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

Share
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

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star