Letters: Terrible television

Relentless TV diet of rudeness, humiliation and death
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Sir: In need of a "quiet night in", I flopped down with a light supper and turned on the TV.

Silent Witness kicked off with a boy's corpse that had been in a river for two weeks, the camera lingering on his rotting face and butchered body. I turned to ITV, where Marco Pierre White was being pointlessly offensive to novices – some respected public figures – who had two days to learn to cook pretentious food for pretentious people.

BBC 2 had more "experts" being rude, this time to a grandfather who was trying to learn hairdressing. Channel 4 yielded a selection of people living on a rubbish dump, with pointless aggravations such as having no guidance on recycling values, and the toilets being removed. In despair I turned to Channel 5, to see a graphic reconstruction of the London tube bombing, with a man whose legs had been blown off, and torso horribly damaged in the blast.

I wonder if anyone, even in the media, thinks that rudeness, humiliation and death are a wholesome diet: I wonder even more about the long-term emotional effects on us of exposure to such continuous negativity and destruction. Is life beginning to imitate this "art"?

David Gordon

Hinton St George, Somerset

Keep politics out of climate science

Sir: While I wouldn't be surprised if Planet Relief was cancelled by a US network, I was disappointed that the BBC decided to shelve its programme on the basis of political bias. In Britain, where there is a consensus on the issue by all the major parties (along with an overwhelming scientific consensus), I would have thought the fear of bias would have been a non-issue.

My understanding of the programme was that it would highlight climate change so that individuals could reduce their CO2 footprint. This is very different from advocating the policies of one political party or another. In effect, people were being asked to do little more than children do when collecting aluminium cans for an appeal or contributing to Comic Relief.

It seems that the politicisation of this issue on the other side of the Atlantic is doing precisely what it was designed to do: to muddy the waters on the science of climate change in order to delay action. While there may well be a range of opinions on this matter in the scientific community, the views of individual scientists are of no moment next to the process of peer review and the weight of available evidence. Therefore, to take a position on the science of climate change is not itself political, but a scientific matter that, unlike politics, is to be decided definitively: it's either true or it isn't.

This is where the BBC is allowing itself to become confused. The political questions on climate change should not be conflated with its status as knowledge; but how we act upon the current consensus – how far governments intervene, for instance, and whether the market could help correct the situation. While the last ideologues that see perfection in their economic models may be aghast at admitting the reality of climate change, it doesn't mean the BBC shouldn't advocate the current "truth" on this issue. In fact, it has a moral obligation to do so.

If the BBC continues to confuse scientific opinions with political ones, will future documentaries such as Horizon have to include theories on intelligent design in order to "balance" its coverage of evolution? Thankfully, this never happens, because what's at stake is knowledge and that is far more important than protecting the feelings of those who happen to believe something outside the consensus.

Peter Knapp

Hounslow, Middlesex

Sir: Your revelations about the BBC's response to the issue of climate change raise very important issues.

The question is not whether the BBC should campaign or proselytise, but how climate issues are reported and whether general climate trends should be noted in routine reporting. This extends to reporting of floods in Yorkshire or Gloucestershire and to forest fires in southern Europe, and, most importantly, to weather forecasts.

Is the BBC being impartial, or surrendering to populism, to assiduously avoid references to global trends when it reports climate events? Should the BBC see it as part of its public service duty to explain more, to tell listeners and viewers about how the climate works, and how it is evolving? Or is everyone happy with personality-based weather forecasts, delivered in gabbled tabloidese, which present rain as a "threat," and sunshine as a "hope", and talk about the weather that is "on offer"?

We are getting perilously near to a situation in which facts are decided by spurious references to public opinion ("Your chance to decide, tonight, by calling this number, whether climate change is really happening...") The confusion should be ended by a broad-based high-level inquiry, covering in general how the weather is reported as well as coverage of climate change. The aim should be to separate fiction from fact and to provide a basis of undisputed fact, as well as clear advice to broadcasters. Otherwise the BBC becomes, by default, a force for business as usual.


