As a sacrificial lamb, Charlie Dimmock weighs in at above the average, and, though it is doubtless ungallant to say so, lacks the cuddly appeal of the immature ovine. Such shortcomings notwithstanding, she is to be prodded to the abattoir alongside her Ground Force companion Tommy Walsh, whose bovine qualities are beyond question. Life for the armchair gardener will never be the same again.
No more will Charlie’s untrammelled bosom stir the senses of the slothful male whose enthusiasm for his blessed plot extends no further than pushing a lawnmower on Sunday morning; no more will his spouse thrill to Tommy’s brawny wielding of spirit-level and power drill; no more will dreamers dream of an unkempt patch of rubbish-strewn wasteland transformed into a sequestered Eden in two days flat. No more will we sit on the edge of our seats, biting our fingernails as the moment of the “reveal” nears.
We’ve seen the innocent householder sent away for the weekend on some lame pretext, not knowing that her mud patch has in her absence become a stage on which Charlie and Tommy can play to the gallery, luxuriating in their own jokes and joshing antics. But will the homecoming bird like what she sees? Of course she will! She uncovers her eyes, gasps with mock astonishment, surveys the decking, bamboo plants and fitfully bubbling water feature and breathlessly pronounces it all to be brilliant and fantastic. Another triumph for Charlie and Tommy. Another piece in the mosaic the BBC is pleased to call public service broadcasting.
Or rather was. That changed last week with the publication of the Government’s Green Paper on the future of the BBC. Much thought and effort had gone into this piece of work. Lord Burns had laboured and pondered on his government review of the BBC Charter; the corporation’s chairman, Michael Grade, had applied his mind to this and that; and culture secretary Tessa Jowell, who, being both preposterous and unnecessary, uniquely matches the department over which she presides, had deliberated. All were agreed: Ground Force would have to go.
And that, my friends, was that. Nothing else at the BBC is to change. The licence fee will continue to be exacted by force as usual; the board of governors will be reincarnated as a Trust, a first in human cloning; and the BBC’s television programmes will continue to comprise hour after hour of popular rubbish.
But what, I hear you say, of Ms Jowell’s insistence that henceforth the BBC must strive for quality, or else? What indeed. The corporation will continue just as it has done, for the simple reason that it cannot do any better. Why? Because the very notion of quality has ceased to have any relevance.
Quality demands standards and the only people for whom standards continue to have importance are the middle classes, but they are despised by the liberal-left intelligentsia whose views have long constituted the orthodoxy. There is nothing new in this: the bourgeoisie have always been held in contempt by the intelligentsia. The BBC’s Reithian era was the last gasp of the post-war bourgeois ascendancy, doomed to fall beneath the onward rush of populism that has become known as dumbing down. The liberal Left exulted in this transformation of standards and did everything they could to foster it. Their watchword was – still is – equality. All differences of sex, race, intelligence and ability are denied. From that it follows that differences in taste and preference are also meaningless. In a Utopia where all are equal everything is equally “valid”.
The former chairman of the BBC, Gavyn Davies, expressed this view with commendable honesty. Criticism that the BBC was dumbing down came, he said, from white, middle-class, middle-aged Home Counties audiences who were determined to hijack even more of the BBC’s services for their own consumption.
“The Asian teenager on the streets of Manchester has just as much right to be heard, and to be served, as a member of the House of Lords in Westminster,” said Davies. He did not say, of course, that the same demanding, stimulating drama or documentary, not to mention grown-up current affairs coverage, might appeal to both.
Davies was expressing a view that is axiomatic among intellectuals: it is that the middle class, in professing to value some aspects of culture above others, are being “elitist”. The answer is to make TV programmes, literature, art, museums, and anything else you care to think of, more “relevant” and “accessible” while at the same time disparaging any alleged distinction between high and low culture. When the ordinary and the banal are celebrated, there is nothing to choose between the chavs and the chav-nots. The former culture secretary, Chris Smith, memorably said George Benjamin and Noel Gallagher were both “musicians of the first rank”. By the same token, Descartes and Janet Street-Porter are both thinkers of the first rank, and Gertrude Jekyll and Charlie Dimmock are both gardeners of the first rank.
When nothing is better than anything else, what meaning can be attached to quality? That is why nothing will change either at the BBC or in the mind of Tessa Jowell – both are beholden to mediocrity. Ground Force, however, had to go. But not to worry, in its place a million weeds will sprout.v