TO stick up for the BBC is to turn yourself into a human dart board and I have the puncture marks to prove it. Sadly, this week the BBC has been trying my long loyalty on two fronts: one political, the other cultural.
The political annoyance comes with the BBC’s apparent refusal to carry any reports on the Mirror’s interview with Jennifer Arcuri, who has been spilling lurid beans about what she says was her affair with Boris Johnson during his time as London Mayor.
A certain squeamishness is understandable. Some things are best not imagined, especially all that blond blubbery bouncing, along apparently with a sock lost to passion.
Andrew Marr plum forgot to mention it while skimming the front pages on his BBC1 show last Sunday. Whizzing through a newsprint sheaf, he finished with the Sunday Telegraph, keeping his hand firmly on that front page, seemingly to ensure no one caught a saucy glimpse of the Sunday Mirror beneath.
Took me back to when my grandma would hover in front of the television if she thought anything sinfully inappropriate was about to sully the screen.
Over on BBC Radio Four’s Broadcasting House – one of my favourite programmes – the newspaper review also swerved the Arcuri/Johnson story. Was this just chance or had word gone out from on high that the unseemly business had to stay under the covers? It’s barely been touched by the BBC, apart from Emily Maitlis’s sweep-up prelude about lack of political accountability on Newsnight.
It’s tempting to wonder if the new director general, Tim Davie, a Tory and a believed Johnson supporter, wanted this story squashing. The Murdoch newspapers also sat this one out, with even the Sun more or less staying schtum on what in other circumstances would be the most Sun story ever.
People often talk about the liberal establishment. I’m still waiting for my invitation to join, but fear it must be lost in the privatised post. But with this story we seem to see the traditional establishment at work, making sure that an unsightly stain is covered up.
If this was only about sex, it would simply remind us of Johnson’s famed lack of fidelity; but we knew that already. The political side to this one is that Johnson is said to have officially backed Arcuri’s business during their affair, at a time when she received a £100,000 government grant.
If any other politician was tangled up in such a sofa shag of a story, you’d never hear the end of it in the newspapers and on the television. Yet Johnson always leaps free from everything, like that last slippery sliver of soap you can never grasp.
The cultural disappointment comes with the announcement this week that BBC Four is being downgraded to become an ‘archive channel’ – a posh way of saying a repeats bargain bin. This is a crying shame as BBC Four is filled with excellent arts documentaries, music programmes, quirky comedy classics such as Detectorists, and has introduced many of us to the murky pools of Scandi noir.
What a terrible waste. BBC Four is often first port of call in this house, especially when my wife has spotted an art documentary etched into the listings.
This decision antagonises natural supporters of the BBC, and is a terrible move, even though the BBC still does many things well. Tim Davie, if this is his idea, has shot himself in the foot here. Still, at least Boris Johnson might be able to lend him a sock.