The night the royal
family sank slowly
beneath the waves
Kenneth Roy may have had to consume industrial quantities of sedative following his last article (8 June), but his stirring defence of the BBC is both welcome and timely. Yes, much of the coverage of the jubilee pageant was bum-clenchingly awful – the union jack sick-bag springs to mind – but it had to contend with the twin facts that (a) the weather was appalling and (b) watching boats in no particular pattern sailing down the Thames for four hours was intrinsically boring despite laughable comparisons with Canaletto.
These sections of the media most vitriolic in their criticism of the BBC can hardly be accused of impartiality. We can all remember James Murdoch's particularly vicious attack in his MacTaggart lecture a few years ago, before the BskyB controversy. The commercially-driven, right-wing agenda of newspapers like the Express and the Mail has nothing to gain by pointing out the astonishing value that the licence fee represents, so they seek targets that they think will appeal to their most gullible readership.
Kenneth rightly reminds us of the glory days of the single play, but most recent original drama on all the BBC's channels has been outstanding and the dumbing-down of Saturday night on BBC1 has been compensated in part by 9pm on BBC4. There is now a massive hole where 'Wallander', 'The Killing', 'Borgen', 'Spiral', 'The Bridge' and 'Montalbano' used to be. What other TV company in the world would invest two primetime hours on a Saturday night on foreign, subtitled drama?
Dipping into Saturday's regatta – if you'll forgive the pun – I was reminded of another landmark of BBC innovation. 'That Was the Week that Was', 50 years ago, brought us irreverent, anti-establishment, funny satire. I have a clear memory of David Frost, commentating in his best Dimblebore hushed tones, as another royal barge with the entire family on board, sank slowly beneath the waves. Not a hat was left undescribed. Only on the BBC...
It seems I need to get in the queue to be offended by John Cameron. In a recent offering he managed to include apologias as to how decent both Ian Paisley and Robert Maxwell were – to Cameron, at least. Cameron attests to the kindness of Captain Bob as an employer while he enjoyed overnight stays at the Maxwell’s (rented) Oxfordshire mansion.
Years ago, Maxwell used to spend the night at our gaff in Albion Street, Glasgow, home of the Scottish Daily News. As he bunked down in his cramped loft apartment, he would plot his future as a press baron, while lording it over us naïve and battle-fatigued dupes, drained by this time of any hope for the continuance of a fair, workers'-owned newspaper.
Twice an employee of Maxwell – also at the Daily Record, where he milked our pension fund, one of many iniquities that otherwise categorise this 'invariably kind and generous employer' as Cameron has it – I never saw any side of him other than nasty and brutish. As an interferer, he was in a higher class than any Murdoch. He once stood behind me on the composing room as I was checking my proofs of a centre-spread I had just completed, and snarled: 'Hmmmph…hate all those black rules. Do something about them'. The editor would certainly never have spoken in that way.
For a minister, John Cameron certainly doesn’t appear to mind upsetting people. If another – say, Stalin's poor, misunderstood secret police chief, Lavrentiy Beria – had once employed him and put him up for a few nights at a penthouse suite in the Lubyanka, would Cameron be giving him plaudits, I wonder?
Having read the Lockerbie open letter in the Scottish Review, may I state my firm belief that there was no bomb on the plane that crashed down on Lockerbie on 21 December 1988.
Bernard B Elliott
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