It’s hard to regard her quite as fondly as an aunt once you’ve seen her lie through her snarling teeth at you.
Auntie Beeb. She’s someone we’ve all grown up with, someone who’s sat in the corner since childhood, dispensing unchallenged ‘wisdom’, entertaining, educating and informing – something she likes to remind us she does, and has done all our lives. The BBC – from TV to Radio, through News, Sport and Drama, has monopolised – the word ‘dominated’ doesn’t even do it justice – culture in Scotland for decades.
Peter Sellers and Kenny Everett, between them, are given the credit for the Beeb part, but how, where, when or by whom the term “Auntie” was first used in relation to the BBC is anyone’s guess. One thing is beyond doubt, though – whoever coined the term was a marketing genius. No other corporate catchphrase has sunk itself into the national consciousness with anywhere near the same ease.
It’s how she likes to think of herself – one of the family, for every family, a little like your mum or dad, but more fun, sometimes seeing things differently, taking you to places they can’t, telling you things they can’t, explaining things they can’t.
We know now, though, what sort of auntie she used to be, at least. She’s the type who let her golden boy DJ friend Jimmy touch up the children in her care after the lights went out. The type who gave a kids TV platform to Rolf Harris and an alleged rape cupboard to Stuart Hall, and devoted grope-able audiences to DLT and so many more, disgraced or not, dead or not, discovered or not. She claims she’s changed, that she didn’t know, that it was a long time ago, when everything was different. One thing is for sure – if your parents had known then what everyone knows now, that auntie would never have been allowed to set foot inside the house. A prime-time 1970’s Saturday night double of Jim’ll Fix It and It’s a Knockout? You have to wonder, if you have a strong enough stomach, what the “It” was.
Quite how a national broadcaster gets themselves tangled in such a snare has never been explained. Don’t kid yourself: it never will. UK law now is such that no story is automatically in the public interest when an injunction comes calling, and the BBC’s legal team are a household name in their own right. If Andrew Marr could spend an untold amount on trying to keep his own affairs quiet, who knows what other secrets are being held, have been held or will be held, all with scrupulous UK legality? We don’t. We won’t.
We did, on the other hand, see with our own eyes how far she’ll go to preserve herself and her Whitehall friends. The £300 million a year she collects from Scotland is repaid with a budget somewhere in the region of a third of that. It’s hardly a surprise she was willing to stretch the truth a little to keep a £200m a year profit. Who wouldn’t want to protect a scrupulously legal racket like that?
The memory of Jackie Bird, all piercing eyes and predatory tension, presenting reports which often did not accord with reality, is a hard one to shift. It’s difficult now to watch anything on channel 1 without wondering if it’s similarly skewed. News from Syria, phone votes for dancing celebrities, even wildlife documentaries, panel shows or quizzes… it’s hard to believe anything Auntie shows you.
For anyone who’s ever read 1984, watching Auntie’s news, it’s uncertain if we are going to war with Eurasia (Russia? The entire Muslim world?) or Eastasia (China? Japan? Oh, wait a minute – they’re our friends… for now. Muslims again, maybe?). Airstrip One has always been at war with… someone. The BBC are always right there to tell you all about it. They provide guests to give you ideas of what to think. They provide comforting presences to tell you what’s happening and to suggest that you do exercises (in front of your TV, presumably) every morning. It’s not hard to see a future point at which refusing to do exercises in front of your TV will see you declared somewhat treacherous.
Currently, there’s very little else that the UK government has to sell. They’ve sold everything else we worked to give them. Anyone who believes the complete privatisation of the BBC won’t be achieved by the end of the next government, in 2020, is living, frankly, with their head not in the sand, but with it right up their own arse. It will probably be sold for a fraction of its worth, to the usual billionaire purchasers, and then – well, when you look at its record as a publicly-owned broadcaster, it might actually improve.
Would George Osborne sell the BBC to Rupert Murdoch or Silvio Berlusconi or some other media billionaire? That picture detailing how so easy it was to get to his heart when he was young is already shared widely enough on the internet – no need to do so again. Little question that he’s probably as corruptible as most other people are.
The immediate public and exhaustive audit of every BBC asset isn’t just desirable, it’s necessary. Every other public asset has been sold on the cheap. It’s only a matter of time before the same fate befalls our national broadcaster. Things in this country have come to such a place that if it somehow emerged tomorrow that it had already been sold for £1 to NBC, and that the negotiations had been legally-protected, the surprise would be minimal. The immediate public scrutiny of everything held by them (at least in Scotland) needs to be done now. They’re a private enterprise waiting to happen.
So why wait? Make public its accounts, sell it at a fair price, and use the money to build a better broadcaster, a leaner, more focussed, more modest broadcaster, one which isn’t mired in slime immemorial, one which can be trusted to report, expose, and discuss, rather than inventing, manipulating and dogmatising. One which doesn’t have such a shady, toxic past. It’s not just possible – it’s achievable.
Our state broadcaster can’t be trusted, and fundamental change is needed. The BBC has shown itself to be unfit-in-essence for the esteemed position it holds – just another distorted and biased voice shouting out from the squat idiot-box in the corner. Auntie indeed. Aunties are supposed to be loving and supportive, kind and caring and vigilant against anyone who might not be all they seem. She may think of herself as our Auntie, but if you had a family like that, do you think you’d need enemies?
*Apologies to Larry David, who’s “ ’Loving Aunt’ Obituary Misprint” joke helped inspire this thought.
– Loxia Scotica