In its unceasing attempt to titillate the masses at their own expense, the BBC is looking for people who are suffering from an attention-seeking illness, possibly Munchhausen’s syndrome but anything similar will do.
Following the popular appeal of the dreadful learner driver, the awful woman who hogged the camera on the cruise ship, and the ghastly traffic warden, the Corporation’s eye swivels across the nation in search of more modern Brits upon whom to bestow a few minutes of fame in return for satisfying the peephole curiosity in the rest of us.
Next in line, if all goes according to plan, are a bunch of as yet unknown citizens whose souls burn with a deep sense of hurt and rejection, people who strove to be a cut above but found themselves cut down.
Nestling in the personal columns of a national newspaper, between Articles for Sale and Charities, lies the following: “Have you been refused membership to a Private Club? BBC Documentaries would be interested to talk to you. Please call Min Clough on 0181 752 6401.”
Funny old world, isn’t it? To think that somewhere in Greater London a person of indeterminate sex with the unlikely name of Min Clough sits idly sucking on the first of the day’s gaspers and staring moodily into the first of the day’s paper cups of near-coffee, waiting for the phone to jangle into life.
It’s a bit like fishing, really. You bait your hook, cast your line, and wait for a bite. If Min gets lucky, he or she could land a big one. An Athenaeum reject, say. Or someone blackballed by the Garrick. On a bad day, Min could sit by the phone for hours on end and get nothing more than a nibble from a pensioner slighted by the Cockfosters Bowls Club.
What do you suppose BBC Documentaries is up to? The most likely answer is “no good”. In this age of egalitarianism and political correctness, both of which credos infest the BBC like lice, there is something inherently distasteful in the very notion of a private club. The obverse of privacy is exclusion, and that is a very bad thing. In a society striving to be caring, compassionate and forever counselling, it is profoundly offensive to pass judgement on others and to reject them without explanation.
Fortunately for Min, it’s possible to hate both the people who are members of private clubs and those who wish to become members. For if it is a nasty thing to want to form an exclusive coterie, it is just as unpleasant to want to be part of it. There seems a fair chance, then, that Min’s trawling in the murky waters will yield up some unpleasant specimens on both sides. In which case, viewers may luxuriate in the spectacle of snobbery getting a black eye at the hands of snobbery. And an aggrieved and wounded snob can be relied upon to make a fool of himself in front of the camera, the greatest prize of all in the eyes of the documentary producer.
So anyone who has seen the BBC’s small ad and has indeed been refused membership by a private club would be well advised not to succumb to the siren call of Min Clough. The BBC is not an agent of revenge, still less a means of attaining justice. It is an engine which sucks in the vain, the unknowing, and the gullible and spews them on to the screen to satisfy the voyeuristic urge of the rabble.
However, it’s good to see the corporation recognising the power of advertising, even if its commercials on its own behalf are less than truthful. For instance, take the slogan that you and I make the BBC what it is. I can’t speak for you, but, if I had a say in what the BBC is, Esther Ranzten would be out on her ear for a start.
Ideally, my dream reconstruction of the Beeb would be like a scene from a Western movie. The camera pans down Main Street, Tombstone, and stops outside the Silver Nugget saloon. From within, the sounds are of splintering furniture, shattering glass, and murderous mayhem. The twin louvred doors fly open and out staggers Noel Edmonds. He spins around a few times and collapses on to the dirt sidewalk. The sickening crunch of knuckle on jaw heralds the airborne exit of Loyd Grossman, followed, like sacks being thrown from a van, by David Frost, Angus Deayton and some EastEnders.
At length, when the dust settles and the din abates, the huddled citizenry gawp at a steaming heap of bruised, comatose and twitching bodies. Somewhere in the pile are David Mellor, Anne Robinson, Kilroy, Wogan, Ainsley Harriott, Carol Smillie, Sue Lawley and – a pity this – Carol Vorderman. Suddenly, there is silence. All eyes turn to the saloon doors. They swing slowly apart to reveal two bloody and bruised figures, leaning on each other, their clothes in shreds. They shuffle a few paces forward. Their eyes roll heavenward, their jaws slacken, and they fall as one on to the heaped carnage. A woman screams. Each of the men has a knife between the shoulder blades. Alan Yentob and John Birt are no more. It’s no way to treat the members of a private club.