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Political bias at the BBC? Perish the thought.

January 16, 2021

Roadkill is an average-to-good political drama about a corrupt and adulterous Conservative politician who wants to privatise Britain’s National Health Service, a very touchy subject given the nation’s adulation of our healthcare workers.

No matter that the current government is outsourcing everything it can relating to the coronavirus pandemic, preferably to businesses owned by supporters, who thereby multiply their turnovers and profits many times.

David Hare, who wrote Roadkill, is well known for his scathing “state of the nation” plays. Now, according to The Times, Richard Sharp, whom the government has chosen as the next chairman of the BBC, has his own take on the corporation’s political impartiality, or lack of it. He says about Roadkill:

David Hare as a writer is not considered to be impartial. In producing those four episodes of Roadkill, with Conservative villains, that was a partial view that could influence people in the way they view the Conservative Party.

Well yes, the same could have been said about House of Cards (the British version), featuring a corrupt and murderous Tory politician. Yet I don’t recall anyone at the time complaining about political bias.

More recently, The Thick of It, about a government communications team led by Malcolm Tucker, a foul-mouthed maniac, didn’t lead to complaints about bias against the Labour Party, despite the fact that the central character was said to be inspired by Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s chief of communications.

Presumably we shall still be allowed to laugh at politics and politicians, but under the new regime, if the assumption is that we poor babies are unable to distinguish fact from fiction in “serious” drama, we’re in dangerous territory.

What Mr Sharp, who until recently was a senior partner in Goldman Sachs, seems to have failed to notice is that almost all political drama is biased one way or another. The best playwrights always have a view. That’s why they’re the best.

So if the new chairman believes that the BBC should only show impartial political drama, that suggests that he wants the BBC to avoid the genre altogether. Or perhaps they should include trigger warnings, such as:

This programme contains scenes of sleaze, sexual misconduct, corruption and political bias that some Conservative voters might find distressing.

That should sort it. Otherwise, his BBC could end up being a dreary repository for reality shows, true crime, natural history documentaries, dramas about long-dead monarchs and all the sport that other channels don’t want to show. No room for Berthold Brecht, Sergei Eisenstein or David Hare. Nor, for that matter, for re-runs of I’m Alright Jack (a 50’s classic starring Peter Sellars, pictured above, as a union boss) or the collected wisdom of Alf Garnett, whose every second word would be expunged before we were allowed to re-visit him today. And satire? Heaven forbid.

I hate to say this, but if Mr Sharp’s words haven’t been reported out of context, his chairmanship doesn’t bode well for the inventive, risk-taking side of the BBC, which was already on the wane because of relentless criticism by the corporation’s political masters.

From now onwards, we will probably have to look to other channels for the likes of Cathy Come Home, Our Friends in the North, Edge of Darkness and so forth.

Must stop now. Mrs Brown’s Boys is on. Courtesy of the BBC of course.

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