Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Well done, PD James. But will the BBC get the message?

The most prestigious political programmes and documentaries are not open to people like us

Share
Related Topics

What a splendid, entertaining programme, better than a long glass of pink champagne. PD James, as guest editor for the Today programme interviewed the BBC director-general Mark Thompson. La grande dame sans merci, nearly 90, "filleted", "torpedoed" or "skewered" the hapless Thompson, said excitable commentators.

Thompson stuttered when interrogated about vast management salaries and the disgraceful culling of older women from the screen, a complaint forcefully reiterated by Harriet Harman this weekend. Nothing beats doughty Englishwomen of a certain age when they decide enough is enough.

Worryingly though, the very serious concerns raised by PD James have vanished as the match and its winner become the story. Her age, crime-writing and gender are proving too much of a distraction. Maybe that was the cunning plot all along. Get the leader of the pack to the formidable headmistress, take his punishment and carry on as before. Not so fast I say. Too many of us feel the corporation is losing its purpose and integrity, failing to reflect the nation as it changes and grows.

Like PD James, I have long loved this institution, a love inherited from my father who would forget to eat but addictively listened to the crackling sounds of BBC coming through the old radio. I detested the Empire but not its seductive broadcaster which seemed to rise above grubby commercial concerns and obvious partisanship. Into the heart of Africa it brought beautifully modulated language, lofty journalistic principles, poetry, self-confidence and ideals. Propaganda yes, but irresistibly high quality.

Coming to Britain in 1972 was a shock in many ways – the nation was in a state of social and economic collapse – but the BBC was still there, eternal, excellent and holding on to its founding ethics. It gave us exiles a feeling of belonging and kept alive the image of Great Britain.

Over the years the romance with the BBC faded but not the abiding affection, not even when we saw how it excluded so many who lived on these isles. Today serious disillusionment is sweeping in. You can still find fantastic programmes and exceptional broadcasters, but they cannot offset the increasing dross, repetitiveness and mob appeal. I like many of the individuals, including Thompson, but many of their decisions and choices – like having the BNP on Question Time – have become indefensible. The captains of the "unwieldy ship" as described by PD James care not about their mutinous passengers, and disregard their complaints. Not running the appeal for the victims of Gaza was but one example of highhandedness.

Thompson argues that 37 individuals in the management team deserve three times more than the PM and would go elsewhere if offered less. So, like greedy bankers, let them go to that elsewhere. Where will they find such a safe and cushy alternative? ITV and Channel4 are trying to survive the vicissitudes of the marketplace. The DG shows himself to be as insular as indignant parliamentarians who think we should pay for their duck houses and second homes.

Patent age discrimination is faced by women because the BBC abjectly follows the generators of popular culture – glossy mags, glam queens, celeb circuses. Licence-fee payers are paying for the insidious propagation of female images of beauty that make most of us feel hideous and irrelevant. We see more able and sharp black and Asian female presenters now – Riz Lateef, Anita Anand, Mishal Husain – but one wonders where they will be when they are not young and beautiful.

The most prestigious political programmes and documentaries are not open to people like us. When it comes to highly paid entertainers, the club is even more restrictive. All white male stand-up comics and wits like Stephen Fry are recycled endlessly.

This is our BBC. The management and BBC Trust seem to have forgotten that. We must thank PD James for reminding them. She should get the DG back in six months and ask for a slashed pay list at the top, programming worthy of the institution and proof that talent systematically excluded is finally being admitted through the forbidding doors. If none of this is forthcoming we will know that the interview was just a diversionary tactic, a bit of amusement as the ship sails into the new year.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas