Posts Tagged ‘Radio Times’

Radio 3 Series Next Week on Paul Robeson

March 26, 2020

Radio 3’s The Essay next week is doing a series of programmes on Paul Robeson. The show’s called ‘The Essay: Paul Robeson in Five Songs’, and is on from Monday to Friday at 10.45 pm. The short description of the series by David McGillivray on page 122 of the Radio Times runs

The turbulent life of Paul Robeson, the American performer whose career was shamefully curtailed by racism and anti-Communist hysteria, is reflected in five of his songs in a series of essays through the week. His was one of the most magnificent bass baritone voices of the 20th century, and the story behind his biggest hit, Ol’ Man River, is told by his granddaughter tomorrow [Tuesday]. Robeson’s most sustained success in films was in the UK but mostly the roles offered him were demeaning and he turned to political activism. The trade union ballad, Joe Hill (Friday) provides a melancholic epitaph.

Here are the blurbs for the individual episodes by day.

Monday.

No More Auction Block

The life and struggles of New Jersey-born bass-baritone singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson (1898-1976) are explored through five of his songs. Robeson’s signature performances include Show Boat and Othello, but spirituals defined his early career, and in 1925, Robeson and his accompanist Lawrence Brown turned them into “art music”. In this first installment, scholar and professor of black music Shana Redmond explores the ways in which Robeson’s performances of No More Auction Block map his own struggles.

Tuesday

Ol’ Man River

Susan Robeson explores the personal and political aspects of the song that is forever identified with her grandfather  – Ol’ Man River, written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein expressly for Robeson for their groundbreaking 1927 musical Show Boat. But the singer would not wrap his unique voice around it  until the following year in the London production. He would have a lasting and complex relationship with the song, especially as a black superstar performing for white audiences. “My grandfather transformed Ol’ Man River from a song of submission and despair into a song of resistance.”

Wednesday

The Canoe Song

Paul Robeson and film should have been a perfect fit. The 20th Century’s first black superstar had presence, voice and fierce intelligence that projected from the screen. British audiences adored him, but for Robeson cinema was a constant betrayal of his political idealism. Matthew Sweet considers the confusing threads that make up Zoltan Korda’s 1935 Empire flag-waver Sanders of the River, which still hummed to the astonishing power of Robeson’s voice in the Canoe Song, prompting British audiences to declare him as “our Paul”. 

Thursday

Zog Nit Keynmol

When Paul Robeson stood before a Moscow audience on the evening of 14th June 1949 in the Tchaikowski Hall, few expected to hear him perform the Yiddish Partisan song Zog Nit Keynmol (Never Say). His rendition of this fierce anthem of defiance, composed in the middle of Nazi slaughter, was thick with emotion, and at the end the crowd either fiercely applauded or booed. Robeson had sung for those he knew were already murdered, imprisoned or facing death as a new wave of Stalinist repression against Soviet Jews was underway. Nigerian-born actor and singer Tayo Aluko explores Robeson’s torment and contradictory emotions that make this performance so dramatic.

Friday

Joe Hill

London-based cultural historian Marybeth Hamilton summons up the ghosts of both Earl Robinson’s 1936 song Joe Hill – about the Swedish-American labour activist – and Paul Robeson as she explores the ways Robeson was so completely erased from culture and memory for many Americans. “If any one song in Robeson’s repertoire sums up those histories of denial silencing it is Joe Hill.

Paul Robeson – one of the left-wing giants of the 20th century. I had a very left-wing aunt, who was a massive fan of Robeson. She would have loved this. I also wondered if all the Israel-critical Jews smeared and vilified by the Israel lobby shouldn’t sing Zog Nit Keynmol. From what I gather from reading David Rosenberg’s and Tony Greenbstein’s blog’s, the greatest resistance against the Nazis, including the Warsaw ghetto, came from the anti-Zionist Bund. The Zionists all too often made deals with the Nazis, as when the Zionist newspaper, the Judischer Rundschau, praised the Nazi Nuremberg Laws and urged its readers to ‘wear your yellow stars with pride.” Or when Rudolf Kasztner, the head of the Zionists in occupied Hungary, cut a deal with the Nazis whereby tens of thousands were deported to Auschwitz in return for a few being allowed to emigrate to Israel.

Radio 4 Adaptation on Saturday of Verne’s ‘The Mysterious Island’

March 25, 2020

According to next week’s Radio Times, Radio 4 next Saturday, 28th March 2020, is broadcasting an adaptation of Jules Verne’s ‘The Mysterious Island’ at 3.00 pm. The blurb for it runs

‘Drama: To the Ends of the Earth: the Mysterious Island

Three very different people escape the American Civil War by stealing a balloon – which crashes near a deserted island. But perhaps it is not quite as deserted as they think. Gregory Evan’s dramatisation of Jules Verne’s sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.’

What struck me about this is that Captain Nemo is played by an Asian actor, Sagar Arya. There’s a bitter controversy at the moment over ‘forced diversity’, the term used for writers, directors and producers altering the gender and race of established characters in order to make traditional, or long-established stories, plays, films or TV series more multicultural, feminist or otherwise inclusive. It might be thought that this is another example, but it would be wrong.

