The initials BBC no longer serve as a badge of quality but as a warning flag.
‘Here’s your new Sunday night obsession…’ the BBC announcer purred, overintoned and mini-orgasmed, like she was doing an audition for a Cadbury’s Flake commercial, ‘… a dazzling drama with a stellar cast.’
My hackles rose. Did no one ever mention to her the rule about ‘show not tell’? And my hackles were right. His Dark Materials has indeed become my Sunday night obsession: how can the BBC’s most-expensive-ever drama series possibly look, sound and feel so clunkingly, God-awfully, disappointingly flat?
A decade on, the scam I exposed is stronger than ever
Every journalist dreams of the scoop that will make his name. Ten years ago this month I finally got mine – but I’m still not altogether sure it was worth it. On the upside, my story went viral, got me a much bigger audience – from the the United States to Oz – and established my spiky, edgy reputation for in-your-face contrarianism. On the downside, though, for every ardent fan it made me it probably lost me a couple more: ‘But he used to be so funny and clever. Now he’s just one of those anti-science, climate change denier cranks…’.
You can search a whole lifetime for a scoop but when it comes, it often comes unbidden. Mine dropped into my lap when I was sitting at my desk one morning, wondering what to write next for my Telegraph blog, when I noticed an interesting story starting to break on the Watts Up With That? website. All I did was top, tail, adapt it and popularise it by giving it a bit of snark, context and spin. Then I nicked the title from a commenter called ‘Bulldust’ (an Aussie, as it happens). Et voilà! Climategate was born.
How sorry I felt for the poor man who died this week stuck up a 290ft chimney in Carlisle despite desperate attempts — helicopter; cherry-picker — by the emergency services to rescue him. We’re so used to the idea that no matter how precarious or remote our plight — be it stranded kids deep inside a flooded cave in Thailand or tourists who’ve had their feet bitten off while snorkelling in Australia’s Whitsundays — those amazing emergency services will get us to safety in the end. It comes as quite a shock to be reminded that survival isn’t always inevitable.
Plus: why BBC1’s Dublin Murders is a much better bet than BBC2’s The Name of the Rose
Not an awful lot in my view. Some people cite David Attenborough’s nature documentaries but I certainly wouldn’t now that they have become so obtrusively propagandistic. The problem with the BBC isn’t — and never has been — lack of talented filmmakers, wildlife camera crews, presenters, actors, writers or production teams. It’s that, from news to drama, the BBC’s woke politics now subsume and corrupt its entire output.
It’s a reimagining of a British imperial atrocity which took place in Natal in 1879 and was subsequently made into a disgracefully jingoistic 1964 movie, and despite its problematic subject matter — the bad guys won — I reckon it will be a shoo-in for an award at the new-look, diversity–compliant Bafta.
Idris Elba will play the Michael Caine role, obviously; I’m thinking Lenny Henry as Lieutenant Chard, and the cast of Top Boy as the various VC-winning NCOs and men of the 24th of Foot. The Zulus will all be played by actual Zulus because anything else would be cultural appropriation, but one Impi will be in a wheelchair and another will be entirely transgender to emphasise their stunning bravery.
How could TV about boardroom skullduggery possible be quite this involving and exciting?
Which wasn’t what I expected when my friend Toby recommended it to me a few weeks ago. ‘It’s about this media dynasty, a bit like the Murdochs. And the kids spend their whole time scheming and competing as to which one is eventually going to take over the company from the bullying patriarch Logan Roy,’ he said. This all sounded a bit grown-up, earnest and worthy to me.
‘Hands up which other university parents are bloody glad to have got rid of their lumpen, food-gobbling, space-invading kids…’
When I tweeted this the other day having just dumped my offspring at Durham I got accused of being a bad father. But I don’t think I am. A bad father wouldn’t have been labouring in the dark at 12.30 a.m. getting the car packed for the long trek north. A bad father wouldn’t have forked out so liberally and uncomplainingly for all those things they spring on you when you arrive — 30-odd quid for the week’s JCR induction entertainments; 25 quid (50 if you’d been naive enough to buy new) for a gown they’ll probably only wear about twice…
Is the drug/gangs genre the last island of authenticity and candour on TV?
Sir Lenny Henry, the former comedian, is wont to complain to anyone who’ll listen that there isn’t enough ‘diversity’ on TV. Really, he should watch Top Boy (Netflix). Apart from the odd token walk-on whitey — skanky crack addicts, nasty immigration officers — it’s wall-to-wall BAME casting opportunities. The protagonist, Dushane (Ashley Walters), is black. So are all his friends, family and associates (his mandem, as they are colloquially known). So, mostly, is the urban music soundtrack, the work of various grime artists curated by the show’s co-producer, Canadian rapper Drake.
It’s not often that you come across a book that completely transforms your understanding of the world. Just recently I’ve read two. One, Tom Holland’s Dominion concerns the debt we all owe — not just vicars and popes but atheists and social justice warriors — to Christianity’s revolutionary (and frankly still shocking) message that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. The other, China, Trade and Power by Stewart Paterson, is about a seismic event in 2001, three months to the day after 9/11, which shook the world to a degree few remotely comprehend.
Almost none of us is familiar with that epochal moment, yet it changed everything and explains everything: the Blair/Brown spending bubble; Australia’s prosperity; Mexico’s gangland hell; the 2008 crash; the rise of Donald Trump; Momentum, Antifa and the only problem with communism being that it hasn’t been tried properly yet; Brexit; your smart phone; protectionism; the price of houses; the crowds at Bicester Village; the riots in Hong Kong…
Its treatment of the Nazis, and of George Soros, shows that the channel is no longer interested in objectivity.
Back in the day, the BBC might have been content to strive for an objective take on the subject, perhaps with a voiceover by Samuel West and lots of period footage. But the danger of that approach, the BBC has since realised, is that it runs the risk of viewers making up their own minds what to think. Some of them might not be aware, for example, of the obvious parallels between Hitler, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Brexit and, to a lesser extent, Michael Gove.