Gales view (November 5th 2008)
Herne Bay and Margate have, over the years, provided the backdrop and locations for a number of films and television programmes. Most recently Exodus was made in and around Margate, Tracey Emin made a film there and of course the first episode of "Little Britain" was filmed largely in Herne Bay. Each was, in its own way, controversial.
Exodus showed a side of Margate life that many would prefer to have brushed over, Tracey Emin’s film contained a graphically depicted suicide, the honesty of which attracted the attention of the censors and the BBC’s "Little Britain" has attracted praise and opprobrium in quantities roughly equal to its mixture of talent, creativity, foul language and obscenity.
Question: Could Little Britain have been made as successfully without resorting, particularly in the "Little Britain USA" series, to a level of juvenile vulgarity that is, for many of my constituents, unacceptable?
My answer to that is emphatically "yes" and it was for that reason that, following a letter of complaint from a constituent, I raised the issue with the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thomson, long before the recent and over-reported Brand/Ross transgression of taste and decency.
Mr. Thompson's response was, effectively, that the programme was popular. So that's alright then! Underlying this vein of justification seems to be the line that "television has to appeal to a wide range of audiences and young people like material that older people find distasteful".
I have always argued that every television set is fitted with an "off" switch and that if you do not like what is on the screen then you do not have to watch it.
The BBC, however, is the nation's public service broadcaster, with a world-wide reputation and funded by you and me the television (license fee) taxpayer. We cannot watch television - any television - at all without a license and at present the whole of that revenue is handed over to one broadcaster charged with a duty to deliver a wide range of informative and entertaining programmes. It is my contention that at the most senior level the editorial control of the BBC has failed.
I have spent nearly half of my life in the radio and television production and direction businesses, both with the BBC and with the commercial sector. I have myself on occasions pushed at the barriers of tolerance and I have worked with some difficult and controversial personalities. A great deal of my professional work, particularly as the editor of Thames Television's Teenage Unit, was devoted to making programmes for young people. One of them, the "White Light" teenage magazine series, received a BAFTA nomination. I know, from very personal experience, that this is one of the hardest audiences of all to capture, to entertain and inform and to keep.
I also know that while it is possible to superficially capture the attention of young people by playing to the lowest common denominator and intellect it is also possible, and much more rewarding, to deploy talent, creativity and imagination to make programmes that actually raise sights and standards and ambitions rather than diminish them.
The failure of the Editor in Chief of the BBC to send out clear signals to his often very young producers and directors and contract artistes has led, in my view, to a systemic failure in editorial control and standards and it is for that reason that I have said so publicly that it should be left to a new man or woman to carry out the thorough review of editorial policy that the BBC Trust has belatedly demanded.
The BBC is an important part of our heritage and our culture. If the review results in a re-definition of standards that leads not to a stifling of genuine creativity but to a stimulation of a higher quality of, particularly, entertainment, then those of us who continue to defend the value of the license fee will have our hand strengthened. If it does not then I fear that Auntie's days will be numbered.