In an interview with Alan Moore I found on YouTube a few months ago, the comics legend behind Watchmen, V for Vendetta and a series of other strips and graphic novels, explained why he made Nemo an Indian prince in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. The comic, which was made into a film a little while ago starring Sean Connery, imagines a kind of late 19th – early 20th century superhero group formed by Alan Quartermain, the Invisible Man, Dorian Grey, Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego, Mr Hyde, and Captain Nemo. The group travels on their adventures in Nemo’s ship, the Nautilus. The strip was drawn by 2000 AD art robot, Kevin O’Neill, whose art back in the 1980s for an edition of the Green Lantern Corps was judged too horrific for children by the late, unlamented Comics Code. So far, however, I have heard of no-one being left psychologically scarred by his art on The League. Moore stated that he made Nemo Indian, with O’Neill’s art consequently showing the Nautilus’ interior decorated with Indian art and architectural motifs, because that is exactly how Verne described him in The Mysterious Island. He wasn’t at all like James Mason in the Disney movie.

Now I dare say that the Beeb may very well have chosen to adapt The Mysterious Island for radio in order to give this favourite Science Fiction character a new, multicultural twist. But it is faithful to Verne’s original conception of the character. It’ll be interesting to hear what it’s like.

Here’s the video from the AlanMooreVids channel on YouTube, in which Moore talks about the strip. It’s a segment from the BBC 4 series on comics, Comics Britannia. The video shows O’Neill’s art, and the artist himself working. Moore praises his collaborator on the strip, saying that he take the most disturbing of his ideas and make them two or three times more upsetting. But he admires his skill for the grotesque, which in Moore’s view places him up there with the caricaturists Gilray and Hogarth. It’s high praise, but I think Moore’s actually right. If O’Neill had become a caricaturist instead of a comics artist, I think he would be admired as the equal of such greats as Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman.

Radio 4 Programme on Welsh 20th Century Decline

March 11, 2020

This might be of interest to Welsh readers of this blog, particularly as Mike’s a long-time resident of mid-Wales. Next Monday, 16th March 2020, Radio 4 are also broadcasting a programme on how Wales declined during the last century. The programme, Wales: A 20th-Century Tragedy?, is described thus in the blurb on page 131 of the Radio Times:

Simon Jenkins looks at the fortunes of Wales over the past century, asking how it might be possible to restore some glory to its valleys and mountains.

Rather more information is given in the short piece about the programme on the opposite page, 130, by Chris Gardner. This says

Simon Jenkins is passionate about Wales, the land of his father. His 2008 book Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles showcased the beauty and majesty of Welsh architecture, but the author and journalist is now worried for the nation’s future, citing among other factors the rise in the poverty index, while counties just over the border, such as Cheshire, have become richer. Examining Wale’s illustrious cultural, political, industrial and intellectual heritage over the last century, Jenkins uncovers historical reasons for this comparatively recent decline.

I think the major reason for this decline has been decline of the major Welsh industries during the last century – coal mining and iron working. There have been various history programmes on the Beeb that have shown that Swansea and Cardiff were major centres of the copper and iron industries from the 19th century onwards. I think Swansea was the world centre of copper production at one point, so that it was nicknamed ‘Copperopolis’. But this all gradually vanished due to competition from cheaper, foreign products. And this has continued into this century under the Tories, as we saw a few years ago with the proposed closure of one of the last surviving steelworks in the principality.

The country also hasn’t been helped by the fact that we haven’t had a Welsh prime minister, or one whose constituency was in Wales, for a long time. I seem to recall that Cardiff became the great city it is, housing Wales’ national museum, partly because Lloyd George wanted to turn it into a great national centre for Wales, like England and Scotland had London and Edinburgh respectively. The Labour PM, Jim Callaghan, attempted to do something for Wales, from what I recall, by diverting money that was earmarked to go to Bristol’s Portbury Docks to Cardiff. But his tenure of 10 Downing Street ended with Thatcher’s victory in 1979. And the Tories made it very plain that they weren’t going to help ailing industries, so that coal pits, and iron and steelworks up and down Britain were closed. This was partly because she wanted to destroy the coal industry so that a Tory government could no longer be overthrown by the miners, as Ted Heath’s had in the early ’70s.

I don’t know why Cheshire should have become more prosperous, unless it’s connected to the success of Liverpool FC. A friend of mine from that way told me that there’s a district in the county, which has become the country home of rich Liverpudlians, including footballers. Perhaps that’s part of the explanation.

If you want to listen to it, the programme’s on at 8.00 pm in the evening.

 

Radio 4 Next Monday on Possible Extraterrestrial Life

March 11, 2020

Next Monday, 16th March 2020, at 11.00 AM, Radio 4’s Out of the Ordinary is covering the subject of what aliens are probably like. The programme, ‘Aliens Are the Size of Polar Bears (Probably), has this brief description in the Radio Times:

Jolyon Jenkins concludes his series by hearing from astronomer Fergus Simpson, who predicts that if aliens exist they will be living on small, dim planets in small populations, have big bodies and be technologically backward.

This looks like a different take on the question of intelligent extraterrestrial life. Way back in the 1990s some of the astronomers involved in the hunt for it, such as SETI’s Seth Shostak, considered that aliens, if they exist, would probably be small, the size of Labradors. It’s also been an assumption of the search for intelligent aliens that the universe is old enough for alien civilisations to have arisen many times over, colonising space. Simpson’s suggestion that the aliens, if they’re out there, are probably technologically backwards, sounds like a solution to the Fermi Paradox. This was first proposed by the Italian-American physicist, Enrico Fermi, and runs: if the universe is old enough to have produced intelligent aliens, then why haven’t we found any? There are several solutions to the problem. One is that they don’t actually exist. Others are that space travel may be difficult, or that aliens don’t feel any need to expand into space. Or that advanced, technological civilisations destroy themselves in catastrophes like nuclear wars before they move outward across the Galaxy. Another solution is that they’re there, but keeping very quiet in case there are other, malign intelligences out there intent on their extermination.

This last solution is explored by the SF writer Alistair Reynolds in his novels Revelation Space, Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap. In this trilogy, humanity has expanded into space, only to be threatened by an ancient extraterrestrial menace – the Inhibitors. This is a machine culture that exists solely to destroy spacetravelling civilisations. Their reason is that millions of years ago, the Galaxy suffered a prolonged series of devastating wars as different species moved out into the Galaxy to claim territory from their rivals. In order to prevent further such wars occurring, the Inhibitors embarked on a long-term campaign of eradicating such civilisations. They aren’t enemies of intelligent life per se. Indeed, the whole policy is in order to protect such life, provided it remains confined to its home planet or solar system. But once it moves out into interstellar space, it becomes a target for eradication. And the Inhibitors themselves are quiet, dormant and so undetectable, until they discover their next prey, and wake up.

If aliens do live on small, dim planets, then they’d be difficult to discover with present astronomical techniques. Planets are too small for telescopes to detect normally, as they’re lost in the glare of their star, although some may later be seen through extremely high-power telescopes using very advanced optical techniques. And the planets that have been the easiest to discover are large worlds orbiting close to their suns. They’ve been detected because their gravitational pull has caused their stars to wobble as they orbit around them. Small planets further out would exert less force, and so caused smaller wobbles that may be difficult to detect. And if they’re technologically backwards, we would not be able to detect signs of their industrial and other activities, like radio or television transmissions, for example. If spacefaring civilisations do exist, at least close to us, then we should have detected signs of them by now. There was a paper in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society suggesting that a light sail used within 30 light years of Earth would produce so much gamma radiation that we would be able to detect it. The fact that we haven’t may mean that such civilisations don’t exist. Simpson’s suggestion for the possible nature of extraterrestrial life is therefore one solution to the problem of the Fermi Paradox.

Radio 4 Programme on Saturday on British Servicemen Used in the Nuclear Tests

March 11, 2020

Next Saturday, 14th March 2020, Radio 4’s Archive on 4 is on the British servicemen who were used as subjects during tests of the atom bomb. The blurb for the programme, After the Fall Out, in next week’s Radio Times, runs

Some 22,000 servicemen were present at nuclear tests between 1952 and 1990. Most had no choice in the matter – or even understood why they were there. Playwright Gordon Murray has been interviewing some the Christmas Island soldiers and their children to discover the fall-out from the fall-out.

From what I remember, the squaddies, who took part in these tests, were simply transported to the test zone and then told to stay there. They were given minimal, if any, protective clothing. Many have suffered from terrible ill-health, and I remember that a few years ago the victims of these tests were suing the army, MOD or government, or perhaps all three. I don’t believe they were successful. It will therefore be interesting to hear what this programme has to say about this iniquitous page of recent British history.

 

Comedian David Baddiel Presents Show Attacking Holocaust Denial

February 13, 2020

Next Monday at 9.00 pm on BBC 2, the Beeb is showing the documentary, Confronting Holocaust Denial with David Baddiel. The blurb for this in the Radio Times runs

Despite being one of the most documented events in history, one in six people worldwide believes the Holocaust has been exaggerated or denies that it ever took place. Here, David Baddiel anatomises that denial, from the Nazis’ bid to hide what they were doing to the roles of the British establishment in downplaying the extent to which Jews were the victims and of social media in affording anti-Semitism a platform. David also visits Chelmno, where tens of thousands died, and meets Rachel levy, one of the Holocaust’s few remaining survivors.

I absolutely don’t have a problem with confronting and refuting Holocaust denial whatsoever. It was one of the most monstrous crimes of the 20th century, and the people who deny or minimise it do so in order to sanitise Nazism in the hope of some day getting it back into power. They’re despicable. But I do have issues with this programme, because I’m afraid of a hidden pro-Zionist agenda that will boost the anti-Semitism smear merchants.

