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Home > Media

BBC cuts: Time for The Big Brush?

11 December 2004

There must be some fine minds working in BBC management, because this week the corporation came up with a brilliant two-pronged strategy:

- Make better programmes

- Don't employ people who aren't needed

Both these goals are to be achieved by shedding 2,900 jobs. The BBC said the financial savings were needed so more of the licence fee could be put into programmes. It's genius, when you think about it.

The casualties of the cuts will mainly be staff in administration departments, but there'll be other victims too, including the Beeb's hilariously awful Get Writing website, originally envisaged as an exciting nationwide forum for talented new writers, but in practice just home to gibberish sitcom scripts, first chapters of plot-free, never-to-be-completed novels and what appears to be Vogon poetry.

This might look like another cheap dig at Get Writing and the idiots who populate the site, and it is. But Get Writing (which should really be called Stop Writing) is surely a good example of what the BBC has been doing wrong: relentlessly expanding into areas it has no business being in.

Anyone who's ever worked for a large company will know how easy it is for collective enthusiasm and empire building to take hold, and this appears to be what's happened at the BBC. The Beeb runs an excellent news website, but many of its web activities - like Get Writing or Eastenders chat groups or endless online audio clips of crap Radio 4 shows - are not only shite, but also of little interest to the majority of licence fee payers. It's just stuff for the sake of stuff.

Meanwhile the BBC has set up new channels without bothering to actually have much that's worth watching to put on them - and all the good stuff just ends up on BBC2 anyway. There may be people out there who rush home to watch repeats of 3 Non-Blondes, but we suspect it's only the cast.

So now the plan is for better programmes, not really a huge leap of logic for a broadcasting corporation, but at least it'll mean the end of all those sodding makeover shows. However, there's an aspect of the BBC's new strategy that suggests certain things never change: moving 2,000 staff from London to Manchester, to 'make the corporation more reflective of UK audiences', according to the BBC.

Er, how? To imagine that making programmes in Manchester somehow makes them more relevant is just as patronising as believing the world begins and ends with London. In any case, Manchester has more than its fair share of the TV industry: it's called Granada, which has relentlessly churned out rubbish TV that's as parochial as it is downmarket. A favoured format is Terry Christian or Antony Wilson 'debating' an 'issue' (eg. body piercing) with a studio audience composed entirely of people who couldn't form a coherent statement to save their lives (eg. 'Don't kill me', which would come out as 'Killing me, it's, like, er, y'know, innit?') We don't need more regional TV, we need less.

It's also hard not to be a bit suspicious about the way the Beeb is happy to move to Manchester (gritty, 'street', lots of no-nonsense working class salt-of-the-earths, Shaun Ryder's from there, etc.) but not, say, Birmingham or Wales. It seems that some places are just TOO regional for TV types.

Maybe we're due for a new era in broadcasting - let's not forget that the BBC is responsible for a huge chunk of all TV output, via channels like UK Gold and UK History. But it's equally possible that the corporation will still suffer from the deadening lack of creativity that results in more episodes of The Vicar of Dibley. It's also hard to imagine that it's going to desist from its patronising obsession with interacting with the nation in the form of toss like The Big Read.

It's amazing that the BBC has taken so long to realise that good, original programmes are what's needed. Two words prove this: The Office. The Office was not only a critical success, but also became the fastest selling DVD in the UK. And it was something that people actually did talk about, unlike The Big Read.

Still, with all that money being saved, there should be a few million quid to launch a huge cross-media campaign to get people to go to the dentist. They could call it The Big Brush. Every night Carol Vorderman shames a real-life family into brushing for at least two minutes... there could be a public vote for Britain's favourite dentist... celebrities could talk about their cosmetic dentistry...

Ah, business as usual at the BBC.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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