the new medium of radio, joined soon after by television, was not laid open to the vagaries of commercial interest. It was set up under Royal Charter as a corporation with a clear public service remit.
There are important aspects to the BBC charter that ordinary people are not told about. How many know, for example, that it guarantees public access to its archives or that it must hold meaningful consultations with ordinary members of the public across the regions?
Democratic accountability was theoretically to be applied through appointments of the board of governors through the Postmaster General, later to become the Heritage Secretary.
But as post-war governments have been occupied by business interests and the increasingly well focussed business lobby so the ethos of the British Broadcasting Corporation has changed from public service to serving the interests of business, and in a world of ‘international competitiveness’ going out to fight it out in the global market-place. A role not compatible, even at odds, with that of serving the communication needs of the British public.
The Director General, General Manager of the Corporation, was intended to be a senior well-respected programme maker who had the confidence of Corporation staff and a proven track record in public service programming. Alasdair Milne was DG in the early 1980’s. A veteran of classic satire That Was The Week That Was and daily current affairs programme Tonight he took independence from the Thatcher government seriously.
Milne backed programmes that were as critical of the government as they were of the trades’ union movement that was taking on Thatcher’s friends at Wapping and in the coalfields.
There were several programmes that Mrs Thatcher was particularly angry with, Maggie’s Militant Tendency, transmitted on 30th January 1984, by no means least. This Panorama documentary looked at extreme right-wing elements on the backbenches of the Tory party and showed two of her darlings, Neil Hamilton MP and Gerald Howarth MP, attending extreme right meetings. It showed the press were not being even-handed in their aggressive anti-Labour Militant coverage. Legal proceedings by Hamilton and Howarth against the BBC came to court in October 1986.
There was Duncan Campbell’s Secret Society series that showed evidence that £500 million of unauthorised Military Intelligence spending on a Zircon spy satellite had been concealed from the Public Accounts Committee. Legal threats were made by the MOD against the BBC using official secrets legislation. The Zircon film was eventually shown in a House of Commons hall packed with MP’s on Thursday 22nd January 1987 under laws of parliamentary priviledge but not to the public.
There was award-winning drama Edge of Darkness showing an unholy collaboration between the elements within government and the nuclear industry.
Thatcher appointed Marmaduke Hussey to chair the BBC Governors in mid November 1986. 'Duke' Hussey was former Chief Executive and Managing Director of Times Newspapers Ltd. and latterly involved with a Commercial Radio Station in the West Country.
After the first BBC Board of Governors meeting with Hussey as Chair, on Thursday 29th January 1987, Milne was called into Hussey's office where he found Hussey and Joel Barnett , vice-chair waiting, they demanded his resignation. Stunned, Milne agreed and was driven home.
Milne's replacement as D.G. was not a programme maker but, for the first time, an accountant. Michael Checkland. Hussey was later knighted for his service to the country. Birt, who followed in the post, was a commercial television sector manager. The latest D.G., Greg Dyke, proves the original idea that an independent-minded programme maker should occupy the operational helm of the Corporation has been entirely cast away. Dyke is a self-made millionaire.
Since Milne's Director Generalship, the BBC has become an institution weighed down by intrinsic hypocrisies. Commercial imperatives seem diametrically opposed to its 'public service' remit and many staff have become disillusioned, ill at ease.
As one distinguished British Broadcaster said, who wrote to Milne after his dismissal, 'What has happened to you is something that will stand high in the annals of broadcasting infamy'.
Milne's sacking, for defending the BBC's editorial independence, gave way to the tyranny of the mediocre led by those Dennis Potter called the 'croak-voiced daleks'. It was the spiritual death-knell of the corporation.
I am giving the melodramatic and not at all tuneful title Occupying Powers to this year’s James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture. The title has not been chosen simply to indulge yet again in the inevitable paranoia which so afflicts writers that work in television, although I’ll give that a go too. No, I call this Occupying Powers so that I can reflect behind the barricade of metaphor about what it really feels like, for many others besides myself who sell their services and some of their passions to the strange new generations of broadcasting managements and their proprietors.
More than that, wider than that, I want to use the title to reach beyond our parochial concerns and grapple with a few thoughts about what it means to be a citizen (or do I mean a consumer) in the United Kingdom plc., where two-thirds of the population live on incomes below the national average of £250.00 a week, almost 5.75million exist on less than £100.00 a week, three million are unemployed, three million children live in poverty, one-fifth of the young are innumerate, the chasm between the highest and lowest paid is wider than at any time since 1886, and Dave Lee Travis has resigned from Radio 1. What is at the heart of such a distorted society?
“Broadcasting is at the heart of British Society. The structure and the competition of the broadcasting industry, the purpose and motivation of broadcasters and the programmes and services they offer are vital factors in reflecting and shaping that society.” I, too, would like a mirror that reflects and shapes, but these are the words of the BBC at its most ponderously anodyne as it responded to the Government’s Green Paper on the future of the Corporation. The particular quotation is certainly one which James MacTaggart would have taken for granted with as little sense of astonishment as if someone on an outside consultancy contract had told him on three identical bits of thermal paper that a walk along the corridors of Television Centre will always bring you back shaken but not stirred to where you started.
Jimmy MacTaggart and his bushy-tailed acolytes used to sit around somewhere in the Fifth Circle talking with a younger conviction about the evident iniquities of the BBC management, the tapeworm length persistence of BBC cowardice and the insufferable perversities of the BBC threat to the very existence of the single play. You can imagine how much greater our indignation would have been had we known at the time that we were sitting slap in the middle of what later observers were to call the Golden Age of television drama.
Back in those good old days there was a bureaucrat in every cupboard and smugness waiting with a practised simper on the far side of every other door. I recall these things in order to offer up at least one small strip of sticking plaster for the suppurating wounds of the poor wretch who is the present Director General, the 12th and not actually the 13th to hold such an exulted (if fully taxable) position at “the heart of British Society”.