Part of this is their choice of presenter. David Baddiel is a brilliantly funny comedian. I went to see him once at the Cheltenham Literary Festival talking about his new book, and he had the room in stitches. He’s also ferociously intelligent with a double first and doctorate from Oxford. But he’s also one of Groaniad’s commentariat, who pushed the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. He appeared on various TV shows making these claims. He also wrote a piece in the Guardian claiming that Corbyn was a terrible anti-Semite because he pronounced Jeffrey Epstein’s name ‘Epshtein’. This was supposed to be an attempt to make the deceased magnate and paedophile less English or, rather, American, by stressing his non-English-speaking origins.

It’s a rubbish argument. Unless you’re aware that Epstein, or others with the same name, are Jewish and pronounce it differently, the name looks German. And Corbyn gave it the German pronunciation. There’s nothing inherently racist in that. Consider the number of gentile Brits with foreign names, like the Eurosceptic politico Mark Francois. Presumably his surname is given the French pronunciation, but this is not taken to mean that Francois is less British. Although it is ironic that someone with a continental name should have such a hatred of the European Union. Similarly, Mike and myself have also had people pronounce our surname incorrectly as if it were French. It isn’t, and that’s not how we say it. But I don’t believe that the people mispronouncing our surname did so deliberately or were consciously trying to denigrate us as somehow not really British or English.

Also, Baddiel himself is hardly innocent of racism. Older readers of this blog may remember the show he and Frank Skinner had on the Beeb in the ’90s, Fantasy Football League. This was a bit of sport comedy. But one of the recurring ‘jokes’, in retrospect, seems at best tasteless, and at worse markedly racist. Baddiel used to appear in blackface wearing a pineapple and dreadlocks in order to mock the appearance of the Black footballer, Jason Lee, who was then playing for Nottingham Forest. He was taking the mick out of Lee’s hairstyle, which was a mixture of the corn rows and dreads. But this led to ‘pineapple head’ being used as a racist insult against Blacks with a similar hairstyle. Tony Greenstein included a piece about this from The Weekly Worker when he attacked Baddiel for pushing the anti-Semitism smears last year.

Baddiel invented the slur ‘Pineapple Heads’ for Black people with ‘Dredds & Cornrows’. Professor Ben Carrington details the strategic exploitative depths into which this campaign of the TV series Fantasy Football plunged and further extended its impact on other Black citizens. “David Baddiel ‘Blacked up’ (evoking the barely coded racist imagery of the minstrel shows) with a pineapple on his head out of which Jason Lee’s dreadlocks were growing – the ‘joke’ being that Jason Lee’s ‘dreads’ resemble a fruit on top of his head. This joke was then carried out with increasing frequency for the rest of the series, with young children sending in drawings of Jason Lee adorned with various fruit on his head. The pineapple joke was then taken up by football fans in the terraces who chanted songs about Jason Lee’s hair and significantly transcended the normally insular world of football fandom and entered into the public domain as both a descriptive term and a form of ridicule (‘Pineapple Head’) for any black person with dreads tied back”. 

Inevitably, many of those subjected to the abusive copy-cat street ‘ridicule’, Carrington identifies were children.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2019/11/david-baddiels-allegation-of-anti.html

Now I realise that this was a long time ago, and things were slightly different in the ’90s, but it was still pretty tasteless even then. I don’t know if Baddiel regrets the joke, but I doubt that he ever gave it much thought, to be honest. But with this on his record, he may not be the best presenter of a programme dedicated to exposing a particularly nasty form of racism.

And I really don’t want the programme to confer on him a spurious moral authority then next time he starts screaming about anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Because people will believe his lies and smears simply because he presented a programme about Holocaust denial, and because he was correct about that, so he must somehow be correct about anti-Semitism in Labour.

One of the issues the programme tackles is the way the British authorities tried to play down the Jews as the victims of Nazi atrocities, because they feared that if they included them gentiles would not believe it. There’s a long article about the documentary in the Radio Times, which includes this

More unsettling is the document Baddiel examines at the National Archives in Kew, a memo from a British official warning that stories of Nazi atrocities will only be effective in the eyes of the British public if the victims can be shown to be “indisputably innocent”. That, writes the official, means the victims must include no violent criminals, and no Jews. To Baddiel, “that was a very serious form of denial. It was laying the ground for a general sense of disbelief towards the Holocaust.”

But there’s also a Zionist double standard here. The Zionist organisations initially also didn’t want Jews singled out as the particular victims of the Nazis. They were afraid that if they did so, it would mean that the world would regard the Jews as being too weak to have their own state. By that same logic, Zionism is also guilty of laying the ground for Holocaust denial. But Baddiel and the Radio Times say nothing.

He also tackles the problem of Holocaust denial among the Palestinians in Gaza. The Radio Times says of this

He hears a Palestinian scholar explain that high rates of Holocaust denial in Gaza owe more to a desire to hurt Jews in their most sensitive spot than a genuine refusal to believe the facts. Baddiel understands that logic – then admits to the camera that his own understanding has made him “uneasy” because, as he tells me later, “Where does understanding shade into legitimacy, into saying “This isn’t quite so bad”? The next thing you know, you’re accepting Holocaust denial.In the film, that the point at which I’m most uncertain.”

