Bacon baulks at accusations of leftist anti-Semitsm

Richard Bacon's reaction to Jonathan Meades's reasonable equivalence of leftist anti-Semitism of old and new is symptomatic of exactly what Meades was trying to portray

It might have Bacon, but does 5 Live work without Mayo?
Jonathan Bracey Gibbon
On 4 February 2013 12:49

They say your life flashes before you as you die. Well, that was certainly my experience as a 12-year-old when the dinghy in which I was sailing capsized and, with a spinnaker sheet wrapped around my neck, I was pulled under. It was blowing a force six that day and the proximity of a River Crouch lifeboat explains my continued existence.

So when The Royal Corinthian Yacht Club, the host of the championships in which I was sailing at that fateful time, appeared on Jonathan Meades's whimsical journey through Essex, The Joy Of Essex, last week, my brush with Mr. Reaper came eerily flooding back.

There is not enough Meades on TV. I know not of anyone who makes films which are part documentary, part poetry and part art. Learning through entertainment. Could there be a more powerful mission statement for the BBC?

I won't dwell on Meades, suffice to say he has the same baggy charisma as Christopher Hitchens, is challenging, intellectually satisfying and never what you think he might be. And he clearly drives lefties mad. Which brings me to BBC Radio 5 and Richard Bacon.

I am in Bacon's debt, for had I not heard the TV review section of his afternoon show on BBC5Live I would not have determined to watch Meades' wonderful opus on Essex. Determined, being the operative word following Bacon's review of Meades' programme.

Richard is an effective, if irritating, broadcaster. It would churlish not to admit that I have, on occasion, followed his recommendations be they literary or filmic, and found them to be sound. No, wrong word. Reliable. I have friends who have worked with him and attest to his decency as a human being.

Being caught doing cocaine while a Blue Peter presenter can go two ways for an ambitious TV floozy. He either has family in high places or talent that deserved a second chance. On balance, I believe it was the latter.

The Simon Mayo slot in 5Live's menu was its jewel in the crown, and when Bacon used to fill in, it was clear he was a shoo-in for the job when Mayo nobly decided broadcasting from Salford was a preposterous idea. Clearly Richard, and Victoria Derbyshire, did not, as they commute by train and air daily from London to Manchester to knock out their two hours for 5Live. Such is life at the ridiculous and, hopefully soon to be privatised, BBC.

Although Bacon's appearance on The Thick of It catapulted him into the firmament of heroic media leftism, the ludicrous commute has taken its toll. Since he has taken on the prestigious Mayo slot, his show has become a patchy facsimile of his predecessor, for although there is the occasionally out of character interview – his recent Alan Rusbridger encounter showed The Guardian editor as twitchiness personified – otherwise the Bacon show is dominated by tedious commentary about what's on the telly, and the BBC in particular.

And if his horribly fawning interview with 'The New Attenborough' Brian Cox is to go by, this show may benefit from the attention for Ofcom. Which brings us back to Jonathan Meades's The Joy of Essex.

Bacon's guest reviewers were Heat magazine's ubiquitous Boyd Hilton and The Telegraph's Benji Wilson. Although this was a Jonathan Meades film, it was an extraordinarily bitchy review. Wilson at least conceded there was some “interesting stuff about architecture going on”, but then rather depressingly he used the word 'verbose' twice to criticise Meades' use of, well, words.

Either way, the three of them hated Meades's rather wonderful programme (see AA Gill review in The Sunday Times), but not for its content, of which they had no real opinion other than he wore sunglasses they didn't like, and that he used too many words.

No, what they really protested at, like a bunch of sewing circle minnies, was that he'd committed the cardinal sin in a BBC programme of being critical of the Left (Kier Hardie no less) and, worse, he'd accused it of anti-semitism.

Early on, in a throwaway line, Meades says of the Fabian, Beatrice Webb, that "she dismissed local Soap magnate Joseph Fells as a 'vulgar little Jew'. She was merely manifesting an anti-Semitism which a chapter of the English left displays to this day in its enthusiasm for Palestine and Islam."

Of course this is fact, not opinion, but bait for the Guardianistas nonetheless. But then, given Lib Dem's David Ward's pronouncements and cartoonist Gerald Scarfe's effort, clearly not wrong.

But this was a review by three 40-something, supposedly expert TV critics, who'd apparently never seen Meades before. Worse, they were clearly offended by the demolition of the TV de nos jours they personally inhabit.

The review itself came barely minutes after Richard had mounted what sounded like a solid defence of Gerald Scarfe's anti-Semitic cartoon for The Sunday Times,

But if the Scarfe cartoon rumpus has shown anything it is that Jewish sensitivity comes a poor second to that of the Left over Palestine. And these three media fools' bitching over Meades's historically factual and perfectly reasonable equivalence to the present day is symptomatic of exactly what Meades's throwaway line had described.

Needless to say, Professor Brian Cox's Wonders of Life was reviewed as the greatest thing since sliced focaccia, and the man himself proclaimed as the new Attenborough. Given the old one wants to exterminate the human race, I'm not sure he's my bag.

Jonathan Bracey-Gibbon is a freelance journalist who over the past 15 years has written for The Times, the Financial Times, The Sunday Times and Sunday Express

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