It was just last week. I was in the House of Commons ― not the Chamber, not exactly, but the bit nearest the river so they can throw you in if you don’t behave. And I don’t think I did behave.
The occasion was a launch by Arqiva. They are a company as large as the Roman Empire itself, whose equipment we all use to get on the air. Transmitters, extension cables, spark plugs, ladders, Spanx ― whatever a modern broadcaster needs, they supply it in exactly the right size. They do everything in broadcasting except speaking. The broadcasters do that.
At the event were people like Andrew Castle (looking trim), Kate Garroway (looking trim), Nick Ferrari (nice suit), and that amazing woman who does the Radio 3 breakfast show, the one whose name sounds like an orchestra: Clemency Burton-Hill. Oh, plus Jamie Theakston, looking philosophical in that beard, not a shred of grey.
BBC or not, we all owe Arqiva unending thanks because they do the hard miles while we play the records. They supply disks; we jockey. They also do wifi for cafés and airports. So now you’re grateful too, right?
It was basically just a moment for politicians and broadcasters to drink some white wine, laugh about that Natalie Bennett interview again and enjoy the view.
But for those of us at the BBC, the view is a tiny bit troubled.
Stewart Lee in the Guardian summed it up recently when he wrote:
We don’t know what the BBC has done wrong, but we know it has to be punished.
The licence fee has been cut and now there is a debate about the future of my employer (yep, I declare an interest, having worked there since I was a trainee in 1987). Nothing has been ruled out, not even powering the website with Chinese lanterns and having a whole channel which just transmits cheap pictures of hamsters.
I thought I should mention the future of my employer at the event. But that’s awkward, because this wasn’t a BBC event. So then I thought I shouldn’t. But then I reckoned, if you ask a chap from Auntie to host, surely he is entitled to have a rush of blood to the head and defend her honour? But then I thought, if I blurt something out it’s going to be a disaster because I would just shout OH MY GOD SAVE US or something not appropriately rational for the audience. So I wrote some notes on a piece of paper and thought I would play it by ear.
What made my mind up to speak was this. If you look at the photo at the top, you will see, seven to the right of me, a man with horizontal stripes on his tie who is looking down at his mobile. Fair to say he is the only person in the room who really matters. He is Ed Vaizey, minister for radio. I was a bit cheesed off he was looking at his phone during my jokes so I flipped over my script and found my hastily scrawled notes. And here they are.
Ok, illegible. Sorry. But if you go from the orange-circled figure one, to orange-two, through to orange-three, you will get the drift. And if you are interested, these are the words as I read them to the audience:
- “I have managed to speak for five minutes without mentioning the licence fee (I was on a bet). Or tomorrow’s green paper! I’m not licensed to pronounce on any of that but I will just say one sentence … don’t be seduced by the siren voices who say you can strip out all the popular stuff from the BBC and leave it with Radio 3 and Melvyn Bragg. I do a news show at midday that ― and it pains me to say this ― last year overtook the Today programme to become the country’s number one. (Because of an anomaly to do with the election they have just sneaked past us again). I’m full of pride that I broadcast to people who are not news junkies; the kind of people I had no chance of reaching when I presented Newsnight.
- We can only do what we do at midday because
- we have Ken Bruce before and Steve Wright after. That is analogous to the whole organisation. Doing the popular shows gives us the ticket to do the more demanding ones.”
And that was all I said. I moved on to introduce a film, stepped off the podium, laughed when Mr Vaizey joked about how we had met on a bus, and he discovered that “Jeremy lives in Chiswick, which is upmarket, while I live downmarket in Shepherds Bush,” and shared a glass of white wine with my controller as we talked about our beloved employer and the punishment that is coming.
And no, I didn’t get thrown in the river.