Magazine article The Spectator

Broadcasting Housegate

Magazine article The Spectator

Broadcasting Housegate

Article excerpt

Before Christmas, I was amused to read in the Peterborough column in the Daily Telegraph that the office of the BBC Director-General, John Birt, had been swept for bugging devices; a spokesman told the paper that this was normal corporate practice. I have since discovered that the buggers were senior members of the BBC management who were attempting to establish how the corporation is to be run this year.

In fact, I can go further and reveal the transcript of both the eavesdropped conversation and the occasion when the tape was played to BBC executives. On Christmas Day, an assortment of these high-level managers arrived quietly in unmarked cars at the near-deserted Broadcasting House and slipped down the stairs past photographed portraits of Charlie Chester and John Snagge, to a basement studio normally used by Melvyn Bragg for Start The Week. The only sounds were a low murmur from the newsroom on the third floor and the faint whine from blank computer screens.

With a trusted technician present to operate the tape recorder, they settled into their chairs around the green hessiantopped table to listen to a cassette of the latest bugged discussion between the DG and McKinseys, the management consultants that run the BBC. What they didn't know, of course, was that they were themselves being bugged as part of the new caring policy designed to keep the DG and the chairman informed of managers' views.

Barely able to contain their excitement they watched as the technician switched on the recorder. The tape, of indifferent quality, began with a desultory discussion about the targets for the submission during 1996 of all departmental mission statements. Some had not arrived, to the obvious displeasure of the DG. Listening to this, the Head of Downsizing, Radio, HDR, cried with horror, `Oh God! I haven't put mine in yet.'

Chief Assistant to Managing Director Delayering, Radio, CAMDDR, felt a sharp pain in his chest. `Nor have I. It's been hell doing all these performance reviews. And I've been up to my eyes labelling all work stations as mother stations in line with our equal opportunity unit's recommendations.'

`Never mind that,' interrupted the Head of Meetings, HM. `Let's hear what McKinseys have to say about the future of radio.' They heard on the tape the top management guru speaking coldly, in a slight East Coast American twang, `Radio is a dead language. What I call the Atlantis Syndrome.'

`Very good,' murmured the DG, the sound of his pen scraping across paper. …

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