I WAS very young when I met Audrey Russell, the BBC’s first female news reporter and war correspondent. She was in Belfast giving live commentary on a visit from the Queen Mother when I told her I wanted to be a reporter, a goal since I was four and first broadcast on the BBC Home Service.
I remember sitting at a round table covered with green cloth and when the green light came on I said my play, a message to my father who was returning home after his service in India and I narrated proud that Santa Claus had brought me a doll house “with real electric light”.
Miss Russell was impressed. However, she explained that although I heard her on the radio, she relied on men to build the platform she stood on to see what was going on, engineers to get her voice to a control room in London transmitted where more experienced people would send their report to the home receiver.
“I hope you achieve your dream, but always remember, you will be a small cog in a very big wheel.” Wise words I have remembered throughout my broadcasting life.
The BBC turns 100 this year and plans to spend £50m to find out what viewers like. You’d think they’d know by now. Radio is still remarkable, television less so. If you’re not into cooking, baking, tailoring, or pointless party programs, you might as well turn to Netflix.
I estimate hundreds of people will be employed in this research and their wages will come out of our pockets. The results will be interesting and I hope they send the message that denying free access to programs to those over 75 is unacceptable.
The quality has dropped recently with some very dubious TV programs on all channels. Take channel 4 Naked Attraction, for example. Most viewers pay attention to tickles and the opportunity to see naked people choosing a dating partner by only focusing on their body parts, as does the camera. I wonder what kind of person would want to appear on a show like this. It was called raunchy, a cultural gem and funny, with one viewer claiming it was a health show. Whatever You Like.
THE GREEN BOOK
Spring cleaning at the desk, I turned up the BBC ‘Green Book‘, which provided guidelines for light entertainment over 80 years ago. It highlights what was “politically and socially correct in Britain” – times have certainly changed and the relics of “oul decorum” are no longer heeded.
For example, vulgarity: “Broadcasts must be kept free from rudeness, rudeness and innuendo at all costs. Humor must be clean and untainted, direct or in conjunction with vulgarity and lewdness. When it comes to dubious material, there can be no compromises. It has to be cut. “
Please note Jimmy Carr.
There was an absolute ban on toilet jokes, effeminate men, immorality of any kind, lewd references to honeymoon couples, maids, and fig leaves.
POLITICS IN THE SPOTLIGHT
General guidance from a directive dated July 2, 1948: “We are not prepared to withhold legitimate topical references to political figures and matters which have traditionally been a source of comedic material, out of deference to protests from either party. We therefore reserve the right to respond to the daily government and the opposition in variety shows in moderation, as long as they do so sensibly, without excessive acidity and, above all, wittily.”
It adds: “We must stop anything that could be construed as personal abuse of ministers, party leaders or MPs, malicious reference to them, or reference in bad taste.”
Well, that guide has really gone out the window.
“In general, the use of expletives and forceful language on air has no place at all in light conversation, and all words like god, good god, my god, blast, hell, damn, bloody, gorblimey, ruddy, etc. should be out.” Scripts deleted and replaced with harmless expressions.”
The paragraph headed “British and English” is interesting to read. “The misuse of the word English, where British is correct, causes much unnecessary scandal to Scottish, Ulster and Welsh listeners. It is a common mistake, but easily avoided with due diligence on the part of writers and producers.”
Finally, a word about alcohol. Imagine – the note “one for the road” was inadmissible for reasons of traffic safety. Although, when you think about it, not bad advice. And so it continues.
More recent is the advice I received on a broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster about the magazine format. “Topics: should be varied, engage the imagination, unconventional. Interviews: extract information, plan what matters, color and experiences. Messages: accuracy, review details. Style: simple, direct, direct, short words, no beatings, give don’t lean in or try to impress, don’t chime in. More on topics: headline each topic with a label – sport, fashion, Northern Ireland. This is especially important with sports headlines when a speaker goes straight into a result, without telling the listener what sport it refers to.”
Broadcasting talks to people who can’t say, “What?” So I think it’s important to refer back to an interviewee. When you join an article mid-play, it’s irritating not to know who you’re listening to.
The Green Book is long gone, although as you watch or listen to some programs today, you might wish some of those strict guidelines were still in place.
Happy Birthday BBC – don’t want to be without you anymore.