I haven’t made this long journey in order to be kind and gentle, but I think it is only fair to tell him that the fear and loathing now swirling jugular high around those same circular corridors does have some antecedents, and it always was possible to measure the distance between so-called management and the so-called creative by the time it took for a memo to go in one direction and a half-brick to come back in the other.
I have just this week finished a co-production with the BBC, a film called, perhaps prophetically enough, Midnight Movie. But it was during its making that I came to see just how deeply and how seriously the demoralisation, the bitterness and, yes, even the hatred had bitten into the working lives of so many hitherto reasonably contented and undoubtedly talented BBC staff.
But I tell you now, it is impossible not to wonder how on earth those currently, and I hope temporarily, in charge of the BBC could have brought such things to such a miserably demeaning condition. My impression was that there is now a one-way system of communication, and that the signals being sent down the narrowed track were so laden with costive, blurb and bubble-driven didacticism that they were more than half perceived as emanating in a squeak of static from someone or, rather, something alien and hostile. And you cannot make a pair of croak-voiced Daleks appear benevolent even if you dress one of them up in an Armani suit and call the other Marmaduke. [refers to BBC Director-General John Birt and Chairman of the Board of Governors Marmaduke Hussey]
It is a wretched thing to have to say, and certain not disinterested newspapers have made it more difficult to say, but it is a fact, known by my own experience and without the faintest possibility of doubt, that there are legions of troubled and embittered employees at the BBC who can scarcely understand any of the concepts of the new “management culture” which the present and so often so unfairly abused Director General tries to enunciate.
When watching and listening to what is going on at the BBC as it trims down its staff almost as fast as it loses its viewers, I was struck, and not for the first time, by how much the shifts and turns which seem particular to any one large institution can in themselves be seen as a model for the wider society in which all of us live. Any virulently new Management Culture can be studied as scrupulously as one might examine the bacteria proliferating around a wound. Both are the response to previous damage made worse by infection picked up from the outside world. The ideas in the unclean air, so to speak.
The glories of privatisation and the brutalities of the unshackled market as unleashed by Mrs. Thatcher and her successor ideologists were always likely to rattle a few of the professions, and sometimes rightly so. This genuine radicalism, rare in British politics can more or less positively hold up the battle banners of its occasionally healthy and often vicious indifference to the old, class-ridden, status-conscious cultures of Great Britain. This iconoclasm fractured many old attitudes, many old bonds, and even many whole communities.
The cry of Yuppie to Yuppie sounded in the land, as chilling as any call from the carnivores in swamp or forest. And the deep hatred of any other claim, any other way of seeing, of anything other than the forces of law and order in the public domain, was always going to be arrowed with poison-dipped barb at the slow, decent, stumbling and puzzled giant run from Broadcasting House.
And thus it is in model form that the turmoil, the distress, the dogma-driven rhetoric, the obtuseness and the spluttering aggressions at and around the BBC can also be picked up in similar shapes, cries, contortions and an almost identical bluster from both sides in so many other areas of our national life.
We have been at war with each other, and some of our fellow citizens have felt the bits of their very brain and fibres from their very soul are being crunched with the other, apparently all-important numbers in the computer. No wonder that, out there there is talk of Moral Panic, and a sense that our feet are scrambling about on loose scree.
At the time Rupert Murdoch was anxiously trying to guild if not renovate his image while lobbying to prevent his cable television company coming under the same rules and regulations that apply to other British television companies, he announced that his main company was going to fund a new Chair at Oxford University to the tune of £3 million. It was to be called - I do beg your pardon, but I cannot keep a straight face it was to be called the Murdoch Chair in Language Communications. But the announcement came with cack-handed timing on the very same day that the Press Council formally and of course ineffectively censured Murdoch’s Son for calling homosexuals “poofters”. Some language. Some communication.
Murdoch did not turn up for the ceremonial meal to mark the largesse at Oxford, always a place where the gap between the cup and the lip can be measured by more than an inch of the sardonic. But Rupert has a touch of pure cruelty in his make-up. He sent Kelvin MacKenzie, the sharp little weasel that edits that daily stink they call the Sun, and the maladroit fellow had to sit and chew and probably even dribble a bit between two professors.
I would not dispute for one wayward whistle or crackle that the BBC of my childhood was not paternalistic and often stuffily pompous. It saw itself in an almost priestly role. But at a crucial period of my life it threw open the “magic casement” on great sources of mind-scape at a time when books were hard to come by, and when I had never stepped in a theatre or a concert hall, and would have been scared to do so, even if given the chance.
Of course, the characteristic media ploy of separating the “popular” from the “serious” which often means the distinction between the Solemn and Lively and not just the truncheon-like measuring rod of class and educational status of course, yes, that process had already begun with the split between the Home Service and the Light Programme. But such a parting of the ways was nothing like a s rigidly mapped out as it is nowadays, where listeners are presumed to be walking about with one of the digits One to Five tattooed like cattle brands on their high, middling, low, lower and yet lower brows.
On the old Light Programme you could suddenly, maybe reluctantly, collide with a play or a discussion or an embryonic drama-documentary. The now totally pervasive assumptions of the marketplace, which have stiffened into something close to Natural Law, had not by then removed the chance of being surprised by something you didn’t know or better still by something that you didn’t know that you knew.
But the dangers of the older view of how to run radio and television are, unless faced and redefined, sufficiently troubling to leave enough space for someone such as Rupert Murdoch to drive a golden coach and a team of wild-eyed horses straight through the gap. His James MacTaggart lecture here a few years ago was little short of a masterpiece of apparently libertarian rhetoric. Indeed, it was the kind of peroration I would like to hear him deliver from the scaffold.
The insecurities and contradictions of the BBC’s only half-digested and half-shamefaced self-definitions lay like rubble spread in inviting heaps in front of the supercharged, savage-toothed JCB of his unslaked appetite. The Corporation has already been driven onto the back foot by the ideology-driven malice of the ruling politicians, and its response has been to take several more steps backwards, with hands thrown up, and to whimper an alleged defence of all it has stood for in the very language and concepts of its opponents.
