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
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?