Friday 30 September 2016

Television: Apologising for the wrong thing

8 The Open (BBC1)
* Newsnight (BBