Editor-At-Large: Off with their heads! A right royal cock-up at the BBC

Each fresh row brings more resignations. But will trust ever be restored at the Corporation if those at the top remain?
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The Independent Online

Once we watched television; now we tune in for news items about the antics of the people in charge. When did what happened behind the screen become more newsworthy than what was on it? The top story on the 6pm news bulletin was the fact that a highly-paid BBC boss had resigned. Is that really more important than the fate of the people living under Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe or the maltreatment of the asylum-seekers we send back to corrupt regimes?

This year the BBC has tottered from one crisis to another. Thousands of viewers have been deceived and fines have been imposed on the BBC and other broadcasters guilty of phone-in fraud on a huge scale. Even the ruddy Blue Peter cat was the subject of a major enquiry – carried out at licence-fee payers' expense – when it emerged that BBC staff hadn't picked the name chosen by viewers. I've lost track of the number of senior staff at the BBC – at least 25 – who have walked the plank because they or their team have impersonated members of the public and fiddled competition results and phone-ins. The head of another BBC channel, 6 Music, left before he was asked to go.

The latest row saw the resignation of the controller of BBC1, Peter Fincham, and his press officer last Friday; it stems from a promotional tape for a documentary about the Queen which purported to show HMQ walking out of a photo session, but in fact the reverse was true. The footage had been edited to give a misleading impression – HM was actually walking in when she said to her lady-in-waiting: "I'm not changing anything. I've had enough dressing like this." The trailer was shown to the press, with Mr Fincham joking about the royal mini-strop.

It now emerges he knew the truth shortly after the press launch but said nothing, ensuring that the phoney "huff" received maximum media coverage next day. When the palace complained, and the BBC apologised on 12 July, he still refused to resign. Mr Fincham says that he told his boss Jana Bennett, BBC head of vision, that the clip was wrong, but she disputes his version of events. If true, then she must resign too.

In a damage-limitation exercise, the BBC plans to appoint an editorial standards monitor in each division and a new board has been set up to police programming. The creative director of RDF Media (which made the film), Stephen Lambert, has also resigned. The BBC said it would not work with the company if he remained in his job.

From where I sit, it seems as if the BBC has spent an awful lot of time hand-wringing and flagellating itself, and a lot of staff time and money which could have been spent on programmes is funding self-investigating and policing. Roly Keating, the controller of BBC2, has been appointed the acting controller of BBC1, but is an internal reshuffle the answer?

The BBC is packed with people who have never worked elsewhere. Alan Yentob, creative director, started as a BBC trainee. So did Roly Keating and Jenny Abramsky, head of radio. Jana Bennett managed to get out for a couple of years to work as a senior executive for the Discovery Channel before coming back to the BBC in 1999. Peter Fincham, on the other hand, had been the boss of the highly successful independent production company Talkback; perhaps he did not realise that the BBC has to be above reproach.

But his resignation should not stop the BBC from recruiting fresh blood. The organisation is a very insular club that breeds arrogance and cosy attitudes, where the harsh realities of the world outside are ignored. That often means that staff fib and fudge things such as competitions, trying to please an increasingly target-obsessed management. And, by the way, where were the calls for Alan Yentob to resign when it emerged he filmed "noddies" – reaction shots – for interviews he had never conducted for a series he earns a fortune for presenting?

Mucking about with the Queen wasn't serious enough to lead the news, but it is part of a culture that needs addressing. Peter Fincham should have resigned months ago. The BBC will find it harder than ever to persuade us that we should cough up for a licence fee.

Marriage? You can keep it if MPs provide the model

Marriage is so unfashionable that, within 25 years, couples living together in Britain will outnumber those who have tied the knot. But is this really a cause for concern?

Over the past 10 years, the number of people living togeth-er has increased by an astonishing 65 per cent, according to official statistics. The biggest increase is couples who do not have children, which has risen by 60 per cent in the past year, and in the age group 45 to 64, which is expected to expand by 250 per cent by 2031.

The diminishing popularity of marriage is not surprising. Politicians harp on about family values and the need for children to have two parents, but what kind of example do the happily married in politics set? Ruth Kelly (big brood but always looks as if she's covered in kiddy mess and hasn't had time to master her brief), or the smug ministers Mr and Mrs Balls (Ed and Yvette) who manage to run a family and several houses courtesy of clever tax breaks.

Many single-parent families spend far more quality time with their kids than this lot.

Hurrah for a TV host we'll love to hate

One minute a judge calls 'The Jeremy Kyle Show' "human bear-baiting", next Jennifer Saunders has created a telly host who makes Kyle look as tame as a Radio 4 comedy show.

In 'The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle' on BBC2, Jennifer stars as a woman who introduces a transsexual guest as "a crack-addicted whore". Top telly entertainment – full of in-jokes and thoroughly tasteless remarks, such as Vivienne ranting about Oprah as "sitting in a cocoon of cashmere" and demanding "bring me the mentally ill, but just get better security". Her producer is addicted to cocaine, and her husband as camp as a row of tents. All very true to life. Her forehead is so full of Botox she looks like a boiled egg. Can't wait for episode two. Let's hope the BBC's new army of taste police keeps its hands off it.

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