Magazine article The Spectator

Is BBC 2 Becoming So Chippy That It Will Lose the Plot - and Therefore Its Point?

Magazine article The Spectator

Is BBC 2 Becoming So Chippy That It Will Lose the Plot - and Therefore Its Point?

Article excerpt

Jane Root, the controller of BBC 2, has decided to axe the award-winning current affairs programme Correspondent. Thirty years ago there were a number of such programmes on the BBC, and the disappearance of one of them would scarcely have been noticed. But in Greg Dyke's increasingly dumbed-down BBC, Correspondent is probably unique, and so its passing is of some significance. In consigning it to history Ms Root reveals a great deal about herself. According to her, the programme's title conjures up visions of 'an Etoneducated guy in a white linen suit'. It will be replaced by an international current affairs series called This World which, we can be certain, will be entirely free of Old Etonians and linen suits.

So far as I can see, Correspondent has in point of fact never been introduced by anyone who went to Eton. The reference to linen suits is presumably a dig at Martin Bell, who attended the Leys School in Cambridge. Other journalists who have served as correspondents include John Simpson (St Paul's), Jeremy Bowen (Cardiff High School), Rageh Omar (Cheltenham), Kate Adie (Sunderland Church High) and Mark Tully (Marlborough). No Etonians to be seen, and a pretty broad mix of educational backgrounds. We may take it, I think, that 'an Eton-educated guy in a white linen suit' is shorthand for someone who is middle-aged and speaks with a vaguely middle-class accent and appears to be well educated and interested in serious issues. These are qualities which Jane Root would apparently like to exclude from BBC 2.

Not very long ago they defined BBC 2. The channel does, of course, still have some pockets of seriousness which I am sure Ms Root could reel off, but it has undoubtedly dumbed down during her watch, which began almost exactly five years ago. Shortly after her appointment she declared that arts television was dead - a view which she has recently publicly rescinded, though arts have not made much of a comeback on BBC 2. She herself was the champion of 'lifestyle television'. After criticism from the governors of the Corporation that BBC 2 was relying too heavily on leisure programmes such as makeover, gardening and food shows (all of which admittedly can be perfectly enjoyable), Ms Root has recently made a slight effort to redress the balance. But there hasn't been very much to show for it. Instead of establishing a proper books programme, she chose to give us The Big Read, a search for the country's favourite novel, usually introduced by people who are first and foremost television personalities rather than genuine literary types.

What is the point of BBC 2 if it does not cater for people who want a reasonably serious alternative to the already enormously dumbed-down BBC 1? Newsnight, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, appears increasingly to be aimed at not especially bright four-year-olds. If Jane Root had better ratings to boast about, she could at least accuse people like me of being elitist and out of touch with people's tastes. But BBC 2 has recently lost a greater share of its audience in the ABCl socio-economic categories than any other terrestrial television channel. According to recently leaked figures, the station saw its share of ABCl viewers fall by 7.4 per cent compared with the same period in 2002. This is not entirely Jane Root's doing. It seems that some viewers are defecting to more upmarket digital channels such as BBC 4, which was one of Greg Dyke's less bright ideas. …

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