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Gompertz, the BBC’s Woke Laureate


SIMON Armitage, a working-class Yorkshireman made good, is our new Poet Laureate.

I’m not very familiar with his poetry (though I’ve liked some of what I’ve heard) but his books about walking across England and exploring his home patch on the wrong side of the Pennines are beautifully written and often very funny, and I’m a fan of his on the strength of them.

News of his appointment broke during Friday night’s main 10 o’clock news bulletins, and I caught the BBC one, which struck me as being particularly ‘BBC’ in its slant:

‘In the last half hour, it’s been announced that Simon Armitage will be the new Poet Laureate. He says he wants to use the role to ensure poetry embraces major global issues, including climate change.’

The subsequent report by BBC arts editor, the shy and retiring Will Gompertz, began with the end of a poem about climate change:

I’d wanted to offer my daughter

a taste of the glacier, a sense of the world

being pinned in place by a diamond-like cold

at each pole. But opening up my hand

there’s nothing to pass on, nothing to hold.

(That’s the least impressive bit of that poem. I particularly enjoyed:

‘Rotten and rusted, a five-bar gate/

lies felled in the mud, letting the fields escape.’)

‘Like a rock-star’, ‘taking poetry to the people’ etc were some of Will’s words. (Very ‘Will’!)

As so often with the BBC, viewers were being whacked over the head with a wet halibut of an agenda – or a very heavy bronze cast of a wet halibut of an agenda.

More about Will later.

With ITV’s News at Ten, the usual ‘viewer-friendly’ conversational style resulted in this meandering description of the ‘breaking news’:

‘Poetry has been part of Britain’s national fabric for centuries, and the names of some of our most famous poets still resonate. Think Wordsworth, Tennyson and Betjeman, amongst many others. They were all, as it happens, Poet Laureates, there’s a good pub quiz question, and the new incumbent of this prestigious post was announced just a few minutes ago. He is Simon Armitage, West Yorkshire poet, professor and playwright. Although the role may no longer have the influence on British culture it once did, he says there’s still a need to capture moments in words that stretch the imagination.’

And we got an equally non-political poem to illustrate SA’s art from ITV:

As he steps out at the traffic lights,

Think what he’ll look like in thirty years’ time –

The deflated face and shrunken scalp

Still daubed with the sad tattoos of high punk.

ITV went on to focus on the relevance of the role of Poet Laureate, without any of the BBC’s politics and talk of climate change activism.

Sky News broke it like this:

‘His appointment was approved by the Queen, and for ten years he’ll be seen promoting poetry, because Simon Armitage is the new Poet Laureate. He says he wants to harness the tools of the multi-media age. And if the rising popularity of poetry among millennials is anything to go by, he’ll have a willing audience.’

Sky then focused on the resurgence in the popularity of poetry and featured a clip of SA reading from his poem Kid, again including none of the BBC’s politicking or any of their stuff about climate change.

Now, if you think that proves something about the BBC, try this.

I’ve held back so far in mentioning what came next on the BBC news bulletin. Will Gompertz went on – after all the climate change stuff – to raise another issue not raised by either ITV or Sky:

Yes, the BBC’s identity politics obsession reared its ugly head again with ghastly inevitability.

Here’s Will’s ‘hideously white’ question to working-class Yorkshire poet Simon Armitage: ‘Did it cross your mind, even for a moment, when you were offered the post to say, “You know, actually, I don’t think this is right at this stage for a white male. Maybe someone from a different point of view, a different background, would be better for this role at this moment”?’ You can see the interview here.

As I said, very ‘BBC’.

Yes, I know ITV and Sky can be as bad on some things, but in so many respects the BBC is well and truly unique, don’t you think?

This article first appeared in Is The BBC Biased? on May 11, 2019, and is republished by kind permission.

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Craig Byers
Craig Byers
Craig Byers is a blogger about the BBC, focusing on the issue of BBC bias while living in Britain's finest traditional seaside resort: Morecambe (the one with the Eric Morecambe statue).

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