Before we plunge into the little local difficulty of Newsnight, let’s reflect that 90 years ago about 11,000 people were crowded round their crystal sets listening to the first output of the British Broadcasting Company.
Within a few years the BBC was resisting intense pressure to take the side of the government in the General Strike of 1926. Its correspondents risked life and limb to report the Second World War. After the conflict its radio and television services defined what public service broadcasting was all about when competition from commercial broadcasting arrived. It has been sustained by the licence fee, a method of funding under constant attack, but still supported by the British people.
Its natural history programmes, dramas and documentaries are of the highest quality and much of its investigative journalism has been of the same standard. There has rightly been a lot of criticism of the failure to investigate Jimmy Savile and the serious libel of Lord McAlpine, but it was not so long ago that the BBC exposed the abuse of elderly people in the Winterbourne View Care Home.
So let’s realise what is going on at the moment. The BBC’s commercial enemies are having a field day and some right wing Tories have raised the spectre of funding the BBC by public subscription. Let’s have a whip round for a programme showing us polar bear cubs in their den in the heart of an Arctic winter.
The important question at the moment isn’t “wither the BBC?”, but why does the Corporation, every few years, plunge itself into a major crisis over its journalism?
A lot of people have questioned the structure of the BBC that left the Director General exposed, first to the Commons Select Committee over Savile and then to John Humphrys over McAlpine. George Entwhistle was certainly let down by those who should have kept him informed but I think he just wasn’t up to the job. One of the requirements of being Director General is an ability to prepare for media interviews and give as good as you get.
Some weeks ago I expressed surprise that Entwhistle had conducted a public trial of the editor of Newsnight, Peter Rippon at the Commons Media Select Committee. He was asked ridiculous questions like, “how many paedophiles are there at the BBC”. Entwistle should have said he’d set up inquiries into that and the MP should stop show boating. Instead he looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
Same again after the second Newsnight programme, only this time it was Humphrys kebabing his own boss. The next DG needs to be a man or woman made of sterner stuff. Sadly it looks like a mostly male field now that Caroline Thomson, the BBC’s former chief operating officer has ruled herself out of a second run for the job. My choice would be Tony Hall, the former BBC Director of News.
ALBERT SQUARE CHOP HOUSE, MANCHESTER
If you are familiar with Sam’s Chop House in Leeds or the similar operation in Manchester, then you will be pleased to note that a new addition to the Victorian Chop House Company’s range of eateries has just opened.
Situated just across from the Town Hall, is the newly opened Albert Square Chop House. Ambience is almost as important as good food for me in restaurants and this establishment has both.
The Memorial Hall building dates from 1866 and more recently was the Square Albert pub. The £3.5m refit has been tastefully done, preserving the best features of the Venetian Gothic-style building. In addition to the restaurant there is a private dining boardroom and 100 capacity function room, all handy facilities in the heart of the city.
On the day I was there I was able to sample a fine range of British dishes with mostly locally sourced food and some excellent wines.