Richard Ingrams' Week: Why won't the Beeb call time on these silly idents?

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A new chapter is being written in the long saga of the BBC's "idents", those little bits of film shown between the programmes to remind you which channel you are watching.

Some years ago when John Birt was in charge, the BBC spent £5m filming a huge red and yellow balloon floating over a number of well-known British beauty spots. Because of bad weather some of these had to be faked on the computer, thus prompting the suggestion that it would have been cheaper to fake the whole lot.

Then in 2001 BBC1 acquired a new director in the person of Ms Lorraine Heggessey, a woman sadly infected with all the daftest ideas about modern management. She once asked all her staff to imagine BBC1 was a person. This person in her own view was a Volvo owner, had tidy anaglypta wallpaper and would be called John Smith, Trevor or Norman. Heggessey was no lover of the Birt balloon. "It feels very slow," she said. "It goes across this majestic landscape but doesn't feel in touch with the viewers."

A whole new series of idents was commissioned to provide what a spokesman called "the energetic and vibrant onscreen look which puts the channel firmly in touch with contemporary life".

The new idents consisted of groups of people uniformly dressed in red and black - some tango-dancing in the rain, others doing wheelchair hip-hop dancing, a third group precariously balanced on a rock performing stately tai chi exercises. It was not immediately clear what, if anything, such surreal scenes had to do with contemporary life.

Heggessey in due course left the BBC to be succeeded by one Peter Fincham. Fincham was not enamoured of the tai chi brigade and has now at a reported cost of £1.2m commissioned a new series, this time featuring hippos swimming underwater and people flying kites in Wales.

"It's set in the everyday," he explains, "but shows people doing extraordinary things. It's warm and it's dynamic."

It only remains to remind readers yet again that they are paying for all this nonsense.

Play it again, Alastair

Television is famous for showing repeats. So I was surprised this week to see Alastair Campbell berating Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow.

It was an almost exact repeat of Campbell's performance in 2003, when he arrived without warning at the Channel 4 studios and attacked the BBC for daring to suggest the case for invading Iraq had been deliberately distorted by the Blair government, and himself in particular.

He looks older and angrier now, but his obsessions are the same: the media are interested only in seizing on irrelevant incidents like that of Cherie Blair accusing Gordon Brown of being a liar, as had been reported that day by an experienced journalist.

Cherie denied having made this remark, which sabotaged the carefully constructed picture of harmony in the Labour ranks.

But the following day when Blair made his speech, he included a joke about his wife, saying at least "she's not going to run off with the bloke next door". Cue forced laughter from the comrades. I took this to be an admission that the story about Cherie's dislike of Brown was true - that she had made the remark and her denial was a lie.

Somebody had decided the best way out of the mess was for Blair to make light of it with a (not very good) joke. I would bet the man responsible was Campbell.

* Having waded through yesterday's lengthy reports of cricket's famous ball-tampering affair, I have to say that I am none the wiser.

Some of us amateurs had been hoping that at last we would be told why the Australian umpire Darrell Hair, left, believed so confidently that the Pakistanis had tampered with the ball in this year's final Test match.

Had he seen one of the bowlers digging his fingernails into it or gouging out bits with a pocket knife? Was there, perhaps, film of such things being done? At least we might have hoped that he would give some explanation for his behaviour.

But no. A number of chosen hacks were allowed to examine the ball, which they handled with great delicacy, as if it were a priceless Fabergé egg.

And the general consensus seemed to be that while the ball showed plenty of wear and tear, there was no clear evidence of any tampering.

So Darrell Hair has made a false charge without evidence, thus provoking a walkout by the Pakistanis and ruining the day for the thousands who had paid a lot of money to see the match.

In a logical scheme of things, it would be the umpire not the Pakistani captain who would have been found guilty of bringing the game of cricket into disrepute. But then "logical" has never been a word that you can apply to the workings of the cricket authorities, any more than those of the Vatican.