This palpable ambivalence and doubt, where you pretend to be the commercial business that you cannot be, has led to the present, near-fatal crisis where it seems to be thought that the wounds (often self-afflicted) can only be staunched by shuffling about word-processed words about a new “Management Culture”.
Management of what? Management for what? Management. Management.
Management. The word sticks in one’s interface. Please excuse me if I dare to laugh, but I know that each age, even each decade, has its little cant word coiled up inside real discourse like a tiny grub in the middle of an apple. Each age, even each decade, is overly impressed for a little while by half-way bright youngish men on the make who adeptly manipulate the current terminology at precisely the right moment to make precisely the right impression on those who are a little older, a little less intelligent, and considerably less alert.
As a writer who needs to clutch his pen as though it were a lifebelt, I have to admit that I have nevertheless improved many a shining hour with a probably untransmittable little playlet about one of the more intriguing encounters of our time. I was not there when Fortnum met Mason, Laurel met Hardy, or Murdoch met Mephistopheles but I would have given my old Thesaurus or my new sequence of Readers Digest Prize Draw Numbers to have been a hornet on the wall at that surely entrancing fascination and maybe even comical occasion when dear old Marmaduke first met dear young John and each of them sort of half-discussed what was sort of half-wrong with the greatest broadcasting organisation the world has ever seen.
Where, I wonder, did they meet? Who was the first to smile lethally? Who said, um, “structural walk-through” as he ordered the mineral water? And did the waiter say “Pardon?” Was the table well laden and did it groan when the un-advertised post of the twelfth and not thirteenth Director Generalship was finally settled?
And were the Ageing Governors at the British Broadcasting Corporation waiting and twitching and nodding amongst themselves in some cramped little area decently set aside at the front of the room where you deposit your hats, coats, tightly furled umbrellas, and maybe, in the case of one of them, your spare Honk If You Love Jesus car stickers?
Only connect, said E. M. Forster, that great novelist who Murdoch’s nasty little rag would presumably dismiss as an artsy-fartsy old poofter. But, yes, what a good word: connect. The verb which far better than the merely technical “transmit” is, if not actually, certainly what should be the defining activity of all television, especially that threatened and peculiarly self-threatened section which has no need, and indeed no remit, to package up A, B or C defined groups of the allegedly passive on behalf of predatory advertisers.
The section of broadcasting which above all else, and quite separately from any temporarily dominant political language or so-called “management culture”, must continually remind itself that it is not a business trying to distribute dosh to its shareholders, not owned by its current administrators, no a company entitled to build Chinese Walls around its momentary practices, but something held in trust and in law for every citizen of this misgoverned and too long abused group of nations we for probably a few decades more call Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Television could scarcely resist calling itself “a window on the world”, as it did in its early days, even using the subtitle on Panorama. But windows have frames, and the frames are part of a structure that has already been built. So-called Naturalism is by far and away the dominant mode. But one of the troubles of supposedly showing things-as-they-really-are (the Window problem) is how difficult it then becomes not to make people feel deep in their souls that this is also more or less the way things have to be.
Hence the shock-horror-probe patterns, the inflated status of those bus conductors called News Readers, the odd and only temporarily effective splashes of sensational indignation, the random violence, the unmediated sexuality, and the presence of critics who almost uniformly perceive their function to be joke-makers and snide-mongers. Who can blame them?
Our television has been ripped apart and falteringly re-assembled by politicians who believe that value is a monetary term only, and that a cost-accountant is thereby the most suitable adjudicator of what we can and cannot see on our screens. And these accountants or their near clones are employed by new kinds of Media Owners who try to gobble up everything in their path.
We must protect ourselves and our democracy, first by properly exercising the cross-ownership provisions currently in place, and then by erecting further checks and balances against dangerous concentrations of the media power which plays such a large part in our lives. No individual, group or company should be allowed to own more than one daily, one evening and one weekly newspaper. No newspaper should be allowed to own a television station, and vice-versa. A simple act of public hygiene, tempering abuse, widening choice, and maybe even returning broadcasting to its makers.
The political pressures from market-obsessed radicals, and the huckster atmosphere that follows has, by degrees, and in confused self-defence, drawn the BBC so heavily into the dogma-coated discourses of so-called “market efficiency” that in the end it might lose clear sight of why it, the BBC, is there in the first place.
I fear the time is near when we must not save the BBC from itself, but public service broadcasting from the BBC. The old Titan should spawn smaller and more nimble offspring if its present controllers cannot be removed. Why not think about it anyway?
Why not separate Radio from Television? Why not let BBC2 be a separate public service broadcaster? Let us begin to consider afresh how the thousands of millions of pounds of licence money could be apportioned between two, three or four successors to the currently misled Corporation. One of the successors could certainly be a publishing or commissioning authority on the model of Channel 4.
Indeed, Channel 4, if freed from its advertisements, could continue to evolve out of its original, ever precious remit into a passably good model of the kinds of television some of us seek. Michael Grade is becoming, by default, the new Director General, and the ironies if not the comedy of such an unexpected grace remind me that it is time to wind down before I exhaust myself with my own restraint.
Thirty years ago, under the personal pressures of whatever guilt, whatever shame and whatever remaining shard of idealism, I found or I made up what I may unwisely have termed a sense of Vocation. I have it still. It was born, of course, from the already aborted dream of a common culture, which has long since been zapped into glistening fragments by those who are now the real if not always recognised Occupying Powers of our culture. Look in the pink pages and see their mesh of connections. Open The Sun and measure their aspirations. Put Rupert Murdoch on public trial, and televise every single second of it. Show us who is abusing us, and why. Ask your public library if there is one left to file the Television Franchise Applications on the shelf hitherto kept for Fantasy, Astrology and Crime Bizarre.
I was exceptionally fortunate to begin my career in television at a time when the BBC was so infuriatingly confident about what public service broadcasting meant that the question itself was not even on what would now be called the agenda. The then ITV companies shared much more of this ethos than they were then willing to acknowledge. Our profession was then mostly filled with men and women who mostly cared about the programmes rather than the dividend.
