I’m old enough to remember when Sir Robin Day presented The World at One on Radio 4, and regularly signed off with, “…and a very good afternoon especially to you.” Listeners wondered why he injected such a personal, intimate note into a broadcasting sign-off. Eventually, someone pointed out that Sir Robin’s breathy valediction was directed, each day, at Sue MacGregor as she sat in a neighbouring studio preparing to introduce Woman’s Hour.
That the irascible knight had a (sadly unrequited) crush on the lovely Ms MacGregor came as a surprise because Radio 4 fans, on the whole, could not imagine the possessors of Radio 4 voices having crushes on anyone, or indeed sex with anyone, let alone with each other. All that common sense and decorum. It would be against nature.
As of yesterday, we know better. In a speech, Caroline Thomson, below, the BBC’s outgoing head, urged her successor to make the corporation “outward-looking”, a virtue easier to attain by people in the new Salford complex than people cooped up in London with 10,000 others, “when they all eat and drink with each other, and marry each other, and have affairs with each other, and so on”.
Ms Thomson was probably talking about affairs between technicians, journalists, editors, researchers and canteen staff rather than broadcasters, but the brain is a literal-minded organ. It conjures up a vast mead-hall where the staff of Panorama, Crimewatch and Gardeners’ World are eating scones and drinking gallons of BBC tea with hundreds of extras from serialisations of Bleak House.
What did she mean by “have affairs with each other, and so on?” Suddenly, you can’t hear the pleasant voice of the continuity announcer Corrie Corfield without wondering if she’s Up To Something. Or speculating about the stern-voiced dominatrix on the Today programme. Or the Paul Robeson-toned chap who back-announces the creator of Desert Island Discs as “Rawwooooiy” – is his the voice of a serial shagger? Suddenly, nobody at the Corporation is above suspicion. Is the teatime TV newsreader having a raging affair with a question-setter on University Challenge? Is the expert on Watchdog in a ménage à trois with his opposite numbers on Moneybox and You and Yours? Does the assistant producer of Antiques Road Trip nurse a secret passion for Ed Grundy? Is the canteen at BBC TV Centre a hotbed of marital dispute at lunchtime, with meals punctuated by cries of “Go to her then, you bastard!”? Gosh, I hope so.
I saw Untouchable in America, after a friend said it was wonderful, had grossed millions all over Europe and been praised by Harvey Weinstein.
I watched with amazement. The film deals with Philippe, a rich, French, quadriplegic widower who, tired of carers who treat him too respectfully or pityingly, takes on a mouthy black Muslim ex-jailbird called Driss. A bond develops between them, based on Driss’s endearing habit of making disability jokes, and despite his natural thieving instincts.
Do you feel queasy yet? About posh rich white guy showing poor amoral black guy a better way to live? Gradually, Philippe introduces his minder to high culture; Driss in return gives Philippe a blast of Earth, Wind & Fire (it wouldn’t work with gangsta rap, would it?). They’re both disadvantaged, do you see, but can help each other and make the world a better place.
As a piece of social analysis, it’s naïve and patronising. Now Weinstein plans a US remake, with Colin Firth in the wheelchair. But who will play the French version of the old Stepin Fetchit stereotype – the feckless black manservant who learns some manners from Mr White Moneybags?