Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The strange phenomenon that is Nigella Express has also disturbed Jim Shelley. The show is an easy target because it's absurd, grotesque and, not to put to fine a point on it, bad. Somebody at the BBC thought it was a good idea to turn the poor woman into a slurping, slavering clown. Meanwhile, somebody else at the BBC thought it was a good idea to make James May look like an idiot. May made his TV name as the best informed of the Top Gear presenters - he's the one who knows that a certain Cadillac is really a Saab. He has a certain indefinable presence which is not that of the mere lad, but something more inward. He plainly cares about something, though it is not clear what. Ignoring all such nuances, the BBC gave him a show with Oz Clarke in which they drive around California in a big bus drinking wine. It makes no sense, it's desperately unfunny and Clarke and May plainly dislike each other. It doesn't even achieve the grotesque comedy of Nigella. Such sloppy, ill-conceived shows - there have been many others - have begun to convince me that it is time to rethink my support of the BBC. This strange entity exists because of 'market failure' - a free broadcasting market would not result in certain standards being maintained so we agree to pay for a broadcaster with a special tax. But 'market failure' would only demand one TV channel and one radio station. So the BBC justifies its vast size by saying it exists not just to provide programmes that wouldn't otherwise exist but also to produce high quality versions of programme types that are available elsewhere - game, cooking, car shows, soap operas whatever. Clearly this second argument would place no logical limit on the size of the BBC. I have always gone along with this on the basis that, though the second leg of its justification is pretty wobbly, losing large parts of the BBC would, on the whole, make things worse. But the second leg depends on the BBC's ability consistently to make higher quality shows than the opposition. Increasingly, this isn't happening. Its schedules are heavy with dross. The second leg is buckling and, meanwhile, the corporation seems to be as enmired in phone-in and fakery scandals as everybody else. Is it time to cut the licence fee by 80 per cent and reduce the BBC to one TV channel - BBC2 - one radio station - an amalgam of Radios 3 and 4 - and, perhaps, a web presence? I am beginning to think so.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:57 am