Thursday, an accidental column

June 4

A LONG time ago I once had breakfast with the TV impresario Michael Grade. I think he was boss of Channel 4 at the time. It wasn’t anything personal, just one of those business breakfasts. Well, I say just one of those business breakfasts, but it’s the only one I can recall ever attending.

Anyway, because of our fleeting intimacy over the croissants, I have always noticed when Michael Grade has something to say. Three years or so ago, he made an enjoyable BBC4 programme about pantomime, in which York panto dame Berwick Kaler was given much prominence, and I noticed that.

Now what I have noticed is a sensible quote from Grade with regards to the Home Secretary’s plan to vet TV shows for extremism. Theresa May wants the media regulator Ofcom to take “tough measures against channels that broadcast extremist content”.

This is one of those measures that are designed to sound reasonable. In fact David Cameron thinks the proposals are “extremely sensible” which ought perhaps to make us extremely suspicious. But are they sensible or just a display of what might be termed populist knee-jerkery, to coin a phrase?

Grade is a former chairman of the BBC and chief executive of ITV and Channel 4, so his CV puts most of us to shame. What he was quoted as saying about May’s proposal was this: “I would be very suspicious of ex-ante powers of publication being given to a regulator or anyone. The old Hugh Cudlipp dictum of publish and be damned still holds forth. You would have to see the details of any proposal but I think it would be very difficult to justify.”

I had to Google “ex-ante” and it means “before the event”. Cudlipp, meanwhile, was the editor of the Daily Mirror who led the paper during its mighty days in the 1950s and 1960s.

So what May wants is for broadcasters to be vetted before they can show anything which might be considered extremist. There are deeply worrying shades of opinion in this suggestion, and deeply worrying notions of a Home Secretary wanting in effect to muzzle broadcasters. How the media covers extremism is a tricky business. Even saying exactly where religious conservatism becomes extremism is a tricky business. But if we can’t study something, how do we learn about it?

It occurs to me that I have filled this blog with a column. It must be Thursday.

FOLK FOOTNOTE: Well, there’s a deflating Tweet: That’s All Folks – Bellowhead Call Time

There is symmetry to the announcement that Bellowhead are calling it a day. The gloriously rumbustious folk super-band contains 11 musicians and is stepping away after 11 years following what started as a one-off experiment at the first Oxford Folk Festival.

Lead vocalist and fiddle player Jon Boden wants to step down, and the band doesn’t wish to carry on without him, saying: “We have therefore decided that we should give Bellowhead the send-off it deserves and go out with a bang.”

Well, their concerts always go with a bang. I’ve seen the band three times in York, once at the Grand Opera House and twice at the Barbican ­– some of the best gigs ever. Tickets for the final two-part tour in November this year and May next year go on sale next week.

Leave a Reply