But the world has turned upside down. The BBC is under governors who seem incapable of performing the public trust that is invested in them, under a chairman who seems to believe he is heading a private fiefdom, and under a chief executive who must somehow or other have swallowed whole and unsalted the kind of humbug-punctuated pre-privatisation manual which is forced on British Rail or British Coal.
But I do not want to end o a malediction. Let me remind myself of how to paint the clouds with sunshine. I first saw television when I was in my late teens. It made my heart pound. Here was a medium of great power, of potentially wondrous delights that could slice through all the tedious hierarchies of the printed word, and help to emancipate us from many of the stifling tyrannies of class and status and gutter press ignorance. We are privileged if we can work in this, the most entrancing of all the many palaces of variety. Switch on, tune in, and grow.
I hope it is clear by now that I happen to care very much about the medium that has both allowed and shaped the bulk of my life’s work, and even my life’s meaning.
However, I do have the odd hour or two in each day in which to pretend to be a St. George rather than a St. Sebastian. I therefore hereby formally apply in front of witnesses of substance, here at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, for the post of Chairman of the Governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
These extracts are from Dennis Potter’s James MacTaggart Lecture, delivered last night [Friday August 27th 1993] at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.
from http://news6.thdo.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/avantgo/newsid%5F675000/675944 .htm
A media studies student who caused thousands of pounds of damage as he "rampaged" through the BBC's main television newsroom has been sent to a mental hospital for an indefinite period.
Nigel Flack, 21, broke into the newsroom at Television Centre in White City, west London, last September and threatened to kill anyone who tried to stop him. He got to within feet of newsreader Anna Ford before the situation was brought under control by staff. A security guard suffered facial bruising.
Judge Simon Smith at Middlesex Crown Court told Flack, an undergraduate at Middlesex University, who admitted one count of affray and two of common assault last September, he was clearly mentally ill and needed treatment.
After "careful consideration" he and the two magistrates sitting with him had decided an order needed to be made under the Mental Health Act allowing him to be detained "without limit of time".
While no one was seriously injured, Flack not only had little insight into his condition but there was a real risk he would not continued with his medication if left unsupervised. Such a situation posed a "considerable risk of another episode and if it was anything like the last there would be a serious risk of harm to the public," the judge added.
The court heard that Flack, who pleaded guilty to affray and common assault, had suffered a sudden psychiatric illness.
Flack's problems appeared "to have come out of a cloudless sky," said Charles Ward-Jackson, defending.
He managed to breach the tighter security imposed in the wake of Jill Dando's murder. He forced his way through turnstiles and ran up to the second floor.
Once there he picked up a large coffee table, smashed it through the window of the "secure" newsroom, and climbed in.
Richard Burrington, prosecuting, said Flack screamed that he would kill anyone who tried to stop him.
He said he attacked a cameraman and a security officer who attempted to intervene. Both escaped serious injury.
Mr Burrington said: "Flack then picked up two TV monitors and threw them to the floor, breaking them, before picking up a chair and trying to throw it through another window leading to the newsroom's nerve centre."
The prosecutor said he threatened to kill everyone in the newsroom and he added: "He said he was going to take the BBC off the air by his actions."
When police arrived his bag was searched and was found to have a stick and a 3lb dumb-bell.
"When interviewed he admitted his actions and said essentially his motive for them was that he had an argument in his mind with the controller of the BBC Greg Dyke over the way it produced its programmes," Mr Burrington said.
He said Flack added: "I hate the BBC and want revenge. They charge too much. The licence is too high."
Forensic psychiatrist Dr Ceri Evans told the court there was little doubt Flack had suffered a psychotic illness, probably schizophrenia, for up to two years before the incident.
She said he believed people on television were watching him.
YOUR report (BBC bosses hold stakes in contract winning firms, December 6) ignored salient facts about senior BBC executives' outside interests and was misleading.
The fact that Sir Christopher Bland is chairman of NFC is not "buried in the latest set of BBC accounts" but is clearly stated in the front of all three annual Reports since his appointment as BBC chairman in 1996. The BBC's contract with Exel Logistics, an NFC subsidiary, started six years before Sir Christopher became NFC chairman and eight years before he became BBC chairman. Sir Christopher has never. participated in any discussions at NFC or the BBC about the Exel BBC contract.
Alan Yentob has never been involved in commissioning any programmes made by Philippa Walker. Sir Richard Eyre has not taken part in any discussions on contracts involving companies in which he has an interest. Philip Langsdale was only appointed last September; the legal firm for which his wife works has advised the BBC for over 40 years. Liquid Solutions, the company for which John Smith acts as unpaid secretary, were not, and are not, in negotiation with the BBC.
' Following the Nolan Report, the BBC established a register detailing the interests of governors and senior management. This is publicised in the Annual Report and is available for public inspection. Conflicts of interest must be declared and transactions involving outside interests communicated to the BBC's auditors. The BBC also has strict guidelines on potential conflicts of interest for all staff.
Director of Corporate Affairs
The most important and controversial matter or the autumn of 1986 was the series of documentaries called Secret Society. I do not think there remains much dispute about their genesis. They were offered to the Controller of BBC-2 by BBC Scotland as a result of conversations between a producer in Glasgow and the journalist Duncan Campbell, after another programme in which Campbell had taken part. Campbell, well-known as a thorough investigative journalist much of whose work was published in the New Statesman, wanted to try his hand at television. The offer, six thirty-minute investigative films by Duncan Campbell (i.e. researched an presented by him, but produced within normal BBC practice) 'each illuminating a hidden truth of major public concern', was accepted by Graeme McDonald, the Controller of BBC-2 on 12 on th June, 1985. Later, those who detected the cloven hoof in Campbell demanded to know why McDonald had not alerted others He said, simply, he never recognised there might be a problem. And, anyway, the plan for the programmes' production was known to senior Television Service management.
Work began on the series. In April 1986 Alan Protheroe, acting on my behalf, was asked by BBC Scotland for permission to embark on programme one which involved the need to 'bug' a private detective who said he could access a Criminal Records Office computer. Permission for such covert filming or recording had to be obtained from the Director General or his nominee. After much legal discussion, permission was granted and filming took place. Later, the police were informed that a potentially criminal act had taken place and the man was subsequently charged under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. This work was embodied in the programme later called Data. In June, the Head of Television BBC Scotland wrote to the Controller of BBC-2 filling in the details of the programmes as planned at that date.
1. The Secret Constitution. We're taught that Britain is a parliamentary democracy. But who really rules? Answer: small, secret Cabinet committees.
2. In Time of Crisis. Since 1982, governments in every other NATO country have been preparing for the eventuality of war. In Britain, these preparations are kept secret. So what will happen when the balloon goes up?
3. A Gap In Our Defences. Bungling defence manufacturers and incompetent military planners have botched every new radar system that Britain has installed since World War Two. Why? And can we stop it happening again?
4. We're All Data Now. the Data Protection Act is supposed to protect us from abuse, but it's already out of date and full of loopholes. So what kind of abuses should we worry about?
The fifth programme being discussed at the moment is about the Association of Chief Police Officers and how Government policy and actions are determined in the fields of law and order.
A sixth programme is at the early stages of discussion and is likely to be about communications with particular reference to satellites.
Alan had mentioned to me that work was proceeding on the Campbell series and that everyone in Scotland, from the Controller downwards, seemed to be on top of it. The programmes were still, of course, being made. But their shape was emerging, and at a press conference on 20th August to reveal the BBC-2 autumn plans, attended by Duncan Campbell, there was talk of the series 'which will disclose restricted information on Government emergency plans in case there is another war'. Reports of this press conference alerted the Secretary of the D-Notice Committee (Defence Press and Broadcasting committee: a means for the Ministry of Defence to communicate to the media matters whose publication might affect national security) who made remonstration noises. It also alerted some Governors since the reports of the press conference were included in their regular press packs. They began to ask about the series. I promised to keep them informed as progress occurred.
Early in September, the Head of Television in Scotland, Jim Hunter, wrote to Alan to tell him that Joel Barnett had agreed to take part in one of the programmes (the one on satellites, named Zircon) in his former capacity as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. (Later Joel withdrew and his successor as Chairman of the PAC, Robert Sheldon, took his place.) On 10th October, Alan wrote to Pat Chalmers, the controller of BBC Scotland, saying that we must have an urgent and full brief on the whole series as it then stood. A couple of days earlier, the interview with Bob Sheldon had been done and he complained to the BBC and Joel Barnett that he had been 'set up' by Duncan Campbell and the production team. Things seemed to be getting very messy.
When Barnett came to Edinburgh to speak to the CBA dinner, he was not only tetchy about the Hamilton/Howarth case, he was very cross about the way he claimed Sheldon had been treated. Alan had briefed me over the phone and I had the transcript of the interview to hand in Edinburgh. I took Joel through it and satisfied myself (and I think at the time him) that Sheldon had come out of the experience perfectly well, even though for good reasons a question was sprung on him. but alarm bells were ringing all over the place. Daphne Park and other Governors were demanding to know why Campbell had ever been employed. He was 'a destroyer', he was not the sort of person the BBC should consort with. On 13th November, she and Curtis Keeble waxed very hot about the matter. Joel Barnett and Alwyn Roberts were the only voices counselling caution. Hussey, chairing his first Board meeting, made no bones about how deeply most Governors were getting to feel about this series.
Over the next few weeks, there was much bustle with Alan attending several viewings in Glasgow. In particular, the Zircon programme about an alleged British spy satellite, the cost of which the programme claimed had been concealed from the Public Accounts Committee in direct contravention of an agreement made when Joel Barnett was PAC Chairman, was causing anxiety. Campbell claimed, and has continued to claim, that his information was accurate. Alan's briefings, from a number of sources, changed his original view that the programme was fit for transmission. In a private letter sent to my house on 5th December, he made the positive recommendation to me that the BBC should hot transmit the Zircon programme for reasons of national security. His memo was carefully, but strongly, worded.
Meantime, I had personally viewed all the programme rough cuts, as I assured the Board I would, and I invited other members of the Board of Management to see them with me. If we were working up to another confrontation, I wanted to be sure that the management, anyway, was of one mind. We concluded that Zircon apart (and some were doubtful of Alan's judgment on it) the other five programmes were transmittable. But all had flaws. Consequently, at a meeting in my office on 17th December, and again on 7th January, I told the Controller of BBC Scotland that I wished to clear an evening on BBC-2, cut the films down, and use them as evidence in a thorough programme discussion on 'freedom of information'. He was not happy, but I told him to go away and think about it. Over the Christmas holiday, I concluded that BBC Scotland would not easily encompass the new format and told Pat Chalmers to prepare the agreed five films for transmission. Secret Society was ready for the air, probably in March. I then informed the Board that five films would be transmitted but that one, Zircon, would not. We were giving further thought to possible different programme format.
By now, Hussey and I had had a few working weeks together. A big, genial man, he seemed mainly concerned that I was being kept fully informed about who he was lunching with, but also wet, ferret-like, back over all the papers on the Hamilton/Howarth case, writing me long memos full of fairly peremptory questions. He even sent for our counsel in the case and interviewed them at length. Later, there was a sticky meeting where he and Barnett sat in solemn judgment on the affair and Alan, Margaret and I were left in no doubt that they thought we had made a proper hash of the whole thing. Shortly after Hussey arrived, I gave him lunch at a restaurant we both enjoyed. there I learnt a lot about him, his terrible war wound at Anzio, his early life in newspapers, his troubled time at The Times. He was amiable and obviously a man of great courage. I touched then on my future, saying I would like to continue as DG (which was an option in my letter of appointment from George Howard) after my term of six years expired in July 1988. He said, I thought quite reasonably, that 'It's not the right time to talk about that.' I presume he already knew by then how he was going to act a few weeks later.
