Why did this senior executive's departure from the BBC cause such ire from the right-wing press?

He’s a metrosexual, says the Daily Mail in its headline. What they’re saying, in effect and with no real evidence, is that he’s a big old jessie

Simon Kelner
Wednesday 14 October 2015 17:38
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Danny Cohen is leaving his position as director of television at the BBC
Danny Cohen is leaving his position as director of television at the BBC

What is it about Danny Cohen? As director of television at the BBC, he was basically a faceless apparatchik. A powerful one, certainly, given that he had the last say on commissioning shows on primetime television, but he rarely appeared on screen himself and could walk down any street in Britain unrecognised and unmolested.

And yet, to the enemies of the BBC, he epitomises most of what’s wrong with the Corporation – its liberal bias, its elitism and its political correctness – and his resignation yesterday is covered in great detail in the public prints, accompanied by a large amount of lip-smacking. Even The Sun devoted an entire page to his departure.

I have met Cohen only once – we were on the same quiz team at a charity event – so I have no interest to declare. But it does strike me as odd that a man with no political agenda, save an understandable desire to protect his employer and a belief in upholding the highest editorial standards, should excite such comment, and such widespread antipathy.

He clearly brings out the worst prejudices in those who seek to undermine the BBC. He’s a metrosexual, says the Daily Mail in its headline. A metrosexual is defined as “a heterosexual urban man who enjoys shopping, fashion and similar interests traditionally associated with women or homosexual men”. I don’t know how Cohen spends his leisure time, and I would assume that he knows his Comme des Garçons from his Dolce & Gabbana, but this is clearly meant as an insult. What they’re saying, in effect and with no real evidence, is that he’s a big old jessie.

What’s worse, he’s a leftie. To support this, he was the man who, reportedly, felt most discomfited by Jeremy Clarkson using racist epithets or punching one of his colleagues. According to the “BBC insider” who spoke to the Daily Mail, “Cohen... prefers liberals and intellectuals, not right-wing petrolheads.” As he was running the creative output of BBC TV, and not a branch of the Ku Klux Klan, I would see that as a recommendation rather a criticism.

He’s also a “hyper-ambitious” metropolitan who is married to a professor of economics. What is not said, of course, is that Cohen is Jewish. No need. One’s name is one’s destiny. Although Jewish myself, I am not particularly sensitised to anti-Semitism, and often find myself arguing with those who see conspiracies where I believe there are none. I hope that the prevailing attitude to Mr Cohen does not owe anything to anti-Semitism.

Anyway, he’s off, apparently to seek his fortune in America. What is discussed with far less enthusiasm than his penchant for “trendy, open shirts and designer stubble” is his record as director of TV. Responsible for acclaimed, successful, and – it should be added – populist shows like Poldark, Call the Midwife, Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax and, most recently, Doctor Foster, Cohen’s reign has been, largely, a triumph.

One of the main charges against him is that he drummed up support from 29 eminent individuals (or “luvvies”, as they’re called) to write an open letter to the Government putting the case for the licence fee. Call me obtuse, but I fail to see what’s wrong with this. A BBC stalwart defending its virtue? How very dare he.

So farewell, Danny Cohen. It was good while it lasted.

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