Some useful received ideas for the BBC

In his first detailed statement to the public, Lord Patten, the new chairman of the BBC Trust, has rather daringly invoked the great novelist Gustave Flaubert. The corporation is in danger of “drowning our viewers and listeners in a small metropolitan pond of stereotypes and prejudices, what Flaubert called ‘received ideas'”, he said.

Unfortunately, his lordship followed up these remarks with a received idea of his own. Viewers “should feel the BBC is relevant to their everyday lives”, he argued. Flaubert’s collection of the unexamined clichés of the moment, what he called “an encyclopaedia of stupidity”, has occasionally been updated for more recent times but the form seems particularly apposite to the BBC of today.

Absolutely. Thunder against the use of this word in interviews. “Why on earth can’t people say ‘Yes’ when they agree with something?” “Absolutely.”

Accountability. A good word to use in speeches. “In these changing times, the BBC is all about accountability.” “Thank you, Mr Thompson. Here’s £800,000.”

Bad language. No excuse for it on the BBC. We must have regard for the sensitivities of our audience, however prim or stupid. People care more about a single swear word on the BBC than a famine in Africa. Briefly, if you will. “Thank you. John. Here’s £600,000.”

Climate change. The BBC can’t save the planet single-handedly but it can cetainly do its bit. Mention the effect of climate change at every opportunity, particularly in gardening programmes.

Coming up next. Obligatory for Radio 4 announcers. If possible, say it with a smile in the voice.

Clarkson. Salt of the earth. Viewers expect a bit of tongue-in-cheek racism in Top Gear. If it made less money, there might be more of an issue.

Defence. An important word for Match of the Day pundits. “But the defence has gone walkabout, Gary.” “Thank you, Alan. Here’s £1m.”

Dinner-ladies from Donnington. A good phrase to use in editorial meetings. “Sir Jonathan Miller on the St Matthew Passion is all very well, but what’s in it for the dinner-ladies from Donnington?”

Goalposts. Should never be moved. “But that’s moving the goalposts, minister.” “Sorry Mr Humphrys, here’s £600,000.”

I have learned exclusively. Always include at some point in a Robert Peston report.

It’s not all doom and gloom. An essential link for any weather forecast. Let’s be absolutely clear about this. Thank you, minister.

Licence-payers’ money. Thunder against the waste of it. “Is this really the way license-payers’ money should be spent?” “Probably not, Jeremy. Here’s £1m.”

Listeners, Radio 4. Middle England at its best. You meddle with You and Yours at your peril.

Long grass. An excellent place for things not to be kicked into during news programmes. More bad news is waiting in the wings. A handy phrase for weather forecast. Say with an amused chortle in the voice.

Pips. More people phoned in to complain to the BBC about a missing pip before the five o’clock news than about Sandi Toksvig’s silly cuts joke on The News Quiz.

Shipping forecast. It has a sort of poetry to it. The best programme on Radio 4 by miles. You meddle with it at your peril.

Titchmarsh, Alan. He’s no broadcasting genius, but at least you can rely on him to deliver his lines with a cheery smile. Gardening, wildlife, art, chat: wherever you need a safe pair of hands, Alan’s your man.

Weather forecasters. Surprisingly difficult job, you know. You need a first-class degree in meteorology, and a bit of experience in amateur dramatics. You meddle with them at your peril.

Independent, Friday, 8 July 2011