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David Keighley: Florence Nightingale a racist prima donna? More BBC propaganda masquerading as education


What will it take to make the BBC realise how fundamentally and unpleasantly anti-British it is?

I raise the point because its contempt for national history and achievements now seems to ooze from almost every orifice and pore as part of the Corporation’s raison d’etre.  The BBC1 drama series The  Village – as those unfortunate enough to have watched it will know – typifies the approach.

This week, there was a minor blip in this relentless denigration.  The Trustees, who normally defend everything the BBC staff do with bloody-minded, partisan determination, found that even they could not sanction risible untruths about one of our national icons, Florence Nightingale.

The complaint, made by the principals of the Nightingale Society, centred on a sketch in an edition of the Children’s BBC (C-BBC) Horrible Histories series, in which our most famous nurse was outrageously defamed.  Originally broadcast in 2010, it lived on as a centrepiece of the BBC learning zone website. The video was aimed at primary school children (who are also frequently the target of the BBC’s agitprop about climate change).

The sketch was set in a PR agency run by a white-suited buffoon who had allegedly masterminded Ms Nightingale’s ‘Lady with the Lamp’ image. Before him were Ms Nightingale and Mary Seacole, the Jamaican-born nurse who also had an important role in comforting British soldiers during the Crimean War.  Seacole, of course, has become an icon and cause celebre of the multicultural movement.

The BBC writers had a deadly serious intent: to portray Ms Seacole as an oppressed, discriminated-against black person who history had wrongly ignored, and Ms Nightingale as a petulant, narcissistic, small-minded, racist prima donna who had actively discriminated against Ms Seacole because of the colour of her skin and had ruthlessly pumped up her own image at the expense of Ms Seacole’s.

In other words – a video with as much subtlety as a bag of concrete.

Excuse me if I seem to have had a humour by-pass here, but first of all I don’t think the sketch, which can be viewed here was that funny or original.  In fact, it was crass – it’s an insult to our children that the BBC thinks that ‘education’ has to be delivered in this facile, contrived way.

This approach, however, was here clearly designed as a sugar-coating of a pill aimed squarely at the gullets of millions of primary school children – to ram home to them a deadly serious message fundamental to what has become part of the BBC Creed: namely, that history books are all wrong. In this BBC Newspeak, those who we once revered in our classrooms are cast as murderous colonialists, racists and filthy rich, devoid-of-morals capitalists (Ms Nightingale is several times described on the BBC fact-file about her as ‘rich’) whose only aim was to subjugate and denigrate poor unfortunates who happened to be black and, especially, those called Seacole.

That Creed is promulgated with zealotry and a desire to get the message across at all costs, irrespective of the facts.

The Nightingale Society rightly complained that there is not a scrap of evidence that our heroine of the Crimea – and the selfless founder of our noble traditions of nursing – was racist, and submitted a dossier showing that the whole sketch was with any historical foundation.

The BBC Trustees – faced with this overwhelming evidence – asked the programme makers if they could defend their position. Shamefully, they could not, and hence the Trustees’ begrudging finding. Even so, the complaint was only ‘partially upheld’, showing yet again that the Trustees are never truly on the side of viewers or the truth.  Their only constant aim is to defend the BBC in every way it can.

In fact, correspondence on the Nightingale Society  website shows that this episode was not isolated.  Another item – on schools radio – that purported to be a serious educational programme (rather than a sketch) misrepresented and totally exaggerated  Mary Seacole’s contribution in the Crimea and underplayed that of Nightingale. On that front, the Society’s battle with the programme makers continues; it’s clear that they remain determined to perpetuate their revisionist Creed and will not back down an inch.

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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