This is the anniversary of the greatest moment in the history of the BBC: the heroic ascent of Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square by Blue Peter presenter John Noakes.
— BBC Archive (@BBCArchive) May 30, 2019
I mention it for two reasons. First so you can marvel at this extraordinary throwback to the days before Health n Safety and risk assessment ruined everything. The Seventies were so much more dangerous and exciting: how did any of us get out alive?
Nelson’s Column is 170 feet high and Noakes climbed it using just a metal ladder with no safety ropes. I’ve got sweaty palms just looking at it, especially the bit where Noakes has to negotiate the overhang. Noakes is quite obviously bricking it but because he’s being filmed and because it’s for children’s TV he has to pretend throughout that it’s all a jolly wheeze.
Second, I want to show what we have lost. It really isn’t rose-tinted nostalgia that makes some of us remember a time when the BBC wasn’t wall-to-wall left-wing agitprop. Sure — as David Sedgewick notes in his excellent BBC: Brainwashing Britain — the rot had already begun to set in in the Sixties under its rampantly progressive Director General Sir Hugh Carleton Greene (the kind of intellectual who, as Orwell said, “would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God Save the King’ than stealing from a poor box”).
But still, you’ll note that at no stage during his courageous ascent does Noakes attempt to give us his thoughts on racism, the Common Market, the Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher, the gender pay gap, or the worrying lack of diversity among the faces looking up from the square hundreds of feet below. He was just a children’s TV presenter, risking his life for not very much money, purely in the interests of putting on a good show and not chickening out.
It was all downhill from then on. Today the BBC is unwatchable.