But this also raises the issues of Zionist double standards and the way they have manipulated the Holocaust for their own political ends. The Palestinians have their own counterpart of the Shoah, the Hebrew term for the Holocaust. This is the Nakba, an Arabic word for disaster or catastrophe, which the Palestinians use to describe the foundation of Israel and its consequent massacre and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arab population. The Israeli state, in contrast to its historians, admits that some villages were massacred, but the reality is that there were many, many more. The victims included unarmed men, women and children, including those walking towards the Zionist soldiers with gifts of food, and seeking shelter in mosques. The Israeli state also maintains that the Palestinians were told by their own leaders to flee, but subsequent research has shown that this again is fake history, and these instructions or the rumours of them were manufactured by the nascent Israeli spy agencies. But this is also consistently denied by the Israelis.

And the Israeli state does exploit the Holocaust as a political symbol. In one Holocaust Day ceremony, Israeli troopers marched into the arena in which the commemorations were being held. But as soon as Orla Guerin, the Beeb’s Israel correspondent, mentioned this, she was attacked as an anti-Semite by the Zionist shills, including the Beeb’s former head of programming. Baddiel is right to call out Palestinian Holocaust denial, but it does need to be put in context as a reaction to their history of ethnic cleansing by the Jewish state. It is not simply an act of malicious spite just for the sake of it.

Baddiel and the Beeb are doing a good job by tackling Holocaust denial. But I am afraid that the selection of Baddiel as presenter, and the programme’s omission of Zionist complicity in it, and in ethnic cleansing in Palestine, will act to give it a pro-Israel, pro-Zionist slant. And Baddiel’s own racist jokes about Black hairstyles could be seen as showing the Beeb has double standards of its own. Racism against Blacks is acceptable, while anti-Semitism is not.

But racism is racism, whatever the colour or ethnicity of the person perpetrating it.

 

 

Channel 4 Threatened by the Tories with Privatisation… Again

February 6, 2020

The ‘Viewpoint’ column in next week’s Radio Times, for the 8th to 14th February 2020, contains an article by Maggie Brown, ‘Saving Thatcher’s baby’, about the problems confronting Channel 4. It begins

In 2020, Channel 4 is facing a number of challenges. Its staff are scattered to the winds, Channel 4 News is under attack from the Government, and the threat of privatisation looms. Is the pioneering broadcaster, which was launched in 1982 by Margaret Thatcher, facing an endgame?

She then describes how the broadcaster has moved its headquarters out of London and into Leeds, with hubs in Glasgow and Bristol with more programmes filmed in the regions, such as Manchester and Wales, and changes to the broadcasting schedules with the introduction of new programmes. One of these will be Taskmaster, taken from the Dave digital channel. Brown comments that the programme’s acquisition by Channel 4 is an attempt to boost audiences, but is also ‘a symptom of the tricky compromises and tightrope that C4 has to walk.’ She continues

It is a public service broadcaster “funded by advertising, owned by you”. It must also rally support as an alternative public service broadcaster to the BBC in the face of a hostile Conservative government that is needled by its mischievous independence and most recent mockery (that melting ice sculpture after Boris Johnson failed to show up for a climate change debate).

But relations with Conservative governments have always been tense, with liberal Channel 4 News and tough current affairs programmes such as Dispatches the lightning conductors. After the climate change debate last November, privatisation was immediately threatened again: a knee-jerk response.

She ends the piece by stating that the broadcaster’s business team will remain in London. She sees this as an indication that the broadcaster will not only confound the pessimist’s predictions of its impending demise, but will actually thrive. The business team have the Thatcherite values of self-reliance, and it’s this quality that will allow the broadcaster not only to survive but flourish.

Hm. Possibly. My own feeling is that if Channel 4’s business team manages to save the broadcaster, it won’t be because of an nebulous ethos of ‘self-reliance’, but because it will reflect the views and demands of metropolitan business. The same businesses that fund the Tory party.

She is, however, right about the Tories having a persistent distrust of the broadcaster. Thatcher set Channel 4 up in order to be an alternative to BBC 2. It was to serve communities that the Beeb channel didn’t, like ethnic minorities. It was also to excel in news coverage, as well as alternative arts and sports. By the latter, Denis Thatcher actually meant yachting. What that meant in practice was that the programme broadcast opera, as well as Indian cinema, a serial of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, a history of the madrigal, the pop show, The Tube, and a variety of comedy shows. These included Who Dares  Wins, a sketch show whose cast include Rory McGrath and Tony Robinson, the classic satirical puppet show, Spitting Image, and Desmond’s, which was set in a Black barbers, and launched a wave of Black comedian in Britain. It also had a history of Africa presented by the White afro-centric historian, Basil Davidson, and a news programme about the continent with Black presenters and reporters.  It also showed Max Headroom, which consisted of pop videos hosted by the eponymous Max, the world’s first computer-generated video jockey. Offsetting all the highbrow stuff were sexually explicit films and programmes, which was the closest teenage schoolchildren could get to viewing porn before the internet. It was the sexually explicit stuff that particularly annoyed the Daily Mail, who branded the broadcaster’s controller at the time, Michael Grade, ‘Britain’s pornographer in chief’. The Channel responded to this by broadcasting programmes for gays and lesbians. Amid the furore, one of the most sensible comments was made by the archdeacon of York. When they asked the good churchman what his view of the broadcaster showing a series about lesbians, he replied, ‘Well, who’s going to watch that if there’s Clint Eastwood on the other?’ Quite. Now I understand that one of the channels is bringing back The ‘L’ Word, a lesbian soap opera first shown at the beginning of this century. Quite apart from Channel 4’s own gay soap opera, Queer As Folk.

