Suppose you were a shareholder in a leading international fast food chain – McDonalds, say – and the company’s new director of products announced that in the nutritional interests of the customers he’d now decided that, for their own good, he was going to take hamburgers off the menu. How do you think you’d feel? And, perhaps more to the point, how long do you think the guy would last as the company’s product director?
The analogy isn’t is as absurd as you’d think because the scenario I’ve just described is pretty much exactly what has happened at the BBC since it appointed a perma-stubbled bien-pensant called Danny Cohen as Director of BBC Television.
You might think that the job of Director of BBC Television would be to ensure that viewers were treated to the highest quality broadcast entertainment: comedy that was funny; dramas that earned the accolade “landmark”; documentaries that were original and insightful and so on.
But Danny Cohen doesn’t quite see it that way.
We know he doesn’t because of his edicts.
One of his first orders when he took charge of BBC1 was to accuse its comedy of being too middle class. He singled out for disapprobation a popular comedy called My Family which may, admittedly, rarely have scaled the heights of Dad’s Army or Blackadder, but which did pull impressively high ratings for a number of seasons, suggesting perhaps that for all its disgraceful middle-classness it was at least something which a lot of people wanted to watch.
Another of his more recent rulings is his ban on all-male panels on comedy panel shows. (A comedian called Jason Manford agreed with this policy, but says it should have been done in secret. If Cohen is trying to instill more political correctness in the world of comedy he is pushing at an open door).
Cohen also, inevitably, agrees with ‘comedian’ Lenny Henry that there should be much more ‘diversity’ on television. (Presumably, he was very jealous that Broadchurch season 2 was an ITV production and not a BBC1, because it featured a court case involving an Indian female judge and a black female defence barrister. In real life, the likelihood of this happening is apparently about 7500 to one. But never mind verisimilitude, eh? It’s the message that counts…)
Then, of course, there are Cohen’s views on Jeremy Clarkson. As white, millionaire middle class public school boys they ought really to get on better than they do. But Cohen is not a fan of Clarkson as he made clear last year at the Edinburgh Festival, with reference to some of the Top Gear frontman’s politically incorrect remarks.
Cohen said: “I was very, very clear in public and in private that I was incredibly unhappy with his language.
“I have made that really clear. Jeremy knows that’s my position and that’s going to impact on the way the show is thought about in the future.
“I talked to loads of people who thought me being so angry about it is an overreaction – I disagree. I don’t think it’s an overreaction.
“He disagrees too, by the way. He doesn’t see a problem with some of the language used – I do.
“I think it’s unacceptable, I’ve made that really really clear to him and we’ll go from there.”
He added: “He feels differently about that than me. But I think it’s very very important that if you think a member of a team including on screen talent does something that’s unacceptable, you tell them.”
Ah yes, “unacceptable”: that marvellously elastic weasel word so beloved by priggish liberal-lefties like Cohen. It masquerades as an objective standard, inviting us to believe that we inhabit a culture where everyone agrees what is “acceptable” and what is “unacceptable.” But what it actually tells is about nothing more than the personal prejudices of the gag-inducingly self-righteous, epically presumptuous, painfully right-on gimp who is using it.
As Richard Littlejohn rightly notes, the things that Cohen finds most unacceptable about Clarkson are that he’s too white, too middle-class and too damned British. This – and not the trivial issue of whether or not he had a “fracas” with one of his producers – is the real reason Clarkson has been suspended.
What Cohen doesn’t seem quite to have twigged is that most of the BBC’s viewers ARE white, middle-class and British and that an awful lot of them are very fond of Jeremy Clarkson. That’s why Top Gear has for years been the BBC’s biggest single money spinner, raking in millions for the corporation (which it is then able to spend on the kind of programmes people like Cohen think we ought to watch, such as the Muslim comedy show Citizen Khan or the adaptation of JK Rowling’s socialist apologia the Casual Vacancy). So by taking Jeremy Clarkson off air Cohen has done the equivalent in the analogy above of deciding to withdraw the Big Mac because he thinks the cheese is a bit synthetic and he doesn’t think much of the (far too white) mayonnaise and gherkins and anyway ground meat is full of cholesterol. The fans all want their Big Mac; but as far as Cohen is concerned they can go stuff themselves (down the road at KFC maybe: or ITV as its known in TV land) because he’s the Big Cheese and they are mere peons who probably crack offensive racist jokes in their spare time.
Only in the warped world of state-funded television could Cohen get away with this. In the private sector he would be judged entirely on his merits: Are you making good programmes? Are people watching them? But because he is at the BBC he is under no such pressure. Indeed, as he’s showed in all those directives above, not only does he feel immune from the need to bring in cash or high ratings but he also feels under no obligation to produce the highest quality programming. If he did, he wouldn’t be muddying the waters of artistic creativity with all that political correct interventionism.
Outside the deluded, precious, liberal-left circles in which people like Cohen move, no one gives a toss how many ethnic minorities or female comedians or disabled people there are on TV. All they want to know is: is this programme any good? If they decide it is they’ll keep watching; if they decide it isn’t they switch to another channel.
If Clarkson were a television programme, they’d keep watching.
If Cohen were a television programme, they’d chuck loads of stuff at the screen, then switch channels to see if there was anything featuring Jeremy Clarkson.
So how come Cohen is the one still with his job and Clarkson is the one who has lost his? It makes no sense. But then, little about the BBC really does.