As he went around the BBC, we discussed amongst ourselves at Board of Management how the new team of Hussey and Barnett were getting on. Hussey seemed to go down very well with the staff, relaxed and friendly, as did Barnett also. It was inevitable that they would be dubbed 'Little and Large'. There were some who were anxious that Arnett had an office in the building and seemed a very active Vice-Chairman, and I passed this anxiety on to Hussey on one occasion. the increasing presence and activity of Chairman in recent years was one thing; if you had an interventionist Vice-Chairman as well (and Joel was very involved in, for example, the White City development) there was distinct danger of collision. Although Hussey was genial with the staff, one or two members of the senior management had received the rough edge of his tongue. To me, he could not have been nicer. The Board, on the other hand, showed all the signs of ragged nerves. At the last two meeting before Christmas, they grumbled about various appointments suggestions we put to them, hounded me unpleasantly over Secret Society, seemed thoroughly dyspeptic. Mike Checkland and I swapped notes after one meeting. 'They're throwing down the gauntlet,' was his comment. I was quite glad to see the back of them at Christmas.
There was one other incident towards the end of the year which perhaps had a hidden significance. We had all worked hard to arrange a celebration of Stuart Young's life in Guildhall, with many different interests to be accommodated. It turned out to be a splendid and moving occasion where a number of people, including the Prime Minister, gave readings and Bill Cotton, David Young and I spoke, David most touchingly. Afterwards, there was a reception, and I moved with Sheila to have a word with the PM who was talking to the Chief Rabbi. To my surprise, she effectively cut me dead. The very same evening, after a Board discussion on television, Alwyn Roberts dropped in to the office for a drink. Some Board members, he warned, wanted my 'head to roll' because of Secret Society. I had no need to ask who.
The New Year dawned mild and very wet. Ten days letter, the entire country was feet deep in snow and transport paralysed. The worst winter, they said, since 1962-3. The first Board meeting of the year was due to take place on 15th January; the General Advisory Council meeting the day before. It seemed only humane to cancel the GAC meeting since there were around sixty-five members coming fro every corner of the country. And though we rang round the Governors and all were valiantly prepared to try and come to London for their Thursday meeting, when I met Duke Hussey in the lift on the Wednesday morning, we quickly agreed we should cancel the Board as well. Joel Barnett was still on holiday in Brazil and rumours in Broadcasting House had it that the wires between the Chairman's office and Rio de Janeiro were hot with usage. Had that meeting occurred, I suppose my execution would have taken place a fortnight earlier than it did.
We already had confirmation from the Home Office that in future the licence fee would be index-linked to the RPI. Over the next fortnight, too, the Secret Society affair gathered momentum. On the 18th, the Observer broke the story of my decision not to transmit the Zircon programme: 'BBC GAG on £500M DEFENCE SECRET'.
The next day the press had heard that Duncan Campbell would be showing the film to MPs in the House of Commons on the Thursday. We thought it prudent to tell Pat Chalmers to remind our staff of their contractual limitations and to demand the return of the film. By the Wednesday, Treasury solicitors were busy taking injunctions out against Campbell. The Select Committee on Defence were insisting on seeing the film but the permanent Secretary at the MoD, Sir Clive Whitmore, appeared to have refused them. On a couple of occasions, Hussey grumbled to me about why we ever came to make the film. It wasn't long before the Special Branch were running all over the BBC in Glasgow like mice, removing boxes of papers and impounding every foot of film they could find. It was a bizarre development to a long-running story.
On Wednesday, 28th January, the day before the first Board meeting, there was a farewell dinner for Alwyn Roberts, the retiring Welsh National Governor. Alwyn had been around the BBC, first as a member of the Broadcasting Council for Wales and then seven years as National Governor, for a long time. He had been due to go the previous summer but this term had been extended for six months, just as he was about to have his first farewell dinner! These are big occasions, held in the Council Chamber, with seventy or so people present, including former Governors and former embers of the Members of the Board of Management.
The tradition is that the Chairman speaks first, and the Director General follows, speaking for the executive. There is a presentation, and the guest of honour replies. When Hussey and I had done our bit Alwyn, speaking as he always did without a note and with the rhetorical skill of a trained preacher, spoke strongly and with candour. He warned the Governors and the management of the continuing dangers of confrontation. He was dismissive of those Governors who insisted on proclaiming that they and they alone were the BBC. What about the producers, the cameramen, the sound recordists, the film editors, the engineers, he asked; were they too not part of the BBC and the most important part?
Looking about me, I could see that this homily did not please some of the Governors present. There were frowning faces. A colleague of mine who was sitting next to Sir John Boyd told me later that John was muttering angrily: 'This is all nonsense. You wait until tomorrow.' As the party broke up for a farewell whisky, it seemed we had said a proper goodbye to Alwyn, which he fully deserved. He had also sounded a clear warning note.
At the Board the following morning, much of the business was routine. I fancied Hussey was in more of a muddle with his papers than usual, but thought nothing of it. Some Governors - Daphne Park, Watson Peat - were extremely sour about Secret Society again, but Alan Protheroe fought his corner well. As we walked down the stairs at Television Centre, I said to Mike Checkland, 'What did you make of that?' 'Awful,' he said. In breaks during the morning, we had been talking to our lawyers about the ghastly case of Michael Lush who had been killed rehearing a stunt for the Noel Edmonds' Show. The case was being heard in the Coroner's Court that day, and I went in to Bill Cotton's office, which adjoined mine, to speak to them again.
Then, as I walked down the corridor in the direction of lunch, Patricia Hodgson, the Secretary, asked me if I would go and see the Chairman. I thought it odd that she addressed me by my Christian name; everybody else did, but for some reason she had never done so before. When I walked into Hussey's office, Barnett and he were both there. I remember the blinds were drawn against the sun which was brilliant that morning. Hussey's lip trembled as he said: 'I am afraid this is going to be a very unpleasant interview. We want you to leave immediately. It's a unanimous decision of the Board.'
