The Rite Stuff (2), it just goes to show that you never know about people…

After uploading last night’s posting about the famous ruckus that took place at the 1913 premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps, I imagined readers would today be enjoying the clip — and maybe even clicking about on the panel to take the video to the very start so they could watch the whole 90-minute drama from the beginning! I also assumed — rather vaguely, I’ll admit — that if anyone had anything to post in reply it would be about such things as the authenticity of the stage costumes and choreography; whether other works besides this one had provoked disturbances when first performed, and suchlike.

Not a bit of it. Opening my email this morning I found myself confronted by a message from one of my electronic acquaintances that raised a topic so tangential that I hadn’t even dreamed it would come up. Still, I’m game: Tim says he doesn’t mind me discussing his not entirely un-mischievous message — and so I shall

Nice to see you recommending we look at a programme made by the BBC!‘, he wrote. ‘You’ve written [postings] with titles like “Close It Down”, saying the BBC needs to be shut down or dismantled. But doesn’t a programme like this one show what we’d lose if the BBC and public service broadcasting disappeared?

To which I will respond by way of the following five points. (Yes, all this is undoubtedly more than Tim was expecting — but this is a serious subject, and I don’t do ‘mischievous’…)

First, let’s not go overboard on the ‘quality’ of this item. Even though I found a half-hour clip from ‘Riot at the Rite’ to be fun to watch as well as useful in illustrating a quick ‘anniversary’ posting, I have to say that I’m not over-impressed with the film as a whole. (We can come back to this when everyone has had a chance to watch the entire thing for themselves.)

Secondly, musical people in general have an unhelpful tendency to over-rate and over-value BBC documentaries and dramas on cultural subjects. And the reason for this is that such people are, basically, famished: the modern BBC actually provides so little in the way of grown-up arts broadcasting that anything it does offer is instantly feted as ‘exactly what Public Service Broadcasting is about’ — even when the item concerned is pitched at an unambitiously low level and is full of slips and errors. (I am no Delius expert — but even my jaw dropped at some of the wrong information found in the 2012 film ‘Delius: Composer, Lover, Enigma’.) Are we dogs grateful for scraps (and poor quality scraps at that)…?

Thirdly, there’s that stuff about ‘Public Service Broadcasting’ — a supposed social good that in reality is not coextensive with the BBC and its productions. Believe it or not, those shameless garbage-mongers ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are all defined by Ofcom as ‘Public Service Broadcasters’ — a fact which tells you that, in terms of programme content and quality, the term means absolutely nothing. Myself, I can’t see even the BBC’s possession of that mantle as justifiable: its biased and misleading news programmes serve elite power and concentrated private wealth rather than ‘the public’ — while the dumbed-down populism that characterises the rest of its programming (fig-leaves aside) show it serving ‘the public’ in ways that a purely commercial broadcaster would happily emulate, without the need for an obscene poll tax ‘licence fee’. (See how the three-man team from the indefensible ‘Top Gear’ was rapidly snapped up for a copycat series on ‘Amazon Prime’?)

Fourthly, have a look at when ‘Riot at the Rite’ was made: it was first shown in March 2006, following a BAFTA screening the previous October. In other words, it is more than a decade old. People really should be more careful about praising the BBC on the strength of things it did years ago and can’t/won’t do any more. (Have you seen the ‘Save Our [sic] BBC’ crowd claiming that Monty Python and Fawlty Towers prove how creative and enlightened the BBC ‘is’ [sic]?) If the BBC was still a genuine force in cultural broadcasting, it would be making (or commissioning) so many programmes of interest and importance that no-one would ever need to point to something from eleven years ago in order to give it a reason for existing. (As a test, I sent out a quick email a minute ago to a friend, asking him to tell me of a BBC music film that had impressed him. He replied at once: ‘The Eroica film that had Frank Finlay as Haydn!’ When did they make that? In 2003!)

Fifthly, who ever said that ‘Riot at the Rite’ couldn’t have been made by some other organisation? Thanks to the vile (Thatcherite) Broadcasting Act of 1990, the BBC already operates under a statutory requirement that it fills a proportion of its schedules with programming made by ‘independent producers’: why could we not have a greatly slimmed-down operation that charged a tiny fraction of the licence fee’s current £145.50 and provided nothing but genuine Public Service Broadcasting bought in from outside? (‘BPSB’, now is your moment — even if I have to create you myself!)

All in all, then, I have to say that — with due respect! — I don’t find Tim’s argument persuasive. I know that innumerable decent people are currently waving their arms in the air about ‘the threat faced by the BBC’ — and I am the first to acknowledge that nothing good will happen to the Corporation once a government that is the most incompetent as well as the most vicious and corrupt in living memory starts hacking it about. But as for people’s worries over ‘the things we’d lose if the BBC disappeared‘, we need to be clear: those things were lost years ago.

Close. It. Down.


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