North Tamerton, Cornwall

Sir: Surely the question is not whether the BBC was right to abandon Planet Relief but how seriously the corporation regarded the project. A subject as important as the impact of climate change should not be in the hands of the BBC head of comedy, to be fronted by the likes of Ricky Gervais or Jonathan Ross. For this reason alone, the BBC were right to cancel the project.

As a public service broadcaster, the BBC has a responsibility to present a programme on this subject, even a day-long event, presented by a respected broadcaster with the full support of its science or natural history unit. We want facts and informed debate not clever and offhand asides.

This was, and remains, an opportunity for the BBC to restore its position as a responsible and objective communicator.

Allan Ruff

High Peak, Derbyshire

This is the 'lost' Auden poem

Sir: Edward Mendelson writes (letter, 7 September) that "no scholar who has looked at the poems in The Gresham has concluded that they were by Auden".

My views about these poems were first put forward in the WH Auden Society Newsletter and I stand by my conclusions. There are only two individuals, Auden and his friend Robert Medley, who could possibly have written "Evening and Night on Primrose Hill". The question is, which one of them wrote the poem – a view accepted by both Mr Mendelson and the editor of Auden's juvenalia, Katherine Bucknell.

The strongest evidence that it was Auden comes from the dating. The poem was published in The Gresham dated 16 December 1922. Medley left the school at the end of that term. At Gresham's School, the practice was for the magazine to be taken home by the boys at the end of term to save postage. Medley recalled that the only poem that he had had published in The Gresham appeared the term after he left: this rules him out as the author of the poem.

In addition, there are very strong typographical and contextual reasons for thinking that Auden was the author of the pair of poems that are published in The Gresham. Ms Bucknell acknowledges "Dawn" to be his, and this poem appears in the magazine without any break between it and the previous poem, "Evening and Night on Primrose Hill". They thus make up a contrasting pair spanning 24 hours. The following year, Auden wrote "Skyreholme Mill". Part 1 is entitled "By Day", Part 2 is "By Night", in an exactly parallel pattern. (And, incidentally, both use the rhyme hill/still, and both end on a note of "silence".)

Finally J M Richards, an exact contemporary of Auden's, describes how in a schoolboy magazine he edited, in 1922 he printed Auden's first poem, called "Sunset from Primrose Hill". It is my contention that this "lost poem" has now been found.

It is now up to "scholars" not just to dismiss these arguments but to argue in detail against them.

John Smart

Holt, Norfolk

Good, bad and ugly rugby players

Sir: I guess that Rob Sharp was somewhat tongue-in-cheek concentrating on the faces of some players ("The Ugly World Cup" 8 September). But what about the sheer size of some of the players? Some years ago I was in the same hotel as the New Zealand squad (they only stayed one night - the beds were not big enough). One entertained the restaurant with some excellent piano work, but another was so big that he couldn't stand upright in the lift.

Nigel Wardle

Stapleton, Leicestershire

Sir: What are we to make of your article mocking the World's 15 ugliest male rugby players? I presume we can look forward to ugly female hockey players next week, perhaps followed by your 15 ugliest columnists.

John Harris


Sir: Further to Eve Winter's letter (10 September) about England's good-looking rugby pin-ups, they'd look a lot better if they bucked up and played some decent rugby.

Joe Hayward

Stanmore, Middlesex

Too few staff on wards for the old

Sir: With regard to Joan Bakewell's article "The old are left to fend for themselves" (17 August), my 85-year-old husband was recently a patient in a ward for the elderly in a north London NHS hospital. What he experienced and I witnessed was extremely distressing.

