Magazine article The Spectator

Greg Dyke's Latest Venture into Scatology Marked a Significant Cultural Decline in the Nation

Magazine article The Spectator

Greg Dyke's Latest Venture into Scatology Marked a Significant Cultural Decline in the Nation

Article excerpt

It seems to be dawning on one or two members of the government that in making Greg Dyke director-general of the BBC they may have hastened the Corporation's demise. The appointment was highly cynical. Everyone in television knew that during his 20 years in commercial television Mr Dyke had never produced a single distinguished programme. (I partly exclude Roland Rat, for whom I had a slight fondness, though he could never hold a candle to Basil Brush.) But the great advantage of Mr Dyke from New Labour's point of view was that he was a paid-up supporter, having given more than L500,000 to Tony Blair and the party. Why should it care if he dumbed down a few programmes? But now some ministers - most notably Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary - are beginning to realise that those few programmes include the BBC's political coverage. Mr Dyke is distressed that the young are switching off, and he and his colleagues are brewing up some ideas to attract them back.

Panorama has already been shunted into the `graveyard slot' on Sunday evening. BBC 2's late-night parliamentary programme Despatch Box (prop: Andrew Neil) is for the chop, as may be On the Record, the Sunday interview chaired by John Humphrys. There is also talk of a new dumbed-down weekly current affairs programme. Meanwhile Anne Tyerman, head of political documentaries, is leaving the BBC, and her post made redundant. The nation may not mourn these developments, though I personally have a soft spot for Despatch Box. But the point is that they are the early shots in a war. More far-reaching plans are undoubtedly being hatched. Sian Kevill, former editor of Newsnight, is overseeing a review of political programmes, and it is in the nature of such exercises that she will produce conclusions aimed at pleasing her director-general. The only bright spot is that radio so far seems to have escaped Mr Dyke's attentions. Recent figures suggest that Radio Four has been attracting more listeners.

Last week Mr Dyke unveiled a new campaign called `Make It Happen'. One brilliant idea is for executives who meet resistance to wave a yellow card on which is written `cut the crap'. This, I think, was a significant moment in the cultural decline of this country. The man who occupies the post first filled by Lord Reith and later adorned by Sir William Haley - men who, unlike Mr Dyke, never went to university - talks about cutting the crap to BBC staff. What, in Mr Dyke's opinion, is the crap? It is the reservations of `cynics and moaners' who do not go along with his obsession with ratings and his plans for dumbing down. Crap is not agreeing with Greg Dyke.

Neither Lord Reith nor Sir William Haley was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but both men sought to outdo those who had been. Sir William was a formidable autodidact who came closer than any other director-general to satisfying Harold Nicolson's requirement for the job that one should know something about Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Leslie Stephen, Debussy, Faraday, Cezanne, Manley Hopkins, Paxton, Lucretius, Inigo Jones, Emily Dickinson, Le Corbusier, Ibsen, John Donne, Talleyrand, Capability Brown, William Morris, Alexander Hamilton, General Boulanger and Locke. Reith and Haley were outsiders who became insiders. Mr Dyke sees himself as an outsider who wants to change the inside in his own image. According to his biographers, when required to attend Glyndebourne, he mused to his wife, `We've become the people we used to want to throw bombs at.' Janet Street-Porter has written in the Guardian that when she met Mr Dyke in the Ivy restaurant shortly after his appointment, he `punched his fist in the air and said, "I bloody well did it, didn't I? …

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