Stephen Glover: For once, Ken Loach is absolutely right

Media Studies: In his previous jobs Danny Cohen has been responsible for some spectacularly tacky programmes

Monday 18 October 2010 00:00
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Ken Loach
Ken Loach

Not every day do I find myself in agreement with the film director Ken Loach. I once heard him deliver a rousing call to arms to the Scottish Socialist Party which made the hairs on the back of my neck quiver. Mr Loach may be a bit of an extremist, but he is also an idealist, a romantic and someone who believes that the doors to the citadel of culture should be flung open to everyone.

The BBC has half closed them. Mr Loach, who joined the BBC 47 years ago, and directed Cathy Come Home, last week launched a broadside against the corporation in particular and TV in general. "Television is the enemy of creativity," he said in a speech at the London Film Festival. "Television kills creativity. Work is produced beneath a pyramid of producers, executive producers, commissioning editors, heads of department, assistant heads of department and so on that sit on top of the group of people doing the work and stifle the life out of them."

Well said. It follows that Mr Loach is delighted that the BBC is (very belatedly) beginning to get rid of some of its overpaid senior executives or, as he describes them, "time-servers". Mark Byford, the deputy director-general, is walking the plank, and will not be replaced. He will struggle under the weight of a sackful of gold since his payoff is an estimated £1m.

The almost equally well-rewarded marketing chief will follow, and Alan Yentob, the BBC's creative director, may be doomed. Meanwhile, the corporation announced last week that the number of its senior managers has been trimmed from 639 to 592, and the pay of this group has fallen by some 12 per cent. However, it was recently revealed that 331 senior BBC managers earn more than £100,000.

These cuts are driven by a desire on the part of the director-general, Mark Thompson, to be seen to be making some sacrifices. But I doubt that a man who presided over private-sector type, soaring salaries (including his own) in the good years at the BBC will have seen the error of his ways, and I am sure much more could be done. Creative people in the BBC, whom Mr Loach rightly says are squashed under a pyramid of bureaucracy, are generally ill-paid.

His tirade was directed at "pap" television generated by cautious, unoriginal minds. I am uncertain about the appointment of Danny Cohen as the new controller of BBC1. In his previous jobs at Channel 4 and BBC3, the 36-year-old Mr Cohen has been responsible for some spectacularly tacky programmes – e.g. Hotter Than My Daughter, about parents who think they are more attractive than their children. He is said to be brilliant. Alas, there has been a succession of reputedly brilliant public school educated Oxbridge types with first-class degrees – step forward Mr Thompson – who have done nothing to re-establish the kind of television Mr Loach once promoted.

What Murdoch actually did for this newspaper

The Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins recommended last week that the proposed buyout of BSkyB be investigated by Vince Cable, the Business Secretary. Despite this suggestion, his piece was generally sympathetic to Rupert Murdoch, for whom Mr Jenkins once worked. I question his assertion that without Mr Murdoch "it is most unlikely that today there would be any Guardian or Independent".

One could certainly make a strong case for saying his victory over the print unions in the mid-1980s boosted all newspapers since it greatly reduced their production costs. Yet The Independent may not have been the biggest beneficiary.

Before Mr Murdoch's Wapping lock-out in January 1986, the paper, still in the planning stage before its launch in October of that year, had an agreement with four provincial publishing companies. These printers, which did indeed produce the paper in the early years, were not cowed by the unions in the way other Fleet Street titles were. It is possible that, without Wapping, The Independent would have been printed in the provinces while enjoying a cost advantage.

Mr Murdoch undoubtedly did one considerable disservice to this paper when he cut the cover price of The Times in September 1993. In the previous month, the sales of the two titles had been broadly similar. Thereafter the circulation of the discounted Times shot up while that of The Independent, whose owners could not afford to reduce its price, fell away. Mr Murdoch may have done much for newspapers, but The Independent has no particular reason to be grateful to him.

The fashion for reporting Amis-sponsored banality

The novelist Martin Amis has only to open his mouth for the posher papers to clear the decks. His latest maunderings at the Cheltenham Literary Festival were reverentially reported by The Times and The Daily Telegraph last Monday.

The Times was much taken by Mr Amis's not especially original reflections about the impossibility of writing successfully about sex in a novel. It devoted almost a full page to his thoughts, and flagged them on the front page. The Telegraph based a page lead on his advice to his children to stand up for themselves and resist peer pressure. The novelist's cousin, Lucy, was murdered by Fred and Rosemary West in the 1970s.

Mr Amis was no doubt right on both counts, but was it worth reporting these thoughts in such detail? I understand that Monday is a thin day for news, and almost any story may be welcomed by a news editor. All the same, no other writer is accorded such treatment in the media. It is something of a mystery. Perhaps many media executives grew up with one of his novels in their hands. Is their obsession with Martin Amis shared by their readers?

s.glover@independent.co.uk

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