Private Eye seemed to regard Channel 4 back then as condescending and pretentious. Its literary reviewer sharply criticised a book by its then chief, Jeremy Isaacs, because he made it plain he wanted to bring the British public material like miner’s oral history and so on. When people complained that people didn’t want some of this, Isaacs replied that they had latent needs, needs they didn’t know they had, until someone showed them the material they’d been missing. It was this comment that particularly aroused the reviewer’s ire. But Isaac’s was right. Sometimes you don’t know if there’s a demand for a subject, until you offer people the chance of trying it. And Channel 4 really tried to expand, create and satisfy a market for culture. Oliver Letwin, the former sketchwriter for the Daily Mail and now the Times, actually praised the broadcaster for this in his book, Bog Standard Britain. The broadcaster’s programming always hit and miss. Amid the good stuff there was also much material that was rubbish. And while it had the reputation as rather left-wing, it also carried a programme of political discussion for Conservatives, Right Talk. On the other hand, its opera performances actually managed to reach a decently sized audience, showing that ordinary Brits wanted and would watch highbrow culture.

Its average audience, however, was tiny, and there was pressure on the broadcaster, like the Beeb, to produce more popular programmes to give the British public value for money. Hence the channel became much more mainstream in the 1990s. Its audience grew as expected, but the country lost out as the channel no longer tried to expand the public’s minds and tastes as it once had. And as I said, this was lamented by Letwin, among others, a supporter of the very party that had spent so much time decrying and criticising the channel for being too daring and alternative.

If I remember correctly, the Tories have privatised the channel before. There have been at least two part-privatisations, where the government has sold off some of its share in it. One was under Thatcher, when she was privatising everything. I think the other may have been under Major, who continued her programme. I have a feeling that the second privatisation may have been a cynical move by the Tories to try and work up some enthusiasm for the government. It was announced with the fanfare the Tories usually gave the privatisations, presenting them as some kind of exciting generous opportunity granted to Britain’s workers. Thatcher was trying to create a shareholder democracy, where ordinary people would own shares as participants in capitalism. That’s all died the death a long time ago. The shares given to the workers in the privatised industries have all been sold on, and are now in the hands of a few big businessmen. The council houses she sold off have been bought by private housing associations for profit, and there’s now a housing shortage. And the privatisations were never as popular as the Tories tried to make us all believe to begin with. Support for them, according to polls done at the time, never rose about fifty per cent.

Channel 4 news has a reputation for excellence. Which is undoubtedly why the Tories now despise it and are discussing privatisation again. Britain’s publicly owned broadcasters are under threat because they are obstacles to Murdoch, the Americans and the British private broadcasters, who fund the Tories, dominating British television. They also despise them because they’re supposed to be impartial, unlike the private networks, which would be free to have whatever bias their proprietors chose. And besides, as this week’s attempts to dictate to the media, who could and could not attend BoJob’s precious lobby briefings shows, the Tories want to impose ever more restrictive controls over the media. The end result of that process, if it goes on is, is the rigorous, authoritarian censorship of totalitarianism.

I dare say that if the Tories do go ahead and privatise the Beeb and/or Channel 4, it’ll be presented as some kind of great liberalisation. The British public will be freed from having to support them, and they will have to take their chances in the market place, according to the tenets of Thatcherism. But if that happens, public service broadcasting will have been destroyed along with what should have been cornerstones of media impartiality.

But considering how relentless biased the Beeb has been against Labour and in favour of the Tories, their news desk has done much to destroy that already.

New BBC Series Next Week on Universal Credit

January 28, 2020

The BBC is screening a new documentary series next week on Universal Credit. Titled ‘Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State’, the first installment is on BBC 2, on Tuesday 4th February at 9.00 pm. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

In-depth look at the Department of Work and Pensions, Jobcentres and claimants, during the implementation of the biggest change to the benefits system in a generation. This edition focuses of Peckham Jobcentre in south London. Rachel left a 27-year caareer in the NHS to care for her elderly parents. She’s been struggling to pay her rent and bills while paying back an advance she took out while waiting for her first Universal Credit payment. Jobcentre staff member Karen works tirelessly to support claimants but is frustrated that she has to supplement her low earnings with a second job. (p. 86).

