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The tradition of honest reporting – going back beyond the Suez affair in 1956 to the General Strike

Posted on 31 July 2010

The tradition of honest reporting – going back beyond the Suez affair in 1956 to the General Strike of 1926 – is exaggerated but indestructible. The corporation will remain as it always was – susceptible to a limited degree of political bullying and ministerial persuasion, but determined to stand firm against any serious threat to its independence.The real question is: “Will Greg Dyke improve the quality of the output?”He could begin by reducing the number of repeats and abandoning altogether the habit of insulting viewers’ intelligence by calling reruns “another chance to see”. The other patronising euphemism, “The best of…”, is television- speak for another import from commercial television – bits torn out of old broadcasts and strung together with a barely relevant commentary.Indeed, most of the programmes that have dragged BBC downmarket are the product of the same Gresham’s Law – the high standards of public service broadcasting driven down by competing for viewing figures with channels where the values are determined by the demands of deodorant advertisers. And Greg Dyke comes from that tradition.However, unlike William Hague and the Conservative Party, I’m willing to believe that the new director-general can, and will, live down his past.I do not even demand that he resigns as a director of Manchester United Football Club – where, much to his credit, he opposed the sale of the club to Rupert Murdoch’s interests. But, during the weeks which he spends reassuring the Conservatives about his impartiality, I hope that he will spare a moment to convince the rest of us about the sort of BBC which he wants to see Nobody doubts that he is a good manager.

But that is the assurance which we were given when John Birt was appointed.What we want now is a director general who believes in high quality broadcasting Greg Dyke may be that man. But until the always fatuous and often bogus complaints about his donations to the Labour Party die down, that aspect of his career and character will not receive much attention.. STEVEN PIMLOTT’s new RSC staging of Antony and Cleopatra begins with the middle-aged lovebirds in a graphic, if rather dutiful-looking, bout of cunnilingus. One would hesitate to call this a tongue-in-cheek opening and it sure as hell establishes who is wearing the harem-trousers in that relationship.

But it’s also not the only moment in the course of a long evening when the irreverent thought occurs that a production which gave us Frances de la Tour as Antony and Alan Bates as the wily “serpent of old Nile” would be even more worth catching. After the instructive fiasco of last year’s National Theatre version, starring Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman, the RSC may have taken comfort from the fact that they could hardly do worse. But this main stage production fails to be the glorious exorcism of its predecessor that one had hoped for. True, it is considerably more imaginative, though the imagination in it often feels misplaced.

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