There were only four carers and two trained nurses during the day, one carer and two nurses during the night. Insufficient staff were available to deal with 24 old, vulnerable, very ill people, many of whom were incontinent. The carer attended to patients' needs, while the nurses handled the medicines and dressings. My husband was unable to walk unaided to the toilet, but the carers could not guarantee that his bell would be answered when he rang. He was made to wear a pad, and, to his distress, was forced to dirty himself, as he was on antibiotics. He was left thus, and sitting on a hard plastic chair, for a long period. He developed pressure sores as a result, which became so bad he was put to bed permanently. There was neither preventative pressure-sore treatment routinely administered, nor a rubber ring for him to sit on.

The staff appeared to have little understanding of an ill, elderly patient's psychological needs. "I saw my first sympathetic carer this morning," said my husband, after five weeks. And enough has been said about food dumped next to a patient and left uneaten.

Perhaps a National Health Service that is free at the point of need is unsustainable and we should be prepared to pay towards the service according to our means, if we wish the wards for the elderly to be properly staffed.

Miesh Pleeth

Stanmore, Middlesex

A fine tenor – but the greatest?

Sir: Pavarotti had a voice suited to Bellini's bel canto: light, golden, and mellifluous. However, he decided early in his career to take on the punishing tenor roles in the Verdi repertoire. The result was a prematurely frayed voice which had been in decline since the late 1980s.

An intuitive singer, Pavarotti was a less disciplined and less thorough a musician than Plácido Domingo, who has expanded his repertoire, which now encompasses German opera and conducting. Furthermore, unlike Domingo, Pavarotti never acquired the faintest ability at thespian histrionics – he couldn't act.

At its peak, Pavarotti's voice, indeed, was "touched by the divine" ("The world pays tribute to Pavarotti", 7 September), but that touch lasted no more than 10 years. Pavarotti was not the great tenor of his generation (this is Domingo), nor the great tenor of the last half-century, an honour that probably belongs to Jussi Bjoerling.

Marco-Antonio Loera

Inglewood, California, USA

Crucial clue

Sir: With reference to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, shouldn't the crucial question be, who rented the Renault Scenic hire car before the McCanns and after the disappearance of Madeleine?

Wendy Cavell

East Cowton, North Yorkshire

Intrepid travellers

Sir: While agreeing with some of the points that Mary Harris puts (letter, 10 September) I have to say whilst taking a year off to travel the world in my thirties in 1993, I met many single women travellers of all ages backpacking safely around the globe. They included a lady in her fifties who was "going bush" in Papua New Guinea, which I thought was too far off the beaten track even for me at six foot four and 14 stone.

Andy Lane

Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire

Proud to be British

Sir: I have just read the interesting article by Michael Glover (7 September) on the German artist Georg Baselitz, whom I regard personally as the greatest living painter, sculptor and printmaker of his generation. I would however like to make it clear that I am not German-born. My parents were Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe. My mother was born in Germany, my father in Czechoslovakia; they met in this country, where I was born in 1944. I feel privileged to have grown up and worked here all my life.

Sir Norman Rosenthal

Exhibitions Secretary, Royal Academy of Arts, London W1

Mathematical beauty

Sir: Paul Ganz (letter, 10 September) observes that without religious faith we would have been deprived of great art and would have been left with mathematical equations painted on walls. How odd then that Georg F Handel was well known to be an agnostic and that J S Bach's music is oozing intricate mathematical patterns. And what to think of Islamic art, where depicting humans is out of bounds. Instead we are presented with most stunning tessellations, mathematical abstractions in which topologists nowadays still find new things. What's wrong with equations on walls?

Eduard J Zuiderwijk


Embarrassing language

Sir: With the Prime Minister announcing the tough requirement for skilled immigrants to have a higher level of English language, may I suggest he applies the same rule to British emigrants who wish to live overseas? As an Englishman abroad, fluent in his new home language, it might reduce my constant shame at hearing the embarrassing attempts of the average "skilled" Brit stumbling over even the basic phrases in modern languages.

Andrew Atkinson