What's Auntie got up her sleeve?
Wednesday 12 June 1996
First, let me clear up one misunderstanding. John Birt is not the same person as John Bird! John Birt is the Director-General of the BBC and John Bird is a small, plump actor who looks nothing like him at all! ( You may be thinking of John Fortune, John Bird's partner, a tall, thin man with a convincing line in plausible gobbledegook. He might well be mistaken for John Birt.)
Right. Now, what are we trying to do with these reforms? Well, basically, we are continuing the market-driven reforms that we have already initiated. Now, what are the market-driven reforms we have already initiated and which we are hoping to continue with these new reforms? Well, our policy under this new Birtian revolution has been to locate our areas of excellence and then to sell them off. This means that wherever we have found something or someone that works really well, we have closed it down or sold it off so that we can hire them or it back privately at much greater expense.
One example might be the Christchurch studio in Bristol, which we had expensively restored and equipped as one of the finest drama radio studios anywhere in the world. Once we had got it up and running, we transferred the drama department to Birmingham and closed Christchurch down. Actions like this were repeated all over the country. People were put in charge of whole regions whose sole function and sole talent was to fire people, make them go independent and hire themselves back to the BBC.
One name we thought of for this was "producer choice". This was a way of saying that the preferred choice was no longer available and the producer would have to think of something else.
In the short term this is, of course, more expensive. But in the long term it is more expensive, too. Thus we see a symmetry in our plans and we also can justify asking for more money. This is especially necessary ever since we found that Radio 4 was overspent by millions of pounds. And do you know why this was? It was because they forgot at Radio 4 to budget for all the stuff going out on Long Wave! So suddenly they had a shortfall of millions of pounds! I don't know why we keep saying that the BBC is saving money under John Birt when we are haemorrhaging this sort of cash!
I am not sure Ralph is explaining himself very well, writes Oscar Dunning, the BBC's new head of Apologia Presentation. What he meant to say, I am sure, is that in the new age ushered in by digital broadcasting, we have to move with the times and streamline things. That means merging radio and TV. That means merging News and Current Affairs and Light Entertainment. That means ending up with one vast department called TV and Radio News and Comedy, run by Matthew Bannister, which will put out all the programmes.
We are already moving in this direction. Have I Got News For You? is newsy AND funny, while Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman has high entertainment value and little news.
Now, I know that people have got their doubts about the merging of radio and TV. They say that radio and TV are two very different animals, with different methods. They say that Radio 4 is streets ahead of BBC 2. I have very great respect for this view. That is why we are ignoring it with such a show of crocodile tears. The plain fact is that radio comes up with all the good ideas that later get turned into TV programmes, so by merging them we can get those ideas sooner!
I don't think Oscar is quite sticking to the market-driven agenda, writes Veronica Longstaff, the BBC's new Head of Management-Led Internal Memos, so let me put it a little differently. Programmes are all very well in their own way, but ...
The debate continues ...
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