We don’t know the answer to our title question, but we do know this: Stewart Lee of The Guardian is our Biggest Major News Media Writing Hero of the Year So Far.
This is why:
Cameron’s Monkeys are Feasting on the BBC’s Nuts
by Stewart Lee
In January 2014, when a critically endangered water lily was stolen from Kew Gardens, the former Conservative MP Louise Mensch tweeted on her Twitter, “Got to say what’s the point? Ordinary plant hardly worth saving.” The Conservatives can’t even see the point of flowers. It’s asking a lot to expect them to see the point of the BBC. It doesn’t even attract bees.
As a student in the late summer of 1988, I was backpacking in the far south-east of Turkey, blissfully unaware in those distant, pre-internet days that an undeclared civil war against the Kurds was now covertly under way. Not knowing I had anything to fear, I floated with vacant impunity through military manoeuvres and migrating masses, danced at an illegal Kurdish wedding, and happily ate a bag of nuts riddled with green worms. There is much to be said for stupidity. Ignorance was strength.
But on a minibus on a dark dirt road out of the frontier town of Diyarbakir, a Turkish man from Istanbul, with artificially curly dyed blond hair and a Samantha Fox T-shirt, loudly declared the Kurds dirty dogs, and deep-veined regional rivalries suddenly exploded into violence. I, wearing salmon pink Aladdin pants, intervened clumsily, as knives flashed in the aisle. “Let’s just cool it, OK guys? Peace, yeah?”
Then someone noted my accent. “British!”, said the men, putting away their weapons and laughing. “BBC! Del Boy fall through bar! Funniest scene ever. Licence fee very good value at twice price.”
It was a remarkable moment, and one made even more remarkable by the fact that the classic episode of Only Fools and Horses in which Del Boy falls through the bar was not even broadcast until four months later, yet the BBC pratfall was already accepted globally as a benchmark of quality entertainment in places miles from anything the Conservatives would recognise as civilised.
But the Conservatives’ assault on the BBC continues apace, doubtless to the delight of the shady media moguls with whom they regularly share clandestine Cotswold kitchen suppers, yachts, and borrowed police horses. And like all the Conservatives’ carefully chosen targets – foxes, lilies, and abstract ideas like beauty, truth, fairness and empathy wherever they are to be found – the BBC is either unable or unwilling to speak out in its own defence.
That incoherent howling in your garden at night? That’s foxes forcing their primitive vocal cords to articulate the argument against David Cameron’s sherry-swilling friends dismembering them for fun. Incoherent as it is, this nocturnal yowling remains more convincing than anything anyone at the battered BBC has felt able to say to justify the internationally respected, world-class broadcasting organisation’s own ongoing existence, at a cost to the individual annually equivalent to around 200 iTunes downloads.
The BBC’s five-year funding was supposed to be in place. But on Monday, in the sort of shady behind-closed-doors negotiations we were assured wouldn’t happen again after they did exactly the same thing last time, the government suddenly had the BBC 20% down on the deal, due to the apparently non-negotiable withdrawal of OAPs’ licence fee subsidy. Like Marie Antoinette, unaware of the difference between nourishment and subsistence, Cameron leans from the Versailles palace window and declares, “Let them watch Eamonn Holmes.”
On Tuesday, I stopped in at the BBC comedy offices, only recently a vast wing of White City’s iconic doughnut building, but today a small room above a 7-11 on Marylebone Road, from where all the unit’s globally lauded content is produced. A blabber-mouthed producer, high on petrol fumes and Pret a Manger breadless prawn sandwiches, explained the circumstances behind the killer budget decrease. Apparently, BBC director general Tony Hall had been forced at cattle-prod point into a sheep-shearing shed by the Conservative culture secretary, John Whittingdale, and quite simply bullied.