An additional piece about the show by David Butcher a few pages earlier, on page 84, also says

There’s a key scene in this first episode of a series about benefits, where the civil servant in charge of Universal Credit, Neil Couling, shows us a whiteboard in the Department for Work and Pensions called the “motherboard”. Among the grids and numbers is a piece of paper stuck on that says, “Pay claimants the right amount of money and on time”. It seems a modest aim but, as Couling tells us, “It has defeated the benefits system for the last 35 years.”

The series helps us understand why. Its strength is that we meet not just those at the top of the benefits bureaucracy but those at the bottom – officials at a Jobcentre in Peckham, south London, known as “work coaches”, and their claimants or “customers”. In their sometimes testy encounters we see how Jobcentres have become a one-stop shop, helping claimants with food bank vouchers, housing and childcare. As unemployed labourer Declan says, unhappily, “It’s like they’ve got a hold of your life.”

I think this programme has been expected. If I recall correctly, there has been some discussion whether it would accurately reflect conditions in the DWP and the misery and despair Universal Credit has inflicted on claimaints. There were fears that it would follow the path set by a similar documentary a few years ago. This was also made with the help of the DWP, but presented a very sanitised view of the Department as government-sanctioned propaganda.

It’s to be hopedthat this will be different from the previous series, and from the ‘poverty porn’ produced by Mentorn Television like ‘Benefits Street’. But considering the massive bias on the BBC news desk against the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, and its general bias towards supporting austerity and the Conservatives, that may be too much to expect.

The Beeb’s Reward for the Election: Tory Poll Pushes Its Privatisation

January 5, 2020

Mike put this story up yesterday, and it shows how the Conservatives view their allies at the Beeb. The Corporation played a vital role in their re-election. It’s coverage of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour has, for the last four years or so, been unrelentingly hostile. The Beeb’s reporters did everything they could to promote the Blairite faction and their plots and rebellions, including the resignation of one of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet live on the Andrew Marr show. And they, like the rest of the media, denounced Corbyn and his supporters, who were the most anti-racist of politicians, as inveterate anti-Semites, who were a real threat to Jewish Brits. And no argument was allowed to the contrary. This hate campaign kicked into overdrive at the election, with outright lies – that Labour’s manifesto promises were as deceitful as the Tories, when all the lies noted came from the Conservatives – and with Kuenssberg’s flagrant breach of electoral law. This forbids anybody divulging the progress of the postal votes before the results as a whole are declared. Nevertheless, Kuenssberg blithely announced that she’d heard the results from the postal votes as they were coming in, and it didn’t look good for Labour. This should have got her sacked, but the Beeb has just waved it off as ‘a mistake’. The trouble, is there are far too many of such ‘mistakes’ for that to be anywhere near convincing.

Boris Johnson has declared that he wants non-payment of the BBC license fee to be decriminalised. And yesterday the Daily Mail Online reported that a YouGov poll found that 50 per cent of people would like the Beeb privatised.  YouGov was set up by Nadhim Zahawi and a fellow leading Tory, and as Mike says, its polling always seems to follow the results demanded by the its proprietors. Polls don’t report how people intend to vote, as how the polling organisations want them to vote. And the Tories are obviously softening the public up for its eventual privatisation.

Of course, the Tories have hated the BBC for years. Way back when I was at school forty years ago I can remember Thatcher’s government suggesting that the license fee should be scrapped and the Beeb funded through advertising. Or privatised altogether. Most people at that time were very firmly against it, so that disappeared. Only to reappear a few years later under John Major, when the Tories were accusing the Beeb once again of being biased against them (What?) Instead of outright privatisation, they simply passed legislation demanding that the corporation have a certain amount of its programmes produced by private production companies. Which is why, if you watch some of these programmes, you’ll find the logo of a private company like Mentorn at the end of their credits.

The Tories are the company of private industry, so they hate state industries as a matter of course. But there’s also the selfish interest of their corporate masters. The Murdoch papers – the Scum and the Times – have been attacking the Beeb for decades because Murdoch loathes it as a rival to his own Sky network. And the Americans have been buying up British broadcasters for several years now. The Tory ideal is to have it funded either through subscriptions or advertising. The result would be something like the American PBS, which shares the Corporation’s ethos of public service broadcasting, but is hardly a major broadcaster. The Beeb does make some excellent programmes, but it only does this because of the license fee. The commercial broadcasters have found it difficult to make quality, expensive programmes because there isn’t enough revenue from advertising.

And as loathsome as the Beeb’s newsroom is, privatisation would make the situation worse. Fox News has a right-wing bias so blatant and overt it can be seen from space. And it peddles so much fake news that one monitoring organisation found that you would be less informed after watching it than if you took no news at all. Which is an achievement, of sorts. It’s a network that’s exerting a positive drag effect on American collective intelligence. For some reason, my YouTube page came up with videos from Australian Sky TV. And that seemed to be as bad or worse.

