The posh go to great pains to give us a window to our soul

The public school 諩te that stride TV’s corridors of power have done a great job of dumbing down programmes, so why let the plebs have a go?

Cartoon%20220307The isle is full of noises. Step but a yard into the undergrowth and you are hit by a wall of chirruping, chirping, hooting, cawing, honking, bleating, hissing and clearing of throats. A David Attenborough parting the bushes and peering into the dank recesses would have no difficulty in confirming that these creatures, though varied, are all members of the same genus; they are the lobbyists, subdivided into pressure groups, campaigners, agitators, single-issue fanatics, and variegated nutters.

Like fledglings in a nest, their mouths are perpetually agape, each luridly-hued maw asserting its need, its right, its entitlement to a worm, then another, and another. Every day exotic new species raise their heads and join the clamour. Here’s one I’d not heard of before – TVYP – Television and Young People – the "charitable talent arm of the Edinburgh International Television Festival". It may be new but its behaviour is timeless. To draw attention to itself and to cloak its importuning in credibility it commissions a survey. If the results confirm its prejudice – and it is a law of market research that they usually do – it will publish them to an accompaniment of chirruping, chirping, hooting and so on.

Perhaps because it is new to the game or maybe because of a natural exuberance, TVYP went ahead and proclaimed the findings of its research even though they were not entirely consistent with its chosen item of special pleading, which, as I understand it, is to moan about the lack of proletarians in the higher reaches of television. The survey revealed (by convention they "reveal", evoking images of a veil being whisked aside to disclose something beneath that causes the onlooker to start convulsively) that 56% of senior posts in television management are occupied by people educated at public schools. "Blimey", I hear you say. Or, "Well, I never". Or "I’ll go to the foot of our stairs". But wait, there’s more. The survey goes on to reveal (there’s more than one veil to this horror) that of the next generation of TV leaders 58% were educated in the state sector. "Whew", I hear you say, "that’s all right then". But no, it isn’t. According to Suzy Lambert, director of TVYP, the results point to a "worrying lack of diversity" in the industry. Which shows that with sufficient determination and sense of purpose it’s possible to be worried about almost anything.

Ms Lambert goes on to express a wish, heartfelt no doubt, that the survey will open a debate "on the importance of creating a diverse, creative TV workforce which reflects and represents the TV audience today". Since the code of the Murrays forbids me to deny a lady her wishes, I am honour bound to contribute my ha’porth to the debate. First let me question the necessity, nay advisability, of having a TV workforce that reflects the audience. I call as a witness Dr Johnson who, when asked if he who rules o’er free men should himself be free, replied, "It might as well be ‘who drives fat oxen should himself be fat’".

But let us assume for the sake of argument that the people responsible for deciding what we see on our televisions should be a microcosm of the population at large, what difference would that make? Television long ago ceased to be the product of cultivated minds with a mission to educate, enlighten and explain. It happily and eagerly surrendered to "democratisation" and today reflects with a terrifying accuracy and attention to detail the faces and lives of the viewing public. It is the single achievement of modern TV to hold up a mirror to the face of Caliban.

Bear in mind that this accomplishment is the work of public school boys and girls, well-educated people drawn by and large from solidly middle-class backgrounds. It is to them that we owe the celebration of low life, the exciting estuary English, the strong language, the makeover shows, the cruel and voyeuristic reality programmes, the quizzes, repeats, the juvenile comedies, the gritty dramas, the showbizzy treatment of news and current affairs,the gorblimey school of children’s programming, the phone-in scams – the general assumption, in short, that the viewer is a moron with the attention span of an insect.

I ask you, if all this has been wrought by a public school TV élite, what could be done better by the products of Grange Hill, or, as TV presenters would say, Grine Jill? Television is already the people’s medium, which is why it is so bad. To cavil at the supremely demotic nature of TV, created with such diligence and devotion by those at present in charge, seems to me to smack of base ingratitude. This bird should be denied its worm.


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