The leg-pull theory of human life (cont'd)

`She was in a competition in which radio producers scored points for every unnecessary musical insert'
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The Independent Culture
PEOPLE, IT is said, divide into two classes: those who explain things by conspiracy theories and those who prefer the cock-up theory. Yesterday I tentatively introduced a third way of thinking, a theory for when the other two have failed - the leg-pull theory. When things happen in odd, inexplicable patterns, it may be that somebody somewhere is taking the mickey.

A reader writes: What sort of odd, inexplicable pattern are you talking about, Mr Kington?

Miles Kington writes: Well, for instance, the way in which people who run restaurants say that they make a profit only on the heavily marked- up wine, not on the food, whereas people who run pubs say they cannot make a profit on the drink, only on the food.

The reader again: Hmmmm... and what is the reason for that?

Miles Kington: I think both the restaurateur and the pub landlord are taking the mickey. Can I carry on now?

Reader: Sure.

Thank you. I also suggested yesterday that much of what happens on TV and radio may be explained by the leg-pull theory, by the impulse of producers to put one over on their controllers. A prime example is the proliferation of music in places that need absolutely no music, especially on Radio 4.

Can you give me an example?

Certainly. There was a programme on Radio 4 the other day about charity Christmas cards. At one point someone said that designs involving robins were always the favourites, and immediately they played in a recording of "When the Red, Red Robin Goes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along". There was no reason for it. It told us nothing. It just annoyed those of us waiting for the next sentence.

Another example?

Certainly. The other day, when John McCarthy was doing a talk on history as seen through the Bible, he kicked off with Joshua and Jericho, so of course someone could not resist prefacing Mr McCarthy with a choir of kids singing "Joshua Fight the Battle of Jericho". There was no conceivable reason for it. It told us nothing. It just annoyed those of us who were waiting for the next sentence. But if there is a contest among BBC producers to get unnecessary music past James Boyle, it was obviously worth a point to somebody.

BBC radio is absolutely riddled with this reluctance to let talking take the strain. I once did a programme aimed at people who were computer illiterate - I was a natural for the job - and the producer spent a lot of time wondering what computer-linked music we could use. She could never explain why it was necessary. I also did a short interval talk for a Radio 2 concert from Portsmouth about Conan Doyle and his invention of Sherlock Holmes (which took place in Portsmouth). The producer spent ages worrying about what music to use, Portsmouth-linked if possible.

"No point in adding music," I said. "This is the interval of a concert. They won't want music in the interval of a concert. This is a talk about Conan Doyle. No music necessary. No music!"

"We have to," she said. "They expect us to. That's what we do now. It breaks it up."

"Who expects you to?" I asked. "What is this all about? Who are `they'?"

She went white and refused to tell me. I thought at the time that she was living in fear of Sir John Birt's brutal regime but I think differently now. I think she was going in for a competition in which radio producers scored points every time they put unnecessary musical inserts on radio, and she did not like to admit it.

The leg-pull theory may explain the whole of human life. I think quite possibly our world has been created by some super-intelligent extra-galactic TV channel, rather like Jim Carrey's in The Truman Show, and that everything that happens here is being viewed as a soap opera elsewhere. Occasionally the script-writers write in totally baffling things to see how we react. (I mean really inexplicable things. Such as crop circles. Or Sir John Birt.)

It makes a lot more sense than the religious explanation (the conspiracy theory that God is a loving god who is on our side) or the scientific explanation (the cock-up theory that it is all a big accident). I hope to return to the leg-pull theory some other time, when I have done some more work on it. After all, I only thought of it at the weekend.