Nicholas Lezard: If you could see the BBC now, John ...

The Corporation feels it's at risk, and no one is standing up to the bullying
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The Independent Online

Dear John Peel, Forgive the impertinence of my writing to you care of the afterlife, but I thought you'd better know about what's been going on down here lately.

The bad news is that there are some stories going around that the BBC, anxious to make cuts for some reason, are going to close down 6Music, its main platform for independent, left-field music – or, in other words, the kind of stuff you used to champion, to the lasting influence of our cultural (or indeed counter-cultural) heritage. Now, if this may not quite be the disaster that some people are claiming, there is no getting away from the idea that it's part of a process of artistic impoverishment which is a now inescapable part of the national climate.

6Music was never as influential as you were; this is down simply to its relative unavailability as a digital-only station. But it does its bit. It is as if the BBC thought: well, if this music is going to exist deliberately on the margins, then let it be marginalised. (One horrible irony is that the only good thing about the forthcoming compulsory digitalisation of radio – a development which we were once, not so long ago, assured would never happen – would have meant an enormous increase in 6Music's reach. Now it looks as though we will be getting the worst of both worlds.)

But although 6Music might have been somewhat isolated, it was still a good deed in a naughty world (with the exception of the moronic DJ George Lamb – and even so, rebarbative though he might be, at least he plays the odd good track from time to time); one got the impression that nearly all its DJs had been informed by your discerning eclecticism. Some of them had even been inspired by your beautifully understated and ironic manner.

But the corporation you worked for now perceives itself to be under threat, and from what I have heard of the higher BBC management, from people who have worked close to them recently (I am afraid I cannot name names), I do not expect them to be the kind of people who will stand up to bullying, should any bullying be in the offering. It does look, in fact, as though they are deciding to kowtow even before they have been asked to.

So, in a way, it is horribly fitting that it is 6Music which is facing the chop. The virtues of the independent music sector always involved the courage to take risks, to go against the prevailing wisdom, and to question the status quo. Innovation was its raison d'être; and these are precisely the virtues which, being least amenable to control, are most despised and feared by the controllers. (That the Asian Network is also facing closure, at a time when you could say it is needed most, tells another grim story. Somehow I don't think you'd be very happy about that either.)

And so once more, as when you started out, it is going to become hard for someone with open ears to help us expand our musical horizons. The net can only do so much; what it cannot do is provide for us a voice sane and unafraid, broadcasting itself to a nation, all at once, saying: Try this, you might just like it.