The day the BBC grovellingly apologised (only kidding)

I ONCE, a long time ago, met the man who was responsible for running the BBC's daytime TV output, and as it was about the time of the new year, I asked him what sort of a Christmas he had had. I meant Christmas in a social sense, but he took it professionally.

"It was nearly a disaster," he said. "We decided to put out one of the old Maigret programmes as a tribute to the late Rupert Davies, so quite logically we chose one called Maigret's Christmas and put it out on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, nobody at the BBC bothered to view it in advance. If we had done, we'd have found out that in this particular episode Maigret goes away for Christmas and leaves his underlings to get on with it - in other words, there's no Maigret in it. To put it another way, we put out, as a tribute to Rupert Davies, a programme in which Rupert Davies didn't even appear. Major error. Luckily, no one seems to have noticed or caused a fuss, and we certainly weren't going to draw attention to it."

This little story is typical of the BBC in two ways at least. One is that the BBC makes an idiot of itself far more often than we think. The other is that it rarely owns up and never apologises. It must be something in the BBC culture, some Reithian self-righteousness that has outlasted Reithian rectitude, and which causes the BBC to pretend all is well even when things are crumbling. Saintly behaviour may not come naturally to the BBC but sanctimoniousness does.

Would you like another example?

The late Basil Boothroyd once told me how excited he was at having his first radio script accepted, by the World Service, and how it all went a bit wrong.

"I went up to London to record it in advance - it was just a straight 10-minute talk - and was told that it would be going out very early, some time like 5.30am, when listeners in the Middle East or somewhere were up and about. So when the great day came, I got up in what seemed like the middle of the night and made myself a cup of tea and settled down with the World Service. A presenter said there would now be a short talk by Basil Boothroyd. There was a long silence. Then the presenter said, `Well, I'm afraid Mr Boothroyd is unable to come to the microphone.'"

"I shot to my feet and yelled, `Oh, no I'm not!' but it was no use. I waited in vain for the sound of my voice. Do you know what had happened? The bloody BBC had lost the tape of my talk. What made it even worse was that they made it sound as if it was my fault. They made it sound as if I couldn't get to the microphone because I was drunk! They didn't even have the decency to own up..."

Anyone who ever listened regularly to Radio 4's Feedback will know the sound of BBC people not owning up. The admirable presenter Chris Dunkley regularly had producers on the programme who had been accused by listeners, quite often fairly, of getting things wrong, and I can remember only one of them ever readily saying, `Yes, sorry, I made a boo-boo.' The worst example I can remember was the appearance by Will Wyatt, who had agreed to try to defend the sickening performance by BBC radio after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, when they had cancelled almost every programme for a week in order to wallow in mawkishness. It was so hard to defend that Will Wyatt could hardly manage a coherent sentence in an effort to avoid saying sorry. I still have it on tape and play it to myself occasionally when there is no other good comedy on air.

But his evasiveness was typical of the BBC's attitude. Almost everyone who appeared on Feedback was so fearful, so full of excuses, so sullenly defiant, that you felt they knew they would lose their jobs if they owned up to anything. As it turned out, it was Chris Dunkley who lost his job. The head of Radio 4, James Boyle, who upholds the BBC's proud tradition of never admitting he is wrong even when he is blatantly wrong, decided to get rid of Chris Dunkley to give Feedback a new look.

A new look, forsooth! The frightened people who run Radio 4 don't want a new look. All Radio 4 wants is someone who won't give them a hard time and won't go on sticking up for the listeners against the BBC. If James Boyle were serious about giving Radio 4 a new look, he'd be writing to Alistair Cooke and saying, "Dear Mr Cooke, we have decided that Letter From America might benefit from a change of image, and we think that a new presenter would do the trick. PS But thanks for everything..."

You won't believe this, but what sparked off my furious foray into the BBC's tendency never to explain, never to apologise, was my spotting that the Radio Times has made a horrendous mistake this week. They have printed the same page twice. But if my previous experience in pointing mistakes out is any guide, they won't even be thinking of apologising for this major cock-up. More juicy details tomorrow.

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker