It’s a disquieting experience to see your hobby horses break free and gallop off in all directions, but that is what has happened to this column.
Almost a year ago, you might have read here of Min Clough, a BBC researcher, who had advertised for anyone refused membership of a private club to get in touch quickly. A few months later, I followed that up with the story of Michael, another BBC researcher, who “desperately” wanted to hear from anyone who had been jilted.
Each of these wretched souls earned their pittance from supplying human fodder for the moronic entertainment since dubbed confessional TV. With the prescience and insight for which this column is rightly unregarded, I said: “Michael is plainly teetering at the edge of his nerves. His is not an interest in hearing from people who have been dumped, it is a desperation. He says so himself. And he wants a response as soon as possible. For Michael, time is running out. Should he fail to produce a satisfactory quota of mad women who have cut up their former lovers’ suits and poured paint stripper on to their BMWs, he is for the chop.
“Television is a harsh, demanding world fit only for hardened professionals. Michael should have known that when he applied for the job. Nor is it going to get any easier. The advent of digital TV means a thousand more channels. That’s a thousand more Mins, each chasing a finite quarry of emotional wrecks.”
And so it came to pass. Last week, three researchers on BBC’s morning programme Vanessa were sent home (I hope they were given back their dinner money and their parents informed) after it was revealed that three guests on the previous day’s show had been hired from a kissagram agent. Two strippers acted out the parts of feuding sisters and a former actress and dancer pretended to be a battered wife.
When she heard about the fake guests, Vanessa, who herself has all the can’t-take-your eyes-off fascination of a road traffic accident, was scandalised. She was said to have told friends she was determined to fight for her reputation. Not since the war of Jenkins’ ear has anyone so pointlessly contested such a small and insubstantial item.
The Daily Mail’s analysis of the shocking deceit imposed upon the pitiable brain-dead audience of daytime TV said: “There is tremendous pressure on researchers, often relatively poorly-paid young people… to find outspoken, controversial guests who will make good TV.”
Well, for what it’s worth, you first read it here. And, truth to tell, it isn’t worth much. There is something wonderfully comic in the notion of batteries of desperately overworked researchers barking down the telephone: ” Send me three necrophiliac dwarves, and quick. The kind that can speak up and throw a good left. Yeah, yeah, I got money, just get their arses round here quick. No, they needn’t bring buckets of custard and trouser funnels. This is journalism, not the bloody circus. Oh, by the way, how are you off for child molesters? I want the unrepentant kind, not the mewling snivellers you sent the last time. We’re talking blood here. And be sure they come with wall-eyes. And warts.
“Woddzat, you got six sex-crazed nuns just come in? Nah, ten a penny, Vanessa done them last week. Tell you what, though, bung in a couple of warring lesbian cannibals and we could be talking… “
Had you told Lord Reith – hell, had you told anyone in the BBC not long ago – that the once proud legacy of public service broadcasting – “The best in the world” – would descend into the voyeuristic, second-rate rubbish that is typified by, but by no means confined to, Kilroy and Vanessa, you would have been dismissed as an idiot.
But the idiots are now in charge. And so to the second hobby horse that ran loose last week. Praise be to the historian and one-time director of Times Newspapers, Lord Dacre, who said: “The Times, which was once an organ of high culture is now a perfect example of low culture.” And to the Oxford historian, AH Halsey, who said: “The average person now has five times as much in real terms to spend on his individual gratification as he did in 1900, and you can see dumbing down in every area where there is conspicuous consumption.”
Mass culture is sweeping all before it, which is fine for the masses, but unsettling for the minority of educated, literate, refined, liberal and humane beings who find themselves immersed in something quite alien. It was once possible to lead a civilised existence without coming into contact with proletarian tastes. True, Cockney sparrows were a source of occasional tolerant amusement, but darker forms of low life, such as workers with Black Country accents, were kept well out of sight, like the family idiot.
When there is not an intelligent newspaper to be read, when the BBC is infested from top to bottom by politically correct populists, and when universities are awarding good degrees to people who couldn’t get good A-levels, the standards by which civilisation is measured – reason, intelligence, learning — are under threat.
But as we are trundled to hell in a hand-cart with Vanessa doing the pushing, it’s a comfort to know she has a first in English from Cambridge.