Ed Vaizey, the culture spokesman of a party long on political ambition but short on policy, must have been delighted with this week’s bright idea. A Conservative government, he has said, would consider forcing the BBC to sell off its Radio 1 franchise and waveband to the private sector.
This profoundly silly and wrong-headed idea has been launched in a typically cack-handed manner, but is politically cunning enough on several counts to gain traction over the coming months. It will be one in the eye for the fat-cat villains of the moment, the BBC. It could raise £100m for this year’s all-purpose victim, the British taxpayer. It would be a small but juicy morsel of privatisation to throw to the drooling free-marketeers in the Tory party, and yet will not lose votes on the more liberal side of the party. How many Conservative voters, after all, are regular Radio 1 listeners?
Vaizey’s argument for sale is fairly pathetic. The BBC has too much power, he says. Radio 1 “is not fulfilling its obligations to its audience. Its median age is those in their thirties when it should aim more at teenagers and (those in) their twenties.” The commercial sector would cover this market more effectively.
On the question of age, the BBC might be thinking that they can do nothing right. A couple of days ago, Ed Vaizey’s opposite number, Ben Bradshaw, was warning the Corporation that it should be wary of the “cult of youth”. Yet, in a sense, both the culture secretary and his shadow are right. The BBC is now so bullied and beleaguered that there is a growing tendency to produce programmes for that powerful, vocal lobby of listeners in their thirties and forties.
Only this week, the sudden and unexpected departure of Malcolm Laycock, who had presented a Radio 2 programme of dance music from the 1930s and 1940s for 14 years, has given force to strong rumours that something of a cull of minority music, particularly that from the first part of the 20th century, is taking place at the BBC.
The middle-aged and the middle of the road are in the ascendancy at Broadcasting House.
The way to halt this slow drift towards lowest-common-denominator broadcasting is not, of course, to threaten to sell off Radio 1 or 2. The commercial market is the problem, not the solution.
Meddlesome politicians, not to mention press commentators who happen to work for organisations which would benefit from a weakened BBC, need to be reminded that the Corporation’s great strength is that it does not have to chase ratings. It is for that reason above all that it has become an unrivalled champion of new music and musicians.
In the area of live music, the BBC plays to its strengths, covering mainstream and esoteric performances at major festivals on Radio 1 and 2, or inviting new acts to play in small studios of local radio stations. At a time of musical change and richness, when the Government’s idiotic Licensing Act is restricting live performances, this cultural role of encouragement and discovery is more important than ever.
No sane person could seriously suggest that a commercial radio station will have either the will or the capacity to encourage music in this way. In spite of the pressures on it, the BBC’s musical policy remains something of which we should all be proud. Careerist politicians meddle with it at their peril.
Look a bit more closely next time, Ryan
It has been a tricky summer for those of us who like to defend the right of the ageing and the downright old to misbehave with much younger women. Ever since Silvio Berlusconi appeared at the 18th birthday of one of his little friends, he has given geriatric randiness a bad name.
Jack Nicholson, whose mighty bulk suggests that he is preparing to star in a biopic of Marlon Brando, has been snapped cuddling up with various women who are a third his age and body weight.
The season’s champion in his dotage must surely be Ryan O’Neal. Attending the funeral of his long-term partner Farrah Fawcett, the 68-year-old attempted to engage with a young blonde woman who appeared to know him. Only when he proposed a drink did the woman break it to him that she was in fact his daughter, Tatum, who he hadn’t seen for many years. “He was always a ladies’ man, a bon vivant,” the actress rather sportingly commented later.
Nappy scandal? It must be the silly season
Hardly a day goes by without the appearance of another despairing story about the general hopelessness of young people today. Now a fresh angle on this familiar story has been discovered.
It seems that even toddlers are letting us down. Primary school teachers are reported to be “appalled” by the number of children who have been arriving at school still wearing nappies. Such is the crisis that the little-known charity Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence has been running courses. Parents have been giving first-hand accounts in the press of how their darlings occasionally have “little accidents”.
The Great Nappy Scandal touches on several favourite topics of whinge. The villains of the piece are surely working parents, who are too busy and self-absorbed to toilet-train their young. Then there is the role of local councils, who have been warning non-nappy-changing teachers that they are contravening the Disability Discrimination Act – yet another case of political correctness gone mad. The children are a worry, too. So cosseted are they by comfortable modern nappies that their all-important bladder-brain connection remains undeveloped.
It is the perfect silly-season story for a long damp summer.