Dyke can do it for the BBC

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Perhaps Greg Dyke will get the BBC on message. It would be no bad thing. The Great Organisation is confused: it has a problem telling its left hand from its right. Four things happen within 48 hours: a) a brave annual governors' report announces a major shift of policy - the BBC must "dare to be different" and "unashamedly" pursue the public good rather than ratings; b) it is revealed that Question Time has asked Elton John, Elizabeth Hurley and their like to come on the show; c) Alan Yentob, the BBC's director of television, says the corporation is to begin the move towards "braining up"; and d) Greg Dyke, who once saved TV-am by bringing on Roland Rat, is appointed as director-general.

Things have come to a pretty pass when the governors have to feel "unashamed" about suggesting that the publicly funded BBC should perform a public service; and when Question Time is desperate because its usual guests, chosen as they are in the interests of "balance", have been so trained by their political parties they can spout only platitudes, and its audience - among the most faithful and intelligent in all TV - begins to drift away yawning.

BBC programmes, alas, now serve the institution, not the institution the programmes. The ratings-chasing culture is so well established, the fear of being accused of elitism so great, the reliance on committee rather than individual judgment so omnipresent, the habit of spending money on anything, anything other than the programmes themselves (new buildings, digitisation, personal development weekends, new tiers of middle management) so deep rooted, that "braining up" will be as difficult as trying to make a giant oil tanker stop in mid-ocean.

But Greg Dyke might do it. At least he puts his money where his mouth is. He has nothing to prove other than his capacity for impartiality. Where are you going to find an effective, thinking man without political affiliation? Why try? By all accounts Mr Dyke is no bureaucrat. He knows how to run a TV station, that "the talent" is what makes it or breaks it, has a reputation for not interfering, and might even listen to the governors. He seems a cheerful and effective person. Perhaps he will just get on with his work and fade out of sight. Who so much as knew the director- general's name before John Birt came along?

Greg Dyke might even spare a thought for those guests who, for pitiful reward, now fill up so much airtime on the BBC's cultural and political programmes. Once well looked after, those who busily and importantly go about the nation's business must now sit huddled in the annex to some distant make-up room while they wait their turn. The designers of the vamped-up news studios neglected to provide for their accommodation. And perhaps studio audiences - so vital a part of many shows - won't have to queue for hours outside in the rain waiting to be let in, as is current practice.

Perhaps he will allow Radio 4's The World at One to move back to Broadcasting House. Politicians who could spare half an hour to "do" the programme in central London cannot spare the two hours needed to get through the traffic to White City, its security system and the irrationality of its corridors, and so don't turn up. Why should they?

And perhaps Greg Dyke will bring back Vanessa Feltz. "But see, we axed the Vanessa show!" is the BBC's current defence against every accusation of bad taste, dumbing down, or lack of integrity. Vanessa is as intelligent as she's allowed to be. She is a good and sensitive interviewer. She was yanking her show up-market even as she was axed, a living, suffering sacrifice to the Gods of Perception.

OFSTED FINDS itself faced with teachers who claim that children get distressed if you try to teach them to read below the age of seven, and teachers who claim they get distressed if you don't. Both are right and it has nothing to do with intelligence, only the size of the skull. Or so I was told recently by a brain surgeon. Only when the skull capacity is great enough does the brain grow into that developing section at the back of the head, above the neck, where the reading and writing functions are situated. The age at which this happens varies. If she's right (yes, it was a she), then forget phonics or non-phonetics: teachers can stop trying to achieve the impossible, and save everyone a lot of misery.

I also asked her how excellence was rated in a brain surgeon. She said that there are three possible results to any brain operation: death, cure or vegetation. The surgeon with the lowest vegetation rate wins. Thank you.

Joan Smith is away.

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