What about real life, Mr Birt?

When was the last time one of the BBC power

brokers went on a bus,

for heaven's sake?

PACKED IN amongst the myriad of offerings on display at Edinburgh this year has been a retrospective of the work of the great British film director Alan Clarke (Scum; Rita, Sue and Bob Too; Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire). We may thank the film festival committee for this opportunity to see again a catalogue of Clarke's challenging refractions of recent contemporary life into powerful and lasting drama.

Ironically nearly all of this work was made for television and nearly all of that was made by the BBC. He was a man of ordinary background and television was his medium of preference and passion. Along with the writers and producers with whom he worked, there was never any doubt that the television audience weren't up for an often bumpy and eye-opening ride while they pursued their love affair with the possibilities of the medium

They perhaps unknowingly established a cherished tradition of British television topical-drama that was visually immediate and unflinching - the sort of broadcasting that happened on a fairly regular basis in our country and not many other places in the world.

Today, the television industry descends upon the Scottish capital and will not, I suspect, be overly pre-occupied with a sometimes troublesome and, managerially speaking, uncomfortable legacy of the recent past. We shall hear a lot about the audience who, we will be told, no longer demand the probings of the meaning of being English by the likes of Alan Clarke on their screens We shall be contemplating the digitally engineered multi- channel future with bright-eyed and definitely tearless diligence. We shall be hectored by analysts and strategists and broadcasting entrepreneurs about the iron law of survival in the world of limitless consumer choice - total audience acceptability of all programming offerings to their target demographic sub groups.

Will we hear so much about the generation of production finance to support the New Age cornucopia? This was mercifully a matter of concern to the legislators who presided over every earlier expansion of British television. One thing we can be sure of - nobody will be readily stumping up for some latter-day Clarke to disrupt the spectacle even if he had still been with us he would have shot on digital Sellotape even had it been to say something adventurously worthwhile.

For light relief we shall alternatively be howling with mirth or reaching for the scalpel as a certain Mr A A Gill proposes the faintly provocative and totally preposterous proposition that it is the advent of women to high office in the industry that has, in his view, lobotomised and de- balled our current output. Well dearie, I can think of one such person, who in the pursuit of fiscal greed, made a bonfire of the ITV franchises; but on the whole this industry is divided into the corporately ambitious and those who are ambitious for their programme areas. Gender is anything but the deciding factor as to which side of that particular fence you reside.

Inevitably we shall not survive the television festival without some manifestation of that hardy perennial - Beeb lashing. The old litany of charges ranging from corporate arrogance, high-brow programming of little relevance to the contemporary audience, the featherbedding of elitist programme makers with no knowledge of the real world all at the public expense still raise a ritualistic cheer of recognition despite15 years of Birtism and his cohorts of managerial apparatchiks and patrons imported from the world of commerce and commercial television. They have undermined with steely resolution every aspect of BBC culture which might remotely have justified such a view.

The irony of course is that this particular battle had been fought and won by the Alan Clarke's of this world. To accuse Clarke and his many contemporaries of a paternalistic view of the audience is laughable to anyone who actually knew him But of course it was not some all seeing Diaghilev of a controller who commissioned him. It was a drama head to whom the power of commission had by some oversight been devolved.

What do we really have now as a result of organisational changes ostensibly to modernise the BBC but actually to placate a political loathing of anything in the arena of public service? On the matter of topicality the BBC's decision making on production investment is so slow in the field of drama that all concerned require the power of foresight of Nostradamus to get it right.

Visual immediacy is an expense which budgeting limitations have long since made a thing of the past. One can only hope that the efficiency savings will really help fund the new services. As for unflinching content, the broadcast production divide has well and truly put an end to that. We are all now either "buyers" or "sellers" of ideas to phrase it in the market-place mantras of the management consultancy advice.

Why buy the possibility of controversial topicality when you have reorganised the world to nip such trouble in the bud? Not only do we have the Broadcasting Standards Council but with untypical alacrity the BBC broadcast division promptly provided an audience complaints department all of it's own.

Here lies the true manifestation of a paternalistic and sanctimonious attitude to the audience afflicting contemporary broadcasting. It afflicts not just the BBC but all the channels who collectively live in fear of an audience who must on no account be offended, so the broadcasters say. They know of course because they have employed armies of researchers and focus groups to tell the managers who they are serving.

As the broadcasters power steer themselves from one strategy meeting to another - when did anyone of them last go on a bus for heaven's sake - they consult their advisers about the likelihood or otherwise of the acceptability of any given programme idea. The possibility that a writer, new or old, might possibly have an insight into the culture they live in must first be measured against the all-knowing dictate of market research.

This view of potential television material can only have one end -the total abandoning of any pretence of the medium to being a relevant window on the world, a barometer of any insightful representation of contemporary life. It is a view which patronisingly reduces the audience to the role of passive consumer.

It is the job of the BBC to rapidly recover its recent traditions of patronage of our-real windows on our-own writers, directors and producers. It is in maintaining its role as a vehicle of national cultural patronage, that the longer term interests of BBC interests lie in its search for relevance, value and distinctiveness in the eyes of the audience. Why otherwise should they pay for what commercial television provides with creditable skill and efficiency? Or else all we'll be watching is the recycled works of Clarke on secondary channels and be left wondering how such work got made.

Michael Wearing is a former Head of BBC Drama Serials

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
arts + entsFor 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).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
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
PROMOTED VIDEO
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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
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.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past