Magazine article The Spectator

Testing Times

Magazine article The Spectator

Testing Times

Article excerpt

The strike on Monday by BBC journalists and technicians over proposed job cuts pushed news and current affairs programmes off the air, to be replaced by a limited news service and repeats of programmes such as Just a Minute. The Today programme was cancelled. It all seemed rather silly, really. The BBC is grotesquely overstaffed and has been since the 1960s. Successive director-generals have added to the BBC empire and the licence fee has risen to pay for it, but it couldn't go on for ever. The present incumbent Mark Thompson, more for reasons of charter renewal than of prudence, I suspect, has decided 4,000 jobs should go.

I always felt there was something absurd about a BBC strike. When I worked there I refused to take part, happily crossing picket lines. It was risible being greeted by a placard-waving Old Etonian drawling, 'What are you doing going into work?' I liked to reply, Tm about to do your job.' A dozen of us once helped to break a strike led by the man recently dropped as Europe minister, Denis McShane, and we were described as the 'Dirty Dozen' by one of the Trotskyite rags, which, needless to say, couldn't even spell our names correctly. We were never thanked by those in charge, many of whom retained an old leftish sympathy for the strikers. I didn't mind: such was my loathing of trade unions after their mad, destructive activities of the 1960s and 70s that I decided I would never go on strike and most certainly not while holding a much coveted job at the BBC.

On Today, by the way, watch out for future cosy appearances by the programme's favourite Tory, Lord Heseltine. He popped up first to recommend that only Tory MPs should vote for the new leader as only they knew who had the confidence of the parliamentary party, the clear but unspoken assumption being that the right candidate should be his fellow Eurofanatic Ken Clarke. Last Saturday, however, he came out with it in another soft interview on Today: it should definitely be Clarke as leader, he thought. The programme clearly approved, as Heseltine wasn't pinned down on how a broadly Eurosceptic party could be led through a referendum campaign by a man who would not only gleefully sign up to the European constitution without reading it but who would also, no doubt, abolish Westminster as well, if he had the opportunity.

After listening to Mike Atherton praising Ernest Hemingway in Batting for Hemingway on Radio Four last week (Thursday), I couldn't helping wondering if the former England captain saw himself as a kind of Hemingway hero defying snarling, sledging, lethally-fast bowlers of the Alan Donald and Curtly Ambrose variety. …

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