Coming to terms with BBC-speak

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The Independent Online
ONE of the games we've been playing in our house over Christmas is The Great BBC Debate Game. You play it like this. One person asks, 'So, how do you see the role of the BBC evolving in the Nineties, and should the charter be renewed, and is the television licence the best way of paying for it?', and everyone else says, 'Oh give us a break, for God's sake]' and goes to the pub. There, one of the other players says, 'No, but seriously, considering that the Tory government and Mrs Thatcher made a total mess of commercial television franchises, is there the faintest chance they will do the right thing by the BBC?' and someone else says, 'Leave it out, will you?', and they all go on to another pub . . .

The winner is the player who gets to the most pubs. The loser is the BBC, which never gets its problems debated properly at all. And I think the main reason for our inability to discuss the BBC's problems is that we don't understand the terms involved. When someone says 'centre of excellence' or 'accountability', do you know what it really means? I think not. Nor do I.

Luckily, though, I have been able to secure the services of a mole inside the BBC, who has provided me with this short glossary of terms without which you cannot hope to understand the BBC's workings.

Accountability: The new policy at the BBC of putting accountants in charge of everything. The idea is to save money and become cost-effective. What actually happens is that the BBC suddenly discovers it has overspent by pounds 60m and nobody knows where it has gone. It's a bit like having Norman Lamont at the Treasury - lots of fun, but confusing.

Centre of excellence: All BBC decisions are taken in London by people who live in dread of being sent out into the provinces. Recently they have adopted a new policy of identifying provincial places where things are done better than in London, and closing them down. One good example of these 'centres of excellence' is the Christchurch studio in Bristol, where the BBC has spent millions of pounds to create a real centre of drama and music excellence, and now wishes to wipe the whole thing out by closing it down and relocating the drama department to Birmingham. Most of the technical people are being made redundant - so much so that BBC Bristol has run short of them and is now advertising to re-recruit them.

Multiculturalism: The process whereby top-rate BBC radio shows all turn, sooner or later, into top-rate ITV shows.

Community planning: a process whereby all local radio stations become about as different from each other as motorway stations.

Producer choice: This refers to the fact that a producer now has two choices in BBC TV. He can either make a serious programme along Birtian lines - that is, a perfectly balanced programme about something important, so well weighted that everything cancels itself out and nobody can remember anything about it - or he can make a passionate, interesting, opinionated programme, but only about safety pins, the history of cotton wool or tampons. Or, of course, he can get out and go independent before he goes mad.

(There is also a new concept called controller choice. This allows a BBC controller to stomp off to Carlton TV, probably taking a copy of the Queen's Christmas broadcast with him.)

The Birtian revolution: the brewing mutiny within the BBC against John Birt.

Flagship: This is a name given to a programme that everyone salutes but nobody watches.

Rolling news: A technique for producing news bulletins in which you have already heard every item three times.

'It's all for you on Radio 2 FM': a totally meaningless slogan produced by moles inside the BBC who are trying to discredit John Birt by producing totally meaningless slogans that not only cost millions of pounds to produce, but suggest that the BBC thinks that 'You' rhymes with 'FM'. Other slogans under consideration are 'It's all for Thee on Radio 3 FM', 'Everything for people who read the Sun on Radio 1 FM', and 'People who drink Piat d'Or would probably enjoy some of the many programmes on Radio 4 FM'.

Adventurous, thrusting, innovative, cutting edge, etc: words that are hard to apply to a company that thinks turning Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence into a television programme is adventurous, thrusting, etc.