Review: Invisible earnings and visible yearnings

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The Independent Culture
WHEN SHE means business Mary Goldring talks in very short sentences. Urgent sentences. Purposeful. Incisive. Then occasionally, as if this is all getting a bit terse for her, there is a sudden blossom of purple prose. In her report on the BBC for The Mary Goldring Audit last night she was on fine form. 'Cat-cautious behind the scenes - the alleyways of a temporary town,' she word-daubed, as the camera watched her tip-toeing through the Outside Broadcast cables at Wimbledon.

The smack of Dylan Thomas brought to mind those GPO documentaries of the Thirties, all self-conscious poesy and didactic gravity. It got even worse later when she went to look behind the scenes at the Nine O'Clock News: 'Teams primed to move fast and smooth as mechanics at a pit stop . . . The race begins against time,' she intoned over a picture of a man in a jumper ambling down some stairs, '. . . now running on undiluted adrenalin . . . bringing the world to Britain . . . half visionary, half schoolmaster.' I hope it didn't embarrass the news team too much, but I have a feeling they're in for some teasing this morning.

Other BBC employees, however, will be smarting rather than blushing, having suffered one of those sharp little smacks that Goldring so enjoys doling out. 'You've been brainwashed, haven't you?' she said to John Birt after he had defended the BBC for fighting on so many fronts. On the whole he thought he hadn't, but then it wouldn't be brainwashing if the brainwashee knew about it. Her point (a good one) was that the BBC couldn't sensibly compete at every level with commercial broadcasters - because revenue remains the same as outgoings increase. His point (an understandable one) was that, if your revenue is dependent on public goodwill, you can't risk alienating anyone, an argument (for any brainwash theorists reading) that was instilled in BBC upper management long before John Birt.

The problem for the BBC is that there is no accountancy for taste - and unless you can find some way to place the organisation's invisible earnings on to the books (the national prestige it delivers, its provision of real choice, the indefinable bonds that form when 23 million people watch the same thing at the same time, even if it's ice-dance), the bottom line will always appear crazy or sentimental.

Goldring usually delights in slicing through such niceties but, though she suggested killing off Radio 3 (pointing out that the cost of a regular daytime listener is pounds 500), she was less icily confident here; I couldn't quite work out whether she thought Producer Choice was a good idea or not. She ended with some pertinent remarks about freeing the BBC to exploit and profit from its own talent but you suspected that, if she were made Director- General tomorrow, she would end up breaking her fingernails on the Gordian knot, like others before her.

On Saturday night, Arena gave you the collected home-movies of Derek Jarman, which wasn't quite as grim as it sounded. For a lot of the time, it's true, you were thinking, 'Oh well, I suppose you had to be there,' subject to the peculiar tedium of watching strangers have a good time. But Jarman's death had added to the sweet melancholy that silent Super-8 can achieve, the way that home movies allow you to recall past contentment without being able to retrieve it.

Jarman's imagination also seemed to respond to the traditional deficiencies of the medium. In his Face to Face interview with Jeremy Isaacs, shown again recently, he moved about so much that he made a static studio camera blur and wobble like a hand-held. Here he took jerk and flare and 'wrong' exposures and gave them emotional value. Even the tendency of people to prat about when a camera is pointed at them became something more durable - as when an infatuated lens chased Tilda Swinton around the topiary, a lark which slowly turned into a dance. I doubt if there will be enough viewers to please the accountants but this one was glad to have seen it.