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Friday, 27 March 2015

Sloppiness Galore on Radio 4

Notwithstanding my stern letters of admonishment, standards of journalism at the BBC continue to plummet. A presenter on its current affairs programme Today today described a certain European head of state as 'looking visibly shaken'. Call me pedantic, but that sounded tautologous to my ears, and I shall, as I have done many times in the past, send a personal letter in writing to the BBC explaining that tautology is unacceptably beyond the pale.

The same presenter went on to report criticisms made of The Who for doing too little to prevent the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone. Why the BBC should single out that particular popular music group is quite beyond me, given that no other aged rockers appear to be helping to contain the virus. Surely some allowance should be made for the fact that there are only two surviving members of the band, both in their seventies and currently hampered by a busy tour schedule. It all seems utter nonsense to me.

And then there is the Clarkson debacle, its immediate cause being a failure to impose boundaries and discipline on unruly talent. These incidents may seem individually trivial, but collectively they confirm an insidious weakening of management at the BBC. How can that be, you ask, given the rocketing increase in the number of managers at the ailing broadcaster. It is, of course, all a matter of leadership. Allow a weak, woolly-minded, self-obsessed, effete clique to assure its members of the top jobs in a large organisation, and plummeting standards inevitably follow.

It was all very different in my day. Few now remember the time when I, a BBC outsider, was brought in to hot-house a new generation of talent. Discipline was my watchword. Each branch of the broadcaster had its own boot camp for would-be presenters. The trainees for the Today programme where inculcated with my principles at a defunct RAF training camp on the exposed south coast of the Isle of Wight, at which we drummed-in the three Rs: reading, writing and Rethianism. I can remember the weedy and pallid body of the young John Humphries- his tee-shirt, shorts, and pumps drenched by the rain off the Channel- struggling to complete fifty press-ups, his punishment for a split infinitive.

For all his corporeal feebleness Humphries at least had a certain mental toughness, which could not be said for all of his fellow trainees. As the chef du camp it was to the carpet in front of my desk that especially incalcitrant individuals were brought, either for punishment or encouragement. A tearful Melvyn Bragg was one such case. He could no longer face the thought of completing the course, he told me through his sobs. He wanted to leave. He didn't care that he might be throwing away a golden opportunity. And the trigger for this outburst? One of the teachers at the camp had overturned his bed and his locker a moment before the provo-master was to begin his inspection, resulting inevitably in two day's isolation in the cooler. It took all of my eloquence and charisma to instil some iron into his mind and persuade him to stay. I recall that the teacher's action had been intended to deter the young Bragg from his tendency to pretention. Alas our techniques were not universally successful.

Sadly, it has all changed. Nowadays the trainees at the BBC sit around a table with i-pads and lattes, completing questionnaires on diversity and multi-culturalism. That none of them can spell hardly seems to matter, just as long as they adhere to the corporation's policies of political correctness.  I can understand why Clarkson lost his head. Doubtless he will be on the 'phone again soon, asking for advice. I shall tell him he's well off out of it.

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