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

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

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line IT Support / Senior Engineer / Support Analyst

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recognised as one of the fastes...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager - Refrigeration

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the endless and beginningless election campaign goes up and down

John Rentoul
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

What the advertising world can learn from Zoella's gang

Danny Rogers
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor