And God set Himself a seven-day parameter

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The Independent Online

This week marks the start of the BBC lectures dedicated to the memory of the greatest Director-General the Corporation ever had. I refer of course to John Birt, and to the Birt Lectures, which are listened to by people all around the globe. For those of you unlucky enough not to be able to tune in or not to be able to buy a copy of `The Listener', which would undoubtedly have reprinted it had that great magazine not been killed off as an economy measure by the BBC, I bring you today the full abridged text of John Birt's own opening lecture, entitled "The Secret of Life".

Ladies, gentlemen and accountants,

When I left the BBC, having accomplished the mighty task which I had entered upon when I joined it, I settled down to write an account of my life, which I proposed to issue in two volumes. The first would deal with the events of my life, the second with the management techniques that have governed my life and enabled me to accomplish the mighty tasks upon which I have entered at various times.

So far no publisher has been found equal to the mighty task of issuing this double autobiography. Indeed, some have expressed doubt at the dual nature of such a work.

Yet many of the greatest books in history have come in two parts. One only has to think of the Bible. Indeed, one has to go the opening of the Bible for one of the best-known accounts of the origins of life, and is to the first few chapters of Genesis that I propose to turn in tonight's opening lecture, in order to address the secret of life.

First of all, I must point out that when God first addressed the problem of creation, there was nothing there when He arrived but chaos. One knows how He felt, goodness knows. When I first arrived at the BBC the organisational structure and command network was virtual anarchy. It had got so bad in parts of BBC radio that producers were making programmes just because they thought they were good! Yes, it is hard to believe, is it not? I am not saying that God had any problems of this sort, merely pointing out that He would have sympathised with my problems had He ever had to tackle them himself.

When God set Himself a seven-day parameter in which to achieve his Creation Project, one can sense that he was leading from the top. This is admirable. The man at the top should lead. Even better, God did not explain what he was trying to do. He knew what he was trying to do, and did not need to justify it.

Where we can, I think, fault God is in His apparent inability to create intermediate layers of management. He seems to have thought that it was enough merely to create all living things, without doing any efficiency analysis on which of them was likely to prosper and which to become extinct.

To achieve the whole of creation in seven days is admirable. To create everything without overall planning strictures is dubious. To have no quality-control recall capability machinery is heinous. Nor does God seem to have had any idea of keeping pace with evolving technology, or to put it in plain English, he had no forward projection model off which to schematise. Many of the animals he created were clearly impractical. Many problems were bound to arise through conflict between the warring demands of different creational units, or in other words, cats were bound to try to kill birds.

Nor had God really thought through his creation policy. He was happy to create many animals, far too many, but seemed to think that two humans would suffice. It was a very small audience base on which to build. There was no machinery in place to forecast their sin potential, or clothes growth, as a result of which God was finally obliged to shed them as surplus to requirement, and place angels with fiery swords at each entrance to the Garden of Eden, which is expensive and contrary to health and safety. One imagines that he took advantage of this to convert the now-vacated Garden of Eden into upgraded accommodation for much-needed management levels, but by then I feel it was too little too late...

This lecture is also available, translated into English, on cassette, CD, CDRom, etc. Next week's lecture: "Noah's Flood - A Downsize Too Far?"