I can’t say I’m totally happy with the Beeb. Looking through the Radio Times I get irritated, as I feel quite often that I’m being condescended to. But I think that comes from the British media class generally, and the way it sees itself as the gatekeepers and opinon makers of British culture. I don’t want the Beeb privatised. But I do want the newsroom reformed and purged of its bias.

But I don’t think that’s going to happen. Not when so many of the Beeb’s journos come from the Tory papers, like Andrew Neil, or from the Conservative party itself, like Nick Robinson, or show their real political allegiances by departing to join their propaganda unit.

I dare say that if the Beeb is privatised, the likes of Robinson, Kuenssberg, Pinaar and the rest will get a very cosy reward on one of the private broadcasters.

But we would lose out, as the Beeb’s public service mission to inform, educate and entertain would be scrapped in favour of highly commercialised, partisan rubbish.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/01/04/job-done-bbc-got-the-tories-re-elected-and-now-tory-pollster-is-softening-us-up-for-privatisation/

Johnson Turns on BBC Complaining of Bias

December 17, 2019

Despite the Beeb’s massive pro-Tory bias – all those stories it ran pushing the anti-Semitism smears, the packed, right-wing panels and audiences of Question Time and Fiona Bruce favouring the Tories, gaslighting Diane Abbott, and Laura Kuenssberg’s breach of electoral law about the postal vote, BoJo still isn’t satisfied with the Corporation. He announced yesterday that he was boycotting Radio 4’s Today programme, claiming it was biased. An article about this in yesterday’s Metro, ‘Johnson boycott of BBC Today ‘Bubble”, ran

Boris Johnson has turned up his attack on the BBC and ‘withdrawn engagement’ from its Radio 4 Today programme.

A No. 10 source accused the corporation of speaking to a ‘pro-Remain  metropolitan bubble in Islington yesterday’.

No minister were put up for interview on the programme in the 48 hours after the election, following a campaign in which the PM was criticised for refusing interviews to the Today programme and Andrew Neil.

Dominic Cummings – the PM’s chief adviser – told colleagues he ‘never listens’ to the programme, which has lost 1 million listeners since 2017. 

It also emerged the PM has asked aides to explore whether non-payment of the TV licence fee should be decriminalised.

He threw doubt over the future of the £154.50 annual charge during the campaign.

A BBC spokesman defended its election coverage and said it was ‘fair and proportional’. 

Zelo Street comments on the twitter debate about this, beginning with former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s tweet

A clever moment for Dominic Cummings {if it’s him} to pick off the BBC [and thereby delight Murdoch and many others]. If my timeline is representative, many of the Beeb’s natural defenders are shrugging and/or too cross to protest.

Even if they think the BBC had a poor election, that’s like abandoning the NHS because it struggled over one winter. By all means call for improvement/reform. Privatisation will lead to a form of UK Fox News. And then how we’ll miss it.

The Tories have been steadily running down the BBC for years. They resent it because it’s a state industry. Hence the legislation passed under Major’s government demanding that more programmes should be made outside the Beeb by private production companies. Boris’ attack will also please Murdoch and the Americans. Murdoch has been attacking the Beeb for years in order to promote his wretched Sky channel, and the Americans are buying up British broadcasters. Nothing would please Murdoch and the Americans more than to have the Beeb abolished or privatised.

As for Fox News, it’s dire. Its slogan, ‘Fair and balanced news’ is an outright lie. It has a colossal right-wing bias to the point that one media investigation found that people would be far better informed if they didn’t watch it because of the massive falsehoods and lies peddled by the channel. It also has a very restricted audience. Its demographics show that most of its viewers are over 70, so much so that it has been described as a television retirement home. Yet I can remember an article by one of the hacks in the Radio Times pondering if the BBC shouldn’t emulate it.

Zelo Street also shows a number of other tweets by people, who do feel betrayed by the corporation. While they don’t support its privatisation, they feel that their criticisms aren’t taken seriously. This feeling is summed up in a tweet from Matt Prescott:

I used to love the BBC and would have died on the barricades to defend it. Now I feel utterly betrayed by the daily failures to ask hard questions and call out lies.

Tim concludes

‘The Tories have played the BBC like an obedient fool. And in pandering to them, the Corporation has left itself fatally vulnerable.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/12/tories-turn-on-bbc.html

Yes, they have. If the Corporation thought that a pro-Tory bias would stave off further attacks, they have been gravely mistaken. The Tories won’t be satisfied until they are privatised, just as they want the media in general to capitulate to them and their wishes utterly. As history has shown, those broadcasters that anger them in power have their stories spiked or their broadcasting licences withdrawn.

The Beeb does make good programmes, which is partly why the Tories hate it. As an institution, it’s genuinely popular and so prevents private broadcasters completely taking over British television and radio. But through its pro-Tory bias it has alienated many on the left, who would otherwise be its most staunch defenders.

But Johnson’s attack on the Beeb is only going to be the beginning. He wants the other broadcasters to submit. The attack on the Beeb is also a veiled threat to them.

The Tories are directly attacking freedom of speech and opinion on the airwaves. This looks very much like the beginning of massive state control of public broadcasting, in which the only voices permitted will be pro-Tory.