Joan Bakewell’s James Cameron Lecture
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 8th October, 2009
Dame Joan Bakewell — once memorably described by Frank Muir as ‘the thinking man’s crumpet’ and now a champion for fellow septuagenarians — last night gave the James Cameron Memorial Lecture to a large audience at London’s City University. Her title was ‘The Keeper of the Flame: morality and the media’, which gave her plenty of opportunity to decry the fall in standards in public broadcasting, as well as reminding us that the BBC’s Lord Reith was himself a rather dogmatic, crusty old fart (not her phrase). Nonetheless, the core mission he established for the Corporation — to educate, inform and entertain — remains a sound one of which current BBC management would well benefit from reminding themselves. A central thesis of Joan Bakewell’s elegant and beautifully-delivered lecture was that the BBC’s moral purpose has been compromised by the modern emphasis on ratings and cost-cutting. Programme budgets continue to be slashed, though not top executives’ salary packages. While not new, Joan’s contention that the rot set in with Duke Hussey’s dismissal of Alistair Milne and his replacement by John Birt and Birtism in the mid-1980s, that is a point constantly worth making. It may be unrealistic to look back to some supposed Golden Age of Broadcasting (as Joan correctly said, some of the programmes of the 1950s and 1960s were technically pretty awful), but it is true that there has been dumbing down, Arts and Culuture are no longer given the weight that they had before and the level of bad language and bad behaviour on air is enough to make Lord Reith spin in his grave.