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HomeBBC WatchDavid Keighley’s BBC Watch: Bad news on Two for old, white men

David Keighley’s BBC Watch: Bad news on Two for old, white men


Be afraid, be very afraid. Patrick Holland, appointed last year as the Controller of BBC2, has launched a new mission.

He has decided that his channel, which attracts only around six per cent of the television audience share, needs a bit of a shake-up.

The reason? It’s too posh. Too much like ‘eating muesli’. And, of course, the dwindling audience is . . . well, just too full of old white men. In the world of the BBC, that’s just not on.

In response, Mr Holland has promised to produce programmes that are ‘challenging’ and of ‘unashamed complexity’. And he will reel in the viewers he wants by ensuring that his future not-posh offerings appeal to ‘older women, people living outside London and those from ethnic minority backgrounds’.

His line of attack? Well, the BBC is the BBC, and if in doubt when looking for something ‘challenging’, where better to start than with a little something on Margaret Thatcher?

For almost 40 years now since her election as Prime Minister, the Corporation has been treating her as the devil incarnate, most recently in coverage of the continuing calls for an inquiry into the violence which erupted at Orgreave during the 1984 miners’ strike. The Corporation described this as ‘one of the most violent episodes in British industrial history’, leaving little doubt as to who was to blame.

Mr Holland has commissioned a five-part series about her, which, it is said, will chart ‘the seismic social history of modern Britain’.

For the uninitiated, that’s BBC code. What he almost certainly means is that the programme will set out to chart the havoc and misery which, in the BBC’s usual estimation, the Thatcher era and its legacy caused.

Also in store? Under the heading of ‘embracing complexity’ in a recent speech announcing new BBC programmes, Mr Holland also promises a look ‘at why some Asian cultures have thrived in the UK while other have struggled’, and journalist Mobeen Azhar will examine how the lives of British Muslim families were ‘transformed’ by the Satanic Verses fatwa on Salman Rushdie.

Mr Holland added: ‘The Mash Report is returning to BBC Two having broken the internet with its viral clips from the brilliant Rachel Parris and Nish Kumar as they discussed Trump, sexual harassment and Brexit. Short form content from this series has had over 200million views, bringing a massive new audience to topical comedy.’

How this all translates to the screen, of course is anyone’s guess. It might be admiring of Donald Trump, talk up the benefits of Brexit, say that immigration – brilliant as many immigrants are – is an increasing matter of concern for many communities, and condemn unequivocally the passing of a death sentence on a novelist for writing a book, and the burning of those books on the streets of Britain.

Then again, maybe not.

A third leg of the programming is an expedition to Redcar on Teesside. More words from Mr Holland: ‘Enter a docusoap for a new generation . . . it follows life in the north-eastern town after the steelworks has closed down. The subject could be grim or gawpy but the series is anything but.’

Hold on to your hats! Some might say this visit to the north is framed in a rather patronising way. Might there be be hope for the wretched flat-cap workers up there who had the temerity to vote for Brexit despite their economic plight?

Mr Holland finished his speech: ‘At its core, BBC2 is about values that urgently need championing right now: curiosity and challenge, diversity and difference, mischief and provocation. Not shying from complexity but actively seeking it out.’

Was that lifted from the script of the satirical BBC programme W1A 1AA? Whatever the truth, those grey, geriatric men who have the temerity to watch BBC2 are, it seems, in for a bumpy ride.

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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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