Navigating a deserted BBC

Navigating a deserted BBC


norman lebrecht

August 04, 2020

I was on Front Row last night, talking about Leon Fleisher. You can relisten to the interview here.

It was the first time in six months that I had entered Broadcasting House and the shock was considerable.

Open-plan editorial floors, normally buzzing with ideas, were deserted as far as the eye could see. The lifts, once crowded, were restricted to one person at a time. The FR team consisted of one presenter, one producer, one studio manager.

I was placed in the studio ten paces away from the presenter, behind a different table, to avoid risk of contamination.

And the floors were filthy, as if no cleaner had attended in weeks.

But the show goes on, maintaining its nightly enthusiasm for the arts in the most trying of circumstances.

That’s a great achievement. We’d be lost without it.




  • lambrusco says:

    What is Front Row? listened to the BBC for years but never encountered this out of the way output that obviously is so important… next time go with a mop and a fogging machine.

    • V. Lind says:

      Ever hit the Schedule link? It’s no secret. Five evenings a week at 7:30, whenever you like online, is hardly a mystery.

      As a devotee of BBC radio, especially drama and some of the discussion programmes, like this and Moral Maze, I wonder what else you are missing. I live in Canada and get it online, and am thoroughly familiar with radio 4, 4 Extra, 3, Radio Scotland, Five Live. I am less good on Radio One and Two, though they are worth a look at occasionally.

      Meanwhile, I find it a little surprising to see NL lamenting a reduced-staff BBC when it seems to me he has been calling for one for years. However, it is good to see him praise it at all, though the praise does seem coincident with his having been invited on. As the programme is usually very god, though, I will assume he is a regular listener, unlike you.

  • Doug says:

    To me this is just another example of the fear that the government media has successfully spread and the mass flocks of sheep more than willing to comply. Just look at the vehemence into which the sheep launch responding to this. It’s not about science, it’s about a belief, a RELIGION.

    “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

    • M.Arnold says:

      Another absurd remark from a arrogant religionist! Talk about “sheep” and “believing in anything”. That’s what religion is.
      “Fear of power invisible, feigned by the mind or imagined from tales, publicly allowed is religion; not allowed, superstition.”
      Thomas Hobbes

    • Allen says:

      I’ve met quite a few people who are capable of believing in God, and everything. They’re not mutually exclusive.

      “Gullible” might be a bit strong as a generalisation, but it certainly applies in some instances.

  • Andrew says:

    Probably just as well that the BBC corridors aren’t buzzing. Many of us have just cancelled our TV Licence, disgusted by what the BBC has become.

    • V. Lind says:

      What’s that? In disagreement with your perpetually nasty worldview?

      • Andrew says:

        Says the BBC freeloader from Canada. Some of us have been paying for this stuff.

        • V. Lind says:

          I don’t have access to BBC TV, which is what I believe you pay for — isn’t it a television licence?

          Using the internet is not “freeloading.” Don’t be absurd. You are entitled to your opinions, unlovable as they may be, but not to making up what you may think of as facts.

          • Andrew says:

            The BBC Radio and Internet offering is also funded by the TV Licence (the separate radio licence was axed years ago). You pay nothing.

    • Stephen Maddock says:

      That’s a strange boast for someone who is presumably interested in classical music (as you’re visiting this site).

      What is it about the BBC that so disgusts you? And do you not consider its five orchestras, Radio 3 and the Proms worthy of your support?

      • Allen says:

        For starters, ask the BBC why it refuses to publish the Balen Report.

      • Maria says:

        Not to mention the wonderful World Service. Worth paying for that. Loved it fiir years when I’ve been weeks in East and Central Africa.

      • Andrew says:

        Well, as you kindly asked… I’m disgusted by its woke politics, its biased news service, its denegration of anything British, its vast salaries, its covering up of paedophilia (Savile, et al), its low artistic standards, its dreadful dramas, its hatred of the indigenous working class, its promotion of abortion, its sneering at America, its pro-EU campaigning (against its charter), its regressive funding model that penalises poor people to pay for others’ entertainment. It is a terrible organisation that, admittedly, occasionally plays some nice tunes but spends most of its time trying to seed discontent and strife for all outside of its monothink bubble. It is not a force for good.

        • Stephen Maddock says:

          Thanks for explaining, Andrew. If that is your political world view you will find plenty to support those prejudices in other British media, including the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, as well as plenty of tv and radio (including programmes on the BBC).

          But really, when does the BBC display a hatred of the indigenous (interesting choice of word) working class? Yes there are some poor dramas but also some which are magnificent. Have you seen Line of Duty, Wolf Hall, Peaky Blinders or Sherlock, to pick a few at random? Low artistic standards – in what field, and compared with what other organisations? When does the BBC promote abortion? Denigration of anything British – you know it’s the BBC that promotes and organises the Last Night of the Proms? Have you ever watched its sports coverage when a Brit is involved?

