You might not get anywhere by storming the BBC, but it's worth a try

It was a revelation. Never again would I be fobbed off by a person telling me he was in a meeting
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Yesterday I watched a man take on the BBC. Ask how you locate the BBC as an adversary, how you encounter it in actual as opposed to ideological space, and you'll be putting pretty much the question he was. Only you won't be putting it with so much rage. That's what attracted me to him when I saw him in BBC reception in Portland Place - the extremity of his ire.

Yesterday I watched a man take on the BBC. Ask how you locate the BBC as an adversary, how you encounter it in actual as opposed to ideological space, and you'll be putting pretty much the question he was. Only you won't be putting it with so much rage. That's what attracted me to him when I saw him in BBC reception in Portland Place - the extremity of his ire.

He was on the phone. Not a mobile phone, a real phone. So that at first I took him to be a BBC man himself, using a house phone to vent his frustration and displeasure on someone in the outside world. But that quickly didn't make sense. If he was bawling out a lay person, why wasn't he doing it from the privacy of his own desk instead of in the reception area, in full view of the public - that's if you can call people like me, there to record Nightwaves, the public?

A transport problem, was it? A taxi not arrived? But that didn't make sense either, since there were plenty of porters and security men around to help him with a taxi. And anyway, whatever else you might want to say about the BBC you can't fault them when it comes to transport. Worth the licence fee alone, their celerity in the matter of getting you home.

Besides, he didn't have the air of a BBC employee. He didn't look sufficiently pleased with himself. Or sufficiently tenured. Though utterly respectable in appearance, there was something of the eco-warrior about him, an odour of the honourable bafflement of the street. He wore a spotless blue anorak over green trousers, the trousers having pockets low down, near the knees. Not convict so much as complainant's trousers, the pockets neatly packed with maps and pamphlets and probably plastic rainhoods, rather than with - well, whatever convicts carry. Syringes, switch-blades, revolvers - how would I know? Clothes for getting to the bottom of something in, anyway, which also marked him out as non-BBC, where the regulation couture is understated bad-taste haven't-got-a-clue lazy-casual, everything having been got to the bottom of there a long long time ago.

I couldn't tell his age. I can't tell anybody's age now. Over 50, I'd say, but not 70. Bald, though not convict bald, with a single red spot, almost as angry as he was, in the centre of his baldness. And short. Welsh or possibly Cornish short. Short in stature but tall in indignation. As I imagine the original Celts or Picts to have been. Furious, short men in green trousers with pockets near their knees, storming fortifications.

And that's exactly what my man was doing. He was storming the BBC. On the house phone, not ringing out but ringing in. How long he had been there, stalled in reception and arguing with security, I have no idea, but in the end they must have given him the phone as a last resort. If you don't believe us, ask him, ask her, ask them. The only trouble was that he, her or them - whoever they'd handed him over to - was in a meeting. "Then come out of it," he blazed. "Every time I call you tell me the same thing. You're in a meeting. You're always in a meeting. So I say to you - leave it!"

I was dumbstruck. It was like a revelation. The idea that in our day a person might leave a meeting! At a stroke the world looked different to me. Never again would I be fobbed off by a person telling me he was in a meeting. "So you're in a meeting? So fucking what! Come out of it!"

Except that there was no swearing in this instance. He lost his temper, my indignant Celt, but he never once forgot his manners. Which might explain why he'd progressed as far as to be given a phone. I'd have had the F word out in seconds had I been in his shoes, and that would have been the end of it - a security man on each arm, and me hurled unceremoniously into the ignominious wastes of Portland Place, told never to return. "Not even for Nightwaves?" No, sir, not even for that."

So it would be nice to report that firm politeness had won the day and that whoever was in the meeting came out of it as requested. But it hadn't and he didn't.

"Ah, the brush off," my man shouted down the phone. "Always the brush off."

A kindly security man with a stoop, one of the old unarmed school of functionaries we once upon a time did not call security men, attempted to soothe him. He inclined, considerately, and rubbed his hands, another gesture I associate with the past. Once upon a time, before we shot people, we reasoned with them, rubbing our hands.

"I am here as a licence payer," my man said, knowing he was saying it to someone who couldn't help. "After the Hutton fiasco the Government and the BBC said they wanted the public to be involved in conversation. Well here I am, in the heart of the organisation, ready to converse. I have questions to which I would like answers, but there is nobody to ask."

"I can give you a number to ring."

"I've rung it. That's the number you ring to get the brush off."

The security man hung his head. There was nothing he could do.

Nothing, in truth, anybody can do. Our world is as Kafka said it was, unaccountable, invisible, a trick of metaphysics. Occasionally they chop off a head and roll it out to keep us sweet, then silence.

Wonderful, then, that there are some who refuse to be appeased. He looked as though he meant to be there for ever, my indignant man from somewhere else, quivering with rage, insisting on a conversation. No explosives, no expletives - a man of reason simply wanting to exchange a few words with Someone.

Comments