May the farce be with you

Greg Dyke emerged victorious from the Channel 5 franchise contest. So what treats are in store for us now?

Great wealth bestows many benefits – security, independence, physical comfort – but dignity is not among them, as Greg Dyke discovered the other day.

Dyke, who made 5m from cashing in share options in LWT, emerged, to the surprise of many, as head of the winning consortium in the competition to run Britain’s fifth and final terrestrial television channel. He and fellow executives are reported to have punched the air and hugged each other when news of their victory emerged from the fax machine.

It seems quite likely that they did indeed react as though one of their number had scored a blinding goal from 30 yards out, since Dyke was later photographed hosing down his office with a bottle of champagne, a form of celebration favoured by professional sportsmen but frowned on by those who hold that wine is for drinking.

The head of Channel 5 is not, then, a stuffed shirt who takes himself too seriously, a state of mind that must have served him well when news of his victory was reported. “Shock as Roland Rat man wins TV station with 22 million”, screamed the London Evening Standard, reminding us that it was indeed Dyke who sent the puppet rat to the rescue of the sinking ship TV-am (RIP).

When one has 5m in the bank and stands at the head of a TV empire in the making, there must, however modest one’s nature, be a temptation to stand before the mirror and see reflected the faint outline of a Bonaparte. How humbling, then, to discover that the image haunting you for all eternity is that of a stuffed rodent with a Black Country accent.

In truth nothing could be more fitting. For what is more absurd than the British ritual which decrees that the title to run television should be determined behind closed doors by a quango? These occasions invariably signal the outpouring of much cant, usually concerning the requirement to provide “high quality programming”. That the outcome is inevitably more of the same old rubbish is forgotten or conveniently passed over when the licences are duly allocated and the programmes broadcast.

Independent Television Commission chairman Sir George Russell averred that “a great responsibility” had passed to Channel 5 Broadcasting. Much had been promised. “The promise must be delivered,” intoned the quango man. “We shall be watching carefully to see that it is.”

It transpires that this great and onerous responsibility is to be discharged by providing, among other things, a nightly soap by the company that makes Neighbours, and repeats of Minder and Dallas.

Predictably, there is a right-on element in the dummy schedule including minority sports, women’s programming, multi-faith religious broadcasting, and news that “highlights environmental issues”.

After 11pm Dyke proposes to offer “some fairly innovative stuff, some of which will be quite offensive”. I will bet you a penny to a pinch of something offensive that the people whom Dyke proposes to offend are the dear old middle classes. When someone such as he says: “I’m a believer in pushing back boundaries,” it’s always the privet hedges of Middle England that he has in mind. If there is genuine merit in causing offence, its benefits should be spread evenly, and, heaven knows the potential is there. Gays, lesbians, blacks, Jews, feminists – all are known for an outstanding propensity for being offended.

Unlike Virginia Bottomley, I do not look forward to the new channel’s broadcasts. I shall not be watching it any more than I watch any of the others, which is seldom. I shall, however, have to keep an eye out for a brigade of specially trained re-tuners sent to adjust my cobwebbed video recorder. Channel 5 will broadcast on the same frequency as videos and satellite receivers in 4 million homes, hence the army of retired and redundant BT employees sent to adjust equipment in the affected areas.

We shall know them when we see them. Each will carry a manual, a screwdriver, and a special re-tuning device whose appearance remains a mystery. Each re-tuner will have an identity badge, a Channel 5 jacket, and a Channel 5 bag. Inside the bag will be the manual, the screwdriver, the device, some sandwiches, a copy of The Sun, a tin of Old Holborn and a packet of Rizla greens.

Should an impostor gain access, the re-tuners in that area will switch jackets to an alternative design and use a different identity badge. Householders will be informed of the change in uniform, but, for security reasons, impostors will not. This arrangement satisfied the quango, and played a significant part in determining which applicant won the franchise. Re-tuning plans, said the ITC, declaring the farce open, were as important as programming proposals.

Small wonder that Roland Rat Man emerged victorious. He must be grateful that Mickey Mouse was not among the contenders.

Dyke has a beard. It is impossible to take men with beards seriously. It’s the same with bow ties. When chief inspector of prisons

Judge Tumin warns that we are on the road to concentration camps, his message is rendered nugatory by the spotted item round his neck.

Another bidder for Channel 5, Richard Branson, wears a beard. Thus, the ITC chose the lesser of two beards.

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