I was stunned. What was he talking about? Perhaps I should have seen the plot thickening, but I hadn't. 'We want to make changes,' said Barnett. 'We can't under the present circumstances.' I didn't speak. Hussey said again: 'It's a unanimous decision of the Board. You might prefer to resign - for personal reasons.' Barnett said, 'We are men of honour. If you resign, it won't affect your arrangements. You are going next year anyway.'
I had, in fact, eighteen months to go as DG. The Board which appointed me had also spoken of a mutual option of another two years. Hussey said: 'I've already spoken to Arnold Goodman.' What terrible people, I thought. I asked for a sheet of paper, couldn't remember the date: one of them said it was 29th January. I wrote out my resignation and handed it to Hussey. I walked back to my office and said to Ros, my personal assistant, 'I've been fired.' She said: 'Oh my God', and then I walked through to Bill Cotton's office, where Mike Checkland was too, and told them. Bill swore roundly; Mike looked totally disbelieving. I went downstairs and said to Eddie, my driver: 'Home Eddie.' 'When shall I pick you up?' he asked. (We were due that evening at a party to launch Superchannel, where the Prime Minister was going to be present.) 'I'll be in touch,' I said when he dropped me at home.
At home, I was on my own. Sheila was out. As I prowled up and down the living room, the first impact was the humiliation of being discarded by such people without a word of explanation or discussion; one of them had been all of ten working weeks in the BBC, the other barely six months. I had imagined I still had eighteen months to serve as DG. Anguish was followed by despair.
Half an hour later, a letter from Hussey was delivered by a driver. The Board had, he said, accepted my resignation. They had asked him to 'express their gratitude for your many years of service with the Corporation'. Would I now put my lawyers in touch with theirs?
Within minutes of the BBC's announcement of my departure, the Fleet Street contingent was camping round my front door to chronicle the end of my BBC career. The horror of what had happened was softened in later days by the scores of letters from friends and colleagues all over the world. One of them, from a famous and distinguished British broadcaster, precisely echoed my own feelings. 'What has happened to you,' he said, 'is something that will stand high in the annals of broadcasting infamy.'
(end of chapter)
Milne, Alasdair. DG : the memoirs of a British broadcaster
Two other programmes also had a significant impact on Mrs Thatcher and Marmaduke Hussey's successful move to topple the BBC Director General in revenge for political embarrassment. Firstly the Panorama programme 'Maggie's Militant Tendency' exposed the fact (at a time when the tabloid newspapers were laying into Labour's radical 'Militant' wing) that the Conservative party had its own nasty breed of extreme right-wing MP's. Two Conservative MP's were exposed as members of fascist organisations in the programme one of whom was the later notorious Neil Hamilton MP.
The other was a radio four programme by Duncan Campbell called 'My Country Right or Wrong' which questioned the morality of aspects of government intelligence work in a similar way to the Secret Society series.
Alasdair Milne was a crucial figure in the transmission of all three programmes, without his backing none would have gone ahead. He had to be removed to save the Conservative party, and the establishment, further embarrassment.
Since Alisdair's sacking the BBC's producers have lost the will to fight for controversial programmes which serve the public rather than establishment interest. Thursday 29th January 1987 was the day public service ended at the BBC.
To the site index
by Tony Gosling
It's not every day you get a call from the top echelons of the BBC inviting you to begin a review of news values. I'm sure you can understand my cynicism... would my views really make an iota of difference... but I was getting my travel paid and a free meal so I took them up on the offer.
The overture came from the office of Richard Ayre, deputy head of News and Current Affairs. Ostensibly the review was called to get news priorities right for the new government. There would be six top editors from the BBC there who would discuss all aspects of news coverage with six of us from outside.
When I arrived at Oxford Circus on a hot July evening at about seven I was gearing myself up to speak for everyone who understands the power of the mass media and is genuinely frightened by the concentration of its control into fewer and fewer hands.
I arrived at Broadcasting House reception, passing through the 'hallowed portals' I'd got to know several years ago as a BBC radio reporter and researcher.
The facilities in this building beggar belief... I remember being awe struck by 'News Information' department, with its thousands of neat files of newspaper clippings on every subject from Headingly Cricket to Heads of State. Everything that had ever made the news was here to peruse.
They were waiting for me on the third floor so I stepped into one of the magnificent art-deco lifts. There were no signs to the third floor suite so I set off down the corridor knowing that as all floors in B.H. are laid out round a circular corridor I'd find 'the suite' eventually.
After passing through several sets of swing doors I was confronted by an intimidating sign: Radio Newsroom, no entry to visitors. Luckily, being so used to going in and out of B.H. with my own ID card, I had forgotten to register as a 'visitor', so I pushed the doors open and crossed the newsroom with a purposeful air.
As a cub reporter the buzz in this room had fascinated me... it was homely and familiar... this room has the power to lay the foundations for the changes we so desperately need. The crippling debt and trade in weapons that so weigh the world down could be challenged from here. I reflected on the worn-out institutions that supposedly decide our fate then on the power over public opinion that these folk at the BBC have. As I looked at the faces around me whose voices would be instantly recognizable, I wondered how we allowed it to happen that none of us have a say in deciding who makes those crucial decisions.
Out the other side of the newsroom the corridor continued further round eventually passing the Director General's suite... could this be it? I knocked on a nearby door and a helpful woman confirmed that this was the only dinner suite on the third floor.
Sure enough they were expecting me and Richard Ayre introduced me to a rapid succession of top editors... the hidden faces behind the news: The World Tonight... Breakfast News... The BBC Social Affairs Editor was there as was Sian Kevill, deputy head of political programmes. I worked my way around the BBC people until I found some smarm-free conversation. More with ITV it's true- but media people take sycophancy to nightmarish depths.
