A whale of a time with Lord Wreath

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"You know that news item about the woman who wants to be fertilised by her dead husband? In my day, they would never have broadcast that. Never! And do you know why?"

"Tell us why, Seymour! Was it because they didn't know how to freeze sperm when you were a lad?"

"Or was it because they hadn't discovered the link between sperm and pregnancy yet?"

There was a roar of laughter. From all except the speaker. The speaker, who sat there frowning, was an old man called Seymour Template. He was an old BBC producer. He was sitting in an old pub called The Half Of It, (so called because nobody knows it) which is situated in the old part of Soho and is frequented by ex-BBC employees, who like to go there and grumble about the present state of the BBC. I like to drop in there occasionally to pick up gossip, wisdom, history and a free pint.

"The reason that we would never have broadcast it in the old days is that Lord Reith would never have permitted the word `sperm' to go out on the airwaves."

"You're kidding, Seymour."

"I kid you not. We once had an item prepared on the hunting of sperm whales, and things were so straitlaced in those days that we weren't sure if even that would be permitted by Lord Reith. So I was deputed to go and clear it with him. I remember to this day going into the presence of the great man and trembling at the feeling of disapproval which emanated from him. And that was before he knew what I had come to ask.

"After I had explained my mission, his brow furrowed and he asked me if it was entirely necessary to refer to `sperm whales'. Could we not just call them whales? I said that it was vital to distinguish them from other kinds of whale. He went all furrowed again, and asked me why they were called sperm whales. I said it was because they were hunted for their sperm oil. `And from what part of the body is this sperm oil derived?' asked Lord Reith, almost in a whisper. `From the head, I believe,' I said. He looked relieved but puzzled at this ..."

"Oh, get on with it, Seymour!" cried another old producer called Roderick Lance.

"Yes!" cried a third. "Did the old man let you do it or not?"

"He let us do it on condition that we changed `sperm whale' to `killer whale' throughout," said Seymour Template. "You might say that he banned sex but allowed violence."

Everyone laughed.

"Was he really so puritanical?" I asked.

"Puritanical?" said Seymour. "I should say so. I remember once we had an idea for covering the Tin Pan Alley output, as pop music was then called. In those days the BBC had no interest in pop music ..."

"Nowadays it has interest in little else," said some old curmudgeon.

"So we went along to Reith with an idea for a new programme which would broadcast new pop songs, to be called New Ditty Time. To our amazement, he stood up and shouted at us to get out with our works of the devil."

"Did he really think that pop music was diabolical?" said someone.

"Not at all," said Seymour Template. "He had merely misheard the title of our programme, New Ditty Time, as Nudity Time."

Shouts of laughter.

"Incidentally," said another old producer, "is there any truth in the rumour that John Birt's new nickname is East Ham?"

"Why `East Ham'?"

"Because it's one stop short of Barking."

More shouts of laughter.

"Did I ever tell you what Reith's nickname was?" said Seymour Template.

"Tell us, old boy."

"He was called `Two-Minute Silence'."

"Why was that?"

"Because of Reith and wreath, you know. He was also called `Cenotaph' and `the Unknown Broadcaster', for the same reason ... "Did you also know that, to begin with, Lord Reith seriously considered taking no notice of the Second World War?"

"Not covering it, you mean?"

"Yes. He said it was in far too bad taste to be covered on the BBC. It was with great difficulty that we persuaded him to let it make the news ..."

Shouts of laughter. As I left the pub I asked someone I knew just why Seymour Template was so bitter against Lord Reith.

"Not bitter at all, old boy. Template is an agent of the Birt regime. He is sent among us to make us feel that things were much worse in the old days and that Birt's regime is comparatively enlightened. If Reith's name has to be blackened, so be it."

"Why do you put up with it?"

"Because he amuses us, dear boy."

Am I alone in finding the whole development somewhat distasteful?