JANET STREET-PORTER: I grew up with an outside toilet but these days I reckon even I’m too white and middle class for the diversity-obsessed Woke Broadcasting Corporation
Thank goodness I no longer work as a BBC executive, because I would fail on every level.
As a heterosexual female with a decent home, a designer kitchen and pictures on my walls, I’m exactly the kind of person the woke police don’t want on the payroll.
At least I’m slightly more employable than a white middle-aged bloke with an Oxbridge degree despite the fact the BBC has plenty in charge, starting with director-general Tim Davie, plus the new chairman Richard Sharp (a banker) who has just replaced David Clementi (a former banker).
The BBC has had its knickers in a twist about being too middle class, and about not attracting the right kind of viewers (ie more ‘common’ people) for as long as I can remember.
BBC director-general Tim Davie (pictured), who took over the role from Tony Hall in September last year
But in the past decade the BBC has seen its audience and income decline, buffeted by huge competition from online and subscription channels, not helped by a Tory government who aren’t keen on the licence fee.
Instead of concentrating on output and creating a load of enticing programmes, Mr Davie has opted to shake up his workforce so that it becomes (in his words) more ‘inclusive’.
He hopes that by employing more working-class folk, audiences will choose the BBC over Netflix or Sky because they feel ‘at home’.
Really? When viewers and listeners are craving decent entertainment and news, do they care if the staff ticked the right boxes? Do they care if they went to secondary modern and grew up with an outside toilet? (At least I can tick one of those boxes – the toilet one).
Only Fools and Horses: Nicholas Lyndhurst as Rodney (left), Sir David Jason as Del Boy (centre) and Lennard Pearce as Grandad (right), February 1985
TV: Harry H Corbett and Wilfrid Bramble in the BBC comedy Steptoe And Son
To achieve his goal, Davie is asking staff to complete a survey revealing what their parents do for a living and which school they attended. The results will form new targets to establish a ‘better socio-economic balance in the workforce’.
It’s a shame the BBC has taken so long to wake up to the fact that the working classes aren’t just fit to toss eggs in the canteen or wipe out the toilets but might also be terrific management material.
By this measure, Steptoe and Son would have made great channel controllers, and Del Boy would have been a winner at hosting Test Match Special or the News at Ten.
We’ve missed out on years of Danny Baker hosting Question Time instead of Fiona Bruce, and I would have been perfectly happy fronting Antiques Roadshow instead of Fiona Bruce (again).
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Currently, Greg Wallace is the go-to cockney for anything the BBC thinks might appeal to the uneducated proletariat. I suppose offering Gemma Collins a BBC podcast represents a step in the ‘right’ direction.
For decades, the BBC has been staffed by the solidly middle class and well educated. Mr Davie has done well – the first person in his family to go to university (Cambridge) – but singling out the progeny of the working class for special treatment is utterly patronising.
Surely, talent and drive are what make people employable, not whether their mum is sitting on the checkout at Aldi or their dad is employed as an electrician? (like mine).
In modern Britain, many of the most desirable and highest paying jobs require manual labour and craft skills – plumbers, electricians, skilled brick layers, carpenters, and plasterers.
If I had a child, I’d be encouraging them to study any of the above instead of embarking on a career in media or radio where they can be laid off at a moment’s notice, where the opportunities are shrinking and the whims of channel controllers are impossible to predict when faced by the ever-increasing budgets from Netflix and Amazon and the changing fashions of political correctness.
Interestingly, the shows which BBC audiences love are those which focus on precisely these practical skills – BBC One’s highly successful Repair shop, all the pottery, crafts and baking series which focus on amateurs having a go.
Mr Davie seems determine to eradicate the iron grip of the British class system on his workforce in just twelve months, something which endless politicians and government initiatives have failed to do over the last half century. A recent study revealed the British class system remains as firmly entrenched as ever.
Unfortunately for Mr Davie, only 58% of BBC workers completed the last staff survey, revealing a lack of enthusiasm for the project in the first place. Inevitably, 61% of those who replied turned out to have a parent who was a professional or senior manager – ie solidly middle class.
John Torode (left) and Gregg Wallace (right) on BBC One’s Masterchef
Only 26% of BBC workers had parents employed in routine or manual jobs. According to Davie, this imbalance must be corrected and in future he plans to employ fewer Oxbridge graduates (like himself) and less people who have been to private schools.
He’s also set a target of 50-50 for gender equality by 2022. As a staffer, I refused to join the equality committee. In my book, women are far better than men at most things, and I favour a 60-40 gender balance in favour of the females. Sadly, that’s far too radical even for Mr Davie.
When it comes to sexuality, Davy would like to persuade 50% of LGBTQ+ staff to ‘come out’ at work. Surely this is a matter for personal choice and could mean that people are less likely to be employed at the BBC if they are unwilling to comply.
As a boss, I couldn’t care less if you have sex with a toilet brush as long as you turn up on time, act enthusiastic and carry out your work efficiently.
In the new, woke BBC of Tim Davie, even your unconscious thoughts must pass scrutiny in case you unwittingly cause offence to fellow workers. He has decreed that 95% of the workforce will complete Unconscious Bias Training by 2022, a technique used to challenge prejudiced ways of thinking.
Gemma Collins, who hosts The Gemma Collins Podcast on BBC Sounds
There’s huge controversy about whether this training is at all helpful – with the Cabinet Office claiming it is counter-productive and may even cause resentment amongst workers.
The government Equalities Office states there is ‘no evidence’ Bias Training produces results and will no longer be used by the civil service.
But even if Mr Davie achieves his goal, and eradicates ‘bias’ will that win more viewers?
The BBC always seems to be promising us it will become ‘modern’. But why the anxiety? They do a pretty good job and remain the most popular media brand in the UK. Nevertheless, audiences are steadily declining (as a result of all the other channels on offer) and young people have gradually stopped watching (weekly, two thirds watch Netflix and 42% YouTube, with only 26% using the BBC iPlayer).
None of these problems are going to be solved by Mr Davie’s purge of the posh people.
Instead, he could improve the BBC home page for starters. Today’s top stories (chosen for me) feature cricket – the 3rd Test Match in India, France v Scotland rugby, the story of a single man with a surrogate baby and a news flash that Camp Bestival (whatever that is) is going ahead in spite of Covid.
Room for improvement, Mr Davie.
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