Sian seemed an exception and was particularly clued up on The Land Is Ours campaign as well as the history of land enclosure and the Levellers and the Diggers. As we were talking about the Civil War she mentioned that the BBC would be covering the 350th anniversary of the Putney Debates to be organised by the Quakers later in the year. As it turned out although I was in Putney Church as an 'Agitator' the BBC were not. She began to press me closely on what I wanted The Land Is Ours to achieve. I made it clear that I would consider the campaign a failure if we couldn't manage to achieve what the Diggers did, by occupying land to live on for at least a year. We managed it at Wandsworth for just under six months but the year was the aim. I had to politely refuse to answer when she insisted on knowing where exactly we planned to do this!
By now other guests from outside the BBC were arriving and I was introduced to them. There was an Italian woman from the Consumers' Association who seemed to think the BBC was the world's perfect broadcaster, well it could seem that way to someone brought up on Italian TV. Another of the guests was from the T.U.C., the dinner was taking place at the height of the British Airways dispute with cabin staff so she was ready to call the BBC to account for never explaining the context of industrial disputes. Other guests included a jovial top police officer from Thames Valley and a woman from the Human Embryology and fertility clinic.
When we all sat down around the DG's dining table Richard Ayre was at the head. He kicked off the discussions and the meal by explaining he wanted us all to tell it how it was. That this meal was the first step in a comprehensive review of news and current affairs programmes that would proceed to a set of new programmes to be prepared in the Autumn and Winter.
When Richard kicked off discussions I was the first to speak, throwing down the gauntlet immediately by challenging the BBC's right to charge a licence fee. There were several nods from the guests so I explained that Channel 4, particularly with its Dispatches strain were doing far more public service programming than the BBC. And they are a commercial channel. Richard defended the BBC stoutly but the only example of public service programming where they were sticking their neck out he gave was the Panorama Diana interview.
We criticised the BBC's use of 'experts' which each of us in our fields knew were far from objective, we discussed coverage of Northern Ireland and I questioned the fact that none of the locally produced and insightful material is shown on BBC networks. Maybe surprisingly there was universal support amongst the guests for interviews to be shown with all sides including armed groups in the Troubles.
In all our discussions there was not a mention of the only meaningful change in recent months, the wonderful idea of 'super-editors' a handful of which will control what we are allowed to know and think.
I insisted on putting forward the point that young people that I knew increasingly see the BBC as State Broadcasting, and with some pretty substantial justification. That the corporation was far too controlled, particularly in its news and documentary coverage, by the Foreign Office and by Downing Street. I know this because a friend worked as a temp for several months in the TV newsroom and explained to my horror that she was putting calls through regularly from top government officials and passing messages on to the editors about the best angle to take on sensitive news stories.
Richard Ayre dismissed my comments about political interference with the BBC as alarmist and assured us all that they guarded their independence fiercely. I know they dismiss left-leaning staff under the secret 'Christmas Tree' scheme (Tannenbaum = The Red Flag) because so many people independently have told me about it. He was lying through his teeth, so I decided to throw the most reprehensible example of political censorship at the BBC I knew of at them.
Alasdair Milne, the last Director General to stand up for independence and the public interest at the BBC was sacked, I said, for supporting a politically embarrassing programme.
A programme in Duncan Campbell's Secret Society series revealed that £500 million of public money had been spent by UK Military Intelligence on a spy satellite without the knowledge of parliament. This was the Zircon programme and as the transmission date approached, I explained, pressure from many angles was brought to bear on Alisdair to drop it. He felt, quite rightly, that the programme did not compromise national security and refused to cover up for the ineptitude of the intelligence services.
Special Branch turned up at one stage at the offices of BBC Scotland and emptied the contents of an entire production office into several transit vans as part of the Political pressure on the BBC. Meanwhile Alisdair, who'd had a hand in such ground-breaking programmes as Tonight and That Was The Week That Was, refused to budge. So, I explained, he was sacked.
After a short uncomfortable silence Richard Ayre challenged me; he reminded us all that at the time newspapers reported he had resigned of his own accord. "Oh come on Richard", and he looked more than a little crestfallen as I recalled, "I have read his Autobiography and Alisdair explains quite clearly that he was called into the Chairman's office and told he had no choice but to go, the resignation was a face-saving exercise to deflect the adverse publicity".
There was another short silence before Richard made light of his deception. "Actually Tony I have to tell you", he sounded slightly more human now, "The events you refer to happened right here around this table, and I was there at the time."
There was another pause, "Alisdair was sitting right where you are now Tony, and he'd just finished his soup". I looked down and staring up at me was an empty soup bowl looking like some eerily detached flying saucer from the Twilight Zone. Richard went on to illustrate how much of a choice Alisdair's resignation had been and how when Alisdair returned from his audience with BBC Chairman (politically appointed) Marmaduke Hussey in the adjoining office his chair was gone and his place had been cleared away.
That whole obscene episode in the winter of 1986 not only illustrates to what extent the BBC is no longer 'ours' but raises serious questions about the influence of entirely unaccountable military intelligence groups over our perceptions.
Ever since that particular travesty of 'Public Service' at the BBC the British press has been in decline. From my 3 year stint at 'Auntie' I have seen corporate ideology creeping, bit-by-bit, into every corner of the corporation.
So if even the top editors at the BBC are denying political interference to our faces God only knows what goes on when there's no concerned members of the public around to prick their consciences.
In a world where the truth is whatever the editors say it is are the BBC likely to have listened to me? Its also more than a little worrying that the editor of the editors should be misleading his guests so readily.
Public access to archives
a) Public Service provision,
b) Reflect Cultural Diversity,
c) Comprehensive news coverage at home and abroad to support fair and informed debate,...
g) Reflect lives and concerns of local and national audiences.
Regional Advisory Councils
Objectives - to advise on all matters which affect the interests of persons in that region. Their procedure shall be determined independently and members will receive all expenses.
25 Jan 1996 - Agreement between the Secretary of State for heritage and the BBC (with treasury minutes).
Charter available at ridiculous price from:
HMSO, 0171 873 9090, 0117 926 4306 or 01232 325672
To the index