Rob Brown

Even when a former colony is handed over to communist despots, the BBC must do the job with panache ...

When the People's Liberation Army make their dramatic crossing from China into Hong Kong today, they may find themselves trembling at the sight of an even more awesome force - the massed battalions of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC has sent 180 of its staff to "the territory" to record countless renditions of `Rule Britannia' in four-and-a-half hours of live TV coverage plus round-the-clock radio commentaries over an intense 48-hour period.

The subliminal message transmitted to viewers and listeners back home will be subtle but unmistakable: Britain may no longer be Great enough to tear up a century-old diplomatic treaty and tell the totalitarian rulers in Peking to keep their blood-stained hands off Hong Kong, but, by golly, can we film the final lowering of the Union flag when we're beating the retreat.

Britain has lost an empire, but "the world's premier public service broadcaster" isn't searching for a new role. The spectacle of empire has been succeeded by the equally flamboyant spectacle of imperial retreat. Even when former colonies are handed over to communist despots, it must be done with style and panache - and beamed back in full to Her Britannic Majesty's square- eyed subjects.

It is a daunting technical and newsgathering challenge, but fear not. The people who turned a majority of the world's landmass pink in the course of acquiring an empire which spanned every category of climate and terrain and embraced almost every race and creed, will make sure that John Tusa's baldy pate comes on screen as scheduled at 9.05am today to begin BBC1's live coverage with The Governor's Departure.

That, by the way, will be the Governor of Hong Hong, Chris Patten, leaving Government House - not the forced departure of the BBC Board of Governors, whom some irate viewers and listeners might want to send packing for allowing such a lavish share of the licence fee to be devoured in recording this last gasp of empire.

If you, dear reader, are among those moved to fire off an angry letter to Anne Robinson, do bear in mind that Auntie, as ever, has a ready answer. It will go something like this:

Dear post-imperial party-pooper,

Are you seriously suggesting that the BBC should simply have assigned Fergal Keane and a one-man camera crew to record this historical milestone and major news story?

You must surely realise that British technical expertise was vital to cope with horrendously high temperatures, maximum humidity, intense levels of security, a threat of typhoons, a highly awkward time difference and the fact that the Peking authorities kept altering the arrangements. Not to mention the 23-storey skyscraper that has just been flung up in the last year directly between the harbour and the camera sights from the BBC's temporary cyclone-proof TV studio atop Hong Kong's high-rise "Fame School", the Academy of Performing Arts...

Indeed, the BBC was only in the Fragrant Harbour in such force because it was partnering Hong Kong state broadcaster RTHK and three commercial stations in a host broadcasting consortium for the handover.

Actually, slipping back into serious mode, I doubt whether many viewers and listeners will be moved to reach for their Basildon Bond to complain about the scale of the coverage. The exception may be those Daily Telegraph readers who were wrongly informed by Stephen Glover on Friday that the BBC is dispatching 180 journalists to cover the event. Now that would be a scandal...

Whilst almost 200 of his colleagues are toiling to bring us round-the- clock coverage of the Hong Kong handover today, the managing director of the BBC World Service, Sam Younger, will be hosting a humble ceremony at Bush House to launch the inaugural broadcast of World Update, a new early morning global news programme from the BBC which will be transmitted on public radio stations on the US east coast.

Both the BBC and its partner in this enterprise, Public Radio International, are making much of the fact that the potential half a million listeners form an influential audience. Leaders in government, business and journalism, it is hoped, will rise at 5am to tune into the 50-minute service when they're munching their muffins.

But anyone who thinks that Americans have been totally deprived of intelligent speech radio until now is displaying ignorance. The Stateside airwaves are awash with grotesque shock jocks, all right. But National Public Radio (NPR) is as intelligent and stimulating as anything Radio 4 puts out.

The BBC is actually taking over a frequency given up by the Christian Science Church, whose Monitor Radio has abandoned its civilising mission.

Today the post-Reithian BBC is into commerce more than Christianity. A prime objective of all its Stateside activities is to boost the BBC brand in the US marketplace - a brand which, the corporation loves to boast these days, is "second only to Coca-Cola" in the global recognition stakes.

But BBC World has been repeatedly blocked in its bid to bring its own edifying TV channels to educated Americans. Apparently, in these post- imperial times, we Brits have no more bargaining power vis-a-vis American cable giants than we have with communist dictatorsn

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - London - £40K plus benefits - Salary negotiable

£38000 - £40000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: A leading consu...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Manager

£55,000 - £65,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accountant with ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat