Is the worm turning on the BBC?

Has the nation finally had enough of BBC bias?

Is the worm turning?
Jonathan Bracey Gibbon
On 16 March 2013 12:43

Could enough be enough? The accusations of BBC leftism have grown loud enough to make the pages of The Daily Mail and The Telegraph. Whether it is unbridled left-wing invective on Radio 4, or audience plants on BBC1's Question Time, could the BBC be feeling the heat? Has the nation had enough?

Correspondents to Radio 4's Feedback have taken exception to Jeremy Hardy’s Jeremy Hardy Speaks to The Nation. Clearly music to Hardy's ears, if not to those who would deny the BBC's evident left-wing bias, one of a number of complaints was broadcast thus:

“This programme appears to be a diatribe of Jeremy Hardy’s prejudiced extreme left wing views. It wasn’t clever and it certainly wasn’t funny. The BBC is a non-political organisation and yet it is paying for broadcasting what appeared to be a party political broadcast for the Communist Party”.

Indeed. But this wasn't offence being taken; this was a complaint about quality.

Fortunately Hardy's show happened to be on R4 at time of writing. Billed as 'a series of debates', Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation is no such thing, more a rant with skits, in this case about being a man in the 21st Century. One segment, delivered by a cast member, was quite funny, but the rest was one excuse after another to shoehorn in, what ex-lefty Ben Elton used to call, alittlebiddapolitics.

It does all become a bit predictable and one even finds oneself mouthing punch-lines as they are delivered. But Hardy seems to have been ploughing this particularly witless furrow for an awfully long time, and in reading, somewhat negative, reviews of his act from five years ago – by The Guardian no less – little has changed. And why should it, when the licence-fee payer has been paying for Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation for 20 years?

One can only summise that the relative laziness of BBC producers, who continue to indulge Hardy, means the man has no incentive to actually come up with a new angle to his schtick. That, or up until now, the BBC has ignored any complaints of left-wing bias on R4.

Hardy's been around long enough to have 'improved' by now, but, like Phill Jupitus, Jo Brand, and so many others of their ilk, they just grow fatter on the BBC-panel-show-gravy-train, despite most of them now being roundly recognized, by weary viewers and listeners alike, as being marginally less funny than a slightly sozzled dinner party guest.

Of course complaints about BBC leftism are part of this nation's fabric, so much so that it has been admitted by a previous Director General and the current Chairman. What is interesting is that sections of the BBC and right-leaning press have lately given these complaints legs.

If one is to trust in the Mail's peerless ability to read the pulse of middle England, there are many who feel, having paid the piper, they are listening to some other bugger's tune. The Feedback complaints really do bear the hallmark of an audience that had simply had enough of the bias, and enough of the tedium.

For me, that happened one Saturday morning about two years ago. Radio 4 had always been Saturday morning’s background noise, but on that particular morning, listening to The Now Show followed by Any Questions really felt like being force-fed some Spartist's wet dream.

From The Now Show's feeble gibes about The Tories, Cameron, Osborne being posh, Thatcher being gaga, and Marcus bloody Brigstocke bleating on about Global Warming, to the subsequent Any Questions being dominated by the usual union-mobilised audience of braying teachers and sundry public sector workers, bussed-in to distort audience bias to breaking point. I know how Angry of East Sheen felt. But I was more bored than angry, and just stopped listening.

But then again, it might have been The News Quiz, that morning, rather than The Now Show, they both consist of 30 minutes of patchy satire, and the weakness of much of the material betrays levels of complacency that we are increasingly finding out passes for the norm at the BBC. Like Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation, both these shows have been going for decades and yet, seemingly, at no point have one of the BBC's legion of millionaire managers ever said, 'Surely we can do better than this?'

A look at the list of regular panellists on The News Quiz – or guests on The Now Show for that matter – reads like an Oxbridge Marxism society reunion. Indeed of the current regular panellists on The News Quiz only Francis Wheen can be conceivably described as 'not of the left'. The rest are either of the left, and work primarily for the BBC and The Guardian, or are flat-out, SWP mentalists like Hardy and Mark Steel.

In fact, of the 50-odd names associated with the show over the years, barely 10 percent are ostensibly not lefties, and most of them are Tory MPs, past or present.

On Feedback, a producer called Caroline Raphael bemoaned the lack of right wing comedians, missing the point completely, that the complaint is about balance. “They don't come through” she moans feebly, when you just know, seeking out 'right wing comedians' is not how she or her ilk are spending their evenings.

The reasoning seems to be: because there are 'no right wing comedians' ergo the only political comedy comes from the left. Surely, if there are no right wing comedians, then in the interest of balance, Jeremy Hardy, Marcus Brigstocke et al. ought to be ditched. It's not as if the nation as a whole is going to notice…

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