The BBC is a dumbed-down, sexed-up and nearly clapped-out organisation

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The Independent Online

Forgive me if I demur from the general lamenting. I happen to be feeling smug today. Maybe "limber" would be a better word, as in "I could skip / Out of my skin now, like a subtle snake / I am so limber" - Mosca's great paean to his own powers in Ben Jonson's Volpone. And permit me to quote a little more of him, since he expresses my mood to a T. "I fear I shall begin to grow in love / With my dear self, and my most prosperous parts, / They do so spring and burgeon; I can feel / A whimsy in my blood: I not know how, / Success hath made me wanton."

So no, not smug, but limber, whimsical, wanton.

And all because an eminent High Court judge has confirmed what we were saying in this column months ago. And not just confirmed what we were saying, but confirmed what we always said he was going to say, since from the earliest days of Hutton it was as plain as the nose on our face - to name but one of our more prosperous parts - that on its own evidence the BBC was a goner.

How come that wasn't just as plain to everybody else - each morning Gilligan turned up for the inquiry looking like Billy Bunter caught with his finger in the cake tin, leaking that queer coagulation of discomfort and oily vanity, but above all astounded that anyone had the effrontery to doubt his word (which apparently no one ever does at the BBC) - I do not know, unless we put it down to that section of our society we designate as media, or media-frenzied, wanting to believe anything that issued from anybody so long as it discredited the Government.

Don't get me wrong. It is not Hutton's exculpation of Tony and Alastair that pleases me. I am no particular friend of this present Government, which half the time is no particular friend of itself, and in a general way I think discrediting governments is a necessary, indeed honourable, activity. Rightly do we feel contempt for those who mortgage their self-respect to authority, the bowers and scrapers who, to quote Mosca again, "fawn and fleer / Make their revenue out of legs and faces, / Echo my lord, and lick away a moth".

But between echoing my lord and sneering at his every word, there is little to choose, morally or intellectually, when each is merely done by rote. And rote, the mechanical reiteration of received opinion, was in the air like pollen last year, an infection of rabid unanimity which tried to pass itself off as dissent, but was never anything more than assent, yea-saying and moth-licking, no matter that the moths belonged to rabble-rousers, not ministers.

Thus was the climate created in which a Gilligan could feel he was at liberty to say whatever he wanted, in the full expectation that his masters would allow him to say whatever he wanted, so long as it was what everybody wanted to hear. Which, for the time, it was.

And which indeed, for some, standing in the snow with their "Bliar!" placards raised, or seething uncertain of their tenure in their offices in Portland Place, it still is. If you want a lesson in man's incorrigibility, behold, in the mere blinking of an eye, the root and branch re-evaluation (not to say vilification) of Hutton himself, once the very model of judicious probity, but now suddenly, now that he has delivered the wrong verdict, a "desiccated" figure who talks as though he has "wood in his mouth" and is incapable of "balance".

Rich, that, a plea for balance - a little bit of blame here, a little bit of blame there - coming from those who half a year ago never doubted that the truth had but a single voice and that it was theirs.

A pretty pickle we are in, as a consequence, if the Government now believes it can railroad the BBC into subservience. The last thing any of us want is a fawning Humphrys or a fleering Paxman. So why is it, again, that Hutton has me skipping wantonly out of my skin? Seeing arrogance humbled, and sectarianism scattered, is part of it, I don't deny. But along with that I nurse what is perhaps a fantastical hope that a period of introspection will force the BBC to examine what Hutton called its culture, but which in fact isn't anything deserving of the name culture at all.

Forgive me if I go my own way on this, but isn't the real object of Hutton's elegant surgery the sort of television in which personalities without vocabulary torture us over a hundred weeks with their literary preferences which are always Harry Potter?

Yes, yes, I know the report doesn't say that. But readers come to this column for subtext, so subtext is what we give them. Accompany me, then, as we read between the lines. Those editorial failures the Hutton report describes - are they not the consequence of a more pervasive failure of civilisation at the BBC?

This is an unmannerly corporation that will not listen to those who are not its own. "No!" to the charge that Gilligan had it wrong. "No!" to the charge that it has become, televisually anyway, a repository of trash. You were a government yes-man if you claimed the first. You are an out-of-touch élitist if you claim the second.

Those are not civilised responses. They do not make for deliverance from ignorance. In recent years a BBC voice has evolved, very different from the establishment BBC voice of yesteryear, but no less pompous. Prim at the centre, alert to all the "phobes" and "isms" of our time, but at the margins chipper, vulgar, proud to wear its education so lightly that you wouldn't guess it was wearing anything at all. Institutionally sexed-up, dumbed-down, and, if we are not careful, clapped-out.

Hence the whimsy in my blood today. The cat is finally out of the bag and with luck somebody might just strangle it.

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