Stop Press — Forever… older I get, the more do I recognise the importance and value of the Daily Telegraph — and to the extent, in fact, that nowadays I try to make sure that there’s always a copy within easy reach. Naturally, I have friends who think this is strange behaviour for a person with views like mine; but the truth is that, of all the billionaire-owned right-wing lie-machines that disgrace our nation’s media, there is none that compares — in terms of sheer absorbancy — with the Telegraph. Drip, leak, spillage: you name it, a sheaf of those large-format pages will soak it up in seconds. “There’s no point crying over spilt milk”, my grandma used to say — and how right she was, when you have journalistic talent on the level of Con Coughlin, Charles Moore and Fraser Nelson with which to mop it up.

As for the muck the thing actually prints, on the other hand, I wouldn’t waste my eyesight on it. Except, of course, when a friend refers me to some article or other — and I feel obliged to see what it is they’re telling me about.

Which is, I promise you, the only reason I know about this strange little piece which appeared in the Telegraph on 25 April (I assume it was online only, but I could be wrong — and I couldn’t care less either way). What my cyber-buddy objected to — and suggested I write a posting about — was something he noticed in the second paragraph:

As it happens, I think my pal was right to diagnose serious weirdness in all that; but I myself can see a few other bits of crazy that he actually overlooked. Let’s go through it and we’ll see where we come out…

First of all, there’s that figure for the financial loss made by the ‘BBC Proms’ — properly the ‘BBC Henry Wood Proms’, if you remember what they were always called before the Corporation quietly removed the name of their founder the other year. The final ‘price tag’ for the licence-payer — the gap between the festival’s expenditure and its receipts — has in fact been quoted to me as ‘£5 million’ by various sources since at least 2007 (the final year of Nicholas Kenyon’s 12-year directorship). And when I asked a BBC Press Officer in September last year for some numbers I could safely use in an article, the very same figure was supplied to me yet again.

Now, even if you believe that the Proms’ annual loss really has stayed the same through seven years of elite looting and larceny economic turmoil and uncertainty, the fact remains that the figure given is inevitably going to be wildly unreliable, a mere ‘guesstimate’ at best — even allowing for the BBC’s notorious reluctance to tell the truth about how it’s spending our money. No organisation as vast as the BBC — with revenues of more than £5 billion; infrastructure in place all over the country; and more than 20,000 employees (before you even think about the 4,000 or so who’ve been paid as ‘companies’ so they can dodge tax) — could ever work out a meaningful set of accounts for an eight-week concert season so much of whose production is not only done ‘in-house’ with existing staff and resources, but also fills airtime that would be costing money in any case.

In short, that ‘£5 million’ figure should be regarded as having little more than political significance until we see a really detailed and honest explanation of how it is arrived at — on which point my shy advice is “Don’t hold your breath”.

Of course, what follows in the quoted article is even more problematic — which is why my friend drew my attention to it:

And that the licence fee plays a key role in keeping [the Proms] going … is the best reason I can think of for retaining that otherwise equivocal demand for £145 per annum.

Think your way through that in logical stages. The BBC licence fee is essentially a poll tax to which even the poorest families in our increasingly inequitable society are subject: if you’re under 75 and watch any real-time TV at all, you’re never too broke, too ill, or too out-of-work to have to pay the equivalent of two whole weeks’ Jobseeker’s Allowance to the people who thought Jonathan Ross was worth £6 million a year. You can even be completely blind, and all they’ll do is cut the price by half. a result, the number of TV licences issued every year is a massive 25,000,000 — which means that the ostensible £5 million deficit of an entire Proms season is not only a mere 5/6 of the annual sum latterly paid to Mr Ross, but actually averages out at just 20p per licence-paying household. What your Telegraph writer is telling you, therefore, is that he thinks there’s something okay about the system because 20p from every £145.50 collected goes to paying for a ‘great cultural institution’ that he personally happens to value…

Look, I know the right-wing press seldom contains anything that reveals preoccupations beyond those you’d see in an angry lizard — the amygdala-driven triad of greed, fear and hate is literally the best they can reliably do — but if, in one of the 1000 food banks currently feeding 1 million Britons, there should remain any biscuit whatever, that little piece of sociopathic self-preoccupation surely takes it.

And, on the subject of self-preoccupation, there’s one more thing to be pointed out — if you’re prepared to go back to the article and read a few more paragraphs. You see, your Telegraph writer couldn’t finish his little celebration of the Proms — a British festival run by a British broadcaster and subsidised by the British public — without putting the boot into the only British composer he mentions by name before his closing gag. Did you spot it? Speaking of Proms ‘launches’, he told us that

there’s usually a party … prefaced by a smaller gathering for music journos at which … difficult people demand to know why there isn’t more Arnold Bax (I could tell them) or whether it isn’t time to ditch the Last Night as a relic of Empire.

Yes, dear reader: the nearest this weird piece ever comes to providing an observation of actual musical significance is … to throw in a bit of sneery backstabbing about Arnold Bax — a composer who is surely a towering figure in Britain’s musical history, and about whom no-one learns anything at all from that little exercise in over-confident nastiness. what possible interest could stuff like this have for any person whose capacities exceed those of a high-functioning iguana? Why would anyone choose to read it — let alone pay good cash money for it, or stuff like it? My own analysis says that, with newspaper sales now dropping by 1% every 45 days, the era of industrial journalism is coming to an end — and my nostrils say that the end can’t come a moment too soon: whatever we most need to know about the world in which we live, we won’t find it in the profit-seeking pages of a billionaire-owned propaganda toy — though we will find any amount of heartless and self-vaunting rubbish of the sort contained in the article quoted here.

Just cast your mind back a few weeks — to the time when it was revealed that this same paper had suppressed important stories about the crooked behaviour of HSBC: the bank was a major advertiser, so the details of its role in a massive tax evasion scheme remained tactfully unreported, and hardly a word leaked out. Yes: the Telegraph absorbed that too…


As far as Bax is concerned, there is actually a serious and widely ignored reason why we don’t hear his music more often — in the Proms or anywhere else — and I can tell you what it is. Bax’s orchestration is often complex and refined, and an orchestra that doesn’t already know a given piece — and, for almost every Bax piece, that’s almost every orchestra — has to spend a lot of rehearsal time getting a lot of subtle detail to sit in its rightful place. As it happens, our self-governing orchestras are increasingly reluctant to spend long hours rehearsing difficult pieces — and, being self-governing, can’t be made to. If, as a concert-goer, you pay attention to what you aren’t hearing as well as to what you are, you’ll notice the ‘live’ orchestral repertoire shrinking before your very eyes, year after year.

Yes: that’s one more thing you weren’t told by a newspaper…


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