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Quote, ‘patronising BBC drivel’, unquote


WHEN I joined the BBC in 1978 as a news producer and reporter, the then Radio 4 Today programme presenter Nigel Rees was one of my aspirational heroes. He had been elevated to one of the BBC’s top journalistic posts at the tender age of 32 and fulfilled the brief brilliantly alongside Brian Redhead.  

In that same period (1976-78) he also co-devised Quote Unquote, one of the best Radio 4 quiz shows programmes of all time with its mix of wit, wisdom and tantalising questions. Astonishing from the outset was the stellar array of guests it attracted – luminaries such as Malcolm Muggeridge, Sir Tom Stoppard, Sir Jonathan Miller, Spike Milligan and Sir Anthony Quayle, to name but a few. The full list can be viewed here

So good is that mix that it has endured for 57 seasons over 46 years. It notched up 595 guest appearances and yielded 50 related best-selling books.      

Now it has been axed. Why? Put simply, the BBC under its all-consuming diversity drive, pressured the presenter to choose guests who better filled the said ‘diversity’ remit. They also told him that he could not frame a question about the Noel Coward song Mad Dogs and Englishmen because it was redolent of ‘colonial attitudes’. 

Such lunacy was the last straw for the 77-year-old Rees and rather than complying with the increasing demands – which, he said, had come to include one that there could never be an ‘all-white panel’ – he pulled the plug on the show, as he explained to Talkradio presenter Mike Graham.

That Quote Unquote has ended its run for such coercive, negative reasons is bad enough, but even worse is how the Corporation – which under current director general Tim Davie claims to be becoming more impartial and in tune with audience needs – has reacted to these developments. 

A spokesman told the Daily Telegraph: ‘We want our output to be representative of the UK and we want contributors on our comedy shows to be wonderfully engaging and funny. 

‘These two ambitions are not mutually exclusive and it would be highly condescending to suggest otherwise. We have creative, editorial discussion around every production and they are very much standard practice.’

How low can the BBC sink? 

Point one: The vast majority of BBC so-called comedy ceased being either engaging or funny to the majority of the audience 20 years ago when it was terminally infected with liberal-Left arrogance and political correctness. Quote Unquote was one of the last bastions of normality. 

Point two: The second sentence appears to be a gratuitous, patronising insult aimed at a man who has become so exasperated by the Corporation’s intransigence that he feels he has no option but to quit after 46 years of distinguished service.   

Point three: It appears that what the Corporation views as ‘creative discussion’ is actually a form of bludgeoning of those who disagree that broadcasting should be based on political campaigning to achieve specific politically-charged goals such as ‘diversity’.      

When I worked in the BBC press office in the 1980s, such an insulting and patronising press release would never have been sanctioned. This is yet more evidence that Tim Davie’s BBC, rather than improving, is plumbing further depths of negativity and bias.     

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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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