          The BBC isn’t perfect, and never was. But it still produces lots that is magnificent, and as a nation we’d be far poorer without it.

          • Allen says:

            Come off it, even people who are not politically aware are commenting on the lack of diversity of opinion in its discussions and debates. Then there is the refusal to give serious coverage to issues such as grooming in Rotherham (1400+ victims!) and elsewhere, and slavery in Leicester. Whatever happened to investigative journalism?

            This used to be the sole preserve of a couple of websites opposed to BBC bias, now it is everywhere. You need to face it, the BBC in its current form is on its way out.

            Interesting that you regard dissenting views as “prejudices”. Very telling and very BBC.

          • V. Lind says:

            A much more balanced response. In particular, it is hard to fault the BBC drama, especially in comparison to that of others across the board. Living in Canada I see lots — aside from producing our own, some of which is actually good, we have universal access to American and a lot of access to British — from all sources — and Australian, as well as some NZ, some European, etc.

            Often when watching BBC dramas I am impressed by how very much they DO emphasise British values. Shows like Call the Midwife and Father Brown, both long-running, don’t preach despite having vaguely religious settings, but in their quiet demonstrations of how people live take me back to the Britain of my childhood in a quiet village. Watching reruns of Miss Marple remind me of a time when people went to Evensong and met in the village on more or less a daily basis and helped each other out. (If COVID-29 has shown us anything, it is that in many places, that still exists).

            I recently watched The Salisbury Poisonings, an excellent and rather timely dramatisation of a fairly recent incident. And I love to rewatch Spooks, which shows a less romanticised side of the UK than the series I chose above. But which one of Canada’s foremost TV producers told me years ago was her “appointment television,” when it was new.

            Nobody covers a Royal wedding better than the BBC, but nobody does a Royal takedown, when warranted, better than Emily Maitlis’ unvarnished interview with the Duke of York.

            I don’t see much of TV news — the odd special event programme seems to turn up on YouTube and the Beeb itself goes live to the colonies when there is an election, referendum, etc.– but I hear some radio news and it does not strike me as particularly unfair. But I can’t comment on TV, which is what some of the licence-payers seem to object to.

            But on the whole, I find criticism of the BBC product to be very subjective and very misplaced. I hope you find your alternatives satisfactory.

          • Jo says:

            An episode of the BBC’s series ‘Bonekickers’ featured the
            beheading of a peaceful Muslim man by a group of Christian fanatics. Can you imagine BBC drama reflecting a more realistic beheading scenario? I can’t.

            At the time, even the Guardian considered this a bizarre step too far.

            There’s no shortage of examples of this kind of dross which people, including the over 75s, will soon be obliged to pay for. This step will be the BBC’s undoing.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    I love the BBC.
    I catch the world news summary every morning on my local NPR FM station, and many other programs, musical or otherwise, on my internet radio.
    The news programs especially are blessedly lacking the partisan hysteria of US news programs both leftist and rightist.
    Long live Auntie Beeb!

    • Allen says:

      “The news programs especially are blessedly lacking the partisan hysteria of US news programs both leftist and rightist.”

      One of the most respected TV newsreaders and journalists in the UK was Trevor McDonald, now retired. His delivery was certainly lacking in “partisan hysteria”, but from 1973 he worked for ITN, not the BBC.

      Dare I suggest that the difference in style is a UK/US thing, and not a unique virtue of the BBC?

      In other respects, I think US television produces some outstanding programmes even though, as a US friend once pointed out, “you only get the good stuff”. But then maybe that works for the BBC in the US as well.

      • V. Lind says:

        Believe me, as someone who keeps up with the offerings of both UK and US TV, there is much less dross produced in the UK (though certainly there is some) and much less quality TV produced in the US.

        The dumbed-down aesthetic of the US is paramount. Quality TV all too often founders for lack of support.

        • Allen says:

          I don’t want to start a US bashing thread. I think we need to remember that the size of the US offers huge opportunities for outdoor leisure, especially where the climate is attractive. I understand that you are in cooler Canada. I know Saskatoon and I am always struck by the wide range of indoor opportunities available to keep people sane at -20 degrees (when they’re not cross country skiing).

          The UK is quite small, and the weather is cooler overall and unpredictable. As a consequence, perhaps indoor entertainment like TV is of greater importance.

          I know that there are 100 things wrong with this suggestion, and it doesn’t explain why opera flourished in much warmer Italy, but I think we need to remember that countries have different priorites.

          I think I’m regretting posting this comment already.