Sarah Sands: Lofty Lord Patten at the BBC is a Reithian dream

Related Topics

As this newspaper testifies in its founding principles, independence is an excellent thing. But it can drive everybody else mad. Chris Patten, a safe bet as the new chairman of the BBC Trust, has the de haut en bas manner which comes with being above the political fray. Appearing before the Commons select committee, Lord Patten pitched for the job in the manner of Cordelia before King Lear. He could not heave his heart into his mouth.

Indeed, he so fastidiously avoided sucking up that he managed to insult everyone. The BBC's director-general, Mark Thompson, must have been hopeful about the arrival of a fellow Catholic intellectual, and surprised when Lord Patten announced that the DG was overpaid.

He also made an ironic allusion to the complaint by the former DG Greg Dyke that the BBC was "hideously white". "I'm 66, I'm white and I'm reasonably well educated." Don't you love the "reasonably", coming from the Chancellor of Oxford, and graduate of Balliol? Loftiest of all, was his observation that he "hardly watched television".

If you were a new graduate applying for a job with your skills, dedication, and willingness to do anything to get on, you might look at his interview technique in wonder. Since when was a detachment bordering on disdain encouraged by career advisers? Yet everything Lord Patten of Barnes said was calculatingly brilliant. It was a barrister's trick of confounding the prosecution.

The criticism from the left is that he is a Tory placeman. Have they any idea how how the Tory right loath him? If you combined Ken Clarke and John Bercow, you would still not be close. Yet if the noble lord had appeared politically savvy or on message, the left would have been suspicious. So the former Conservative party chairman chose a high table distance from the modern world.

This had the added advantage of being authentic. One of the distressing and weird character flaws of Gordon Brown was his excitement about light entertainment. How could such a Reithian character have hitched himself to Piers Morgan? Chris Patten's definition of a celebrity as someone he has never heard of, is, by contrast, thrilling.

The paradox of the BBC is that it must understand the new while remaining true to itself. As Lord Patten put it, gracefully, the BBC should be an ethic not a brand. Why is it that the most popular BBC executive in recent years was the celestial minded Mark Damazer, who resigned from Radio 4 for the sake of academe?

Mark Thompson is adamant that the BBC must represent all tax payers, Glaswegians and Londoners alike. Danny Cohen, the controller of BBC 1, calls for more working-class programmes, with a Lady Chatterley-like longing. Yet the self-flagellating of the highly educated has no resonance among the rest of the population.

Lord Patten arrives at the BBC like a C S Lewis allegory. His weary, careless answers may just be a conservation of energy. For those who see the BBC as an ethic, the enemy is not stuffiness but Rupert Murdoch. I recently asked the director-general how the battle between good and evil was going, and he said hastily: "Your words, not mine."

Cometh the time, cometh Fat Pang. He is not just a chairman; he stands for the forces of civilisation. He answers not to the select committee, but to the ghost of Lord Reith.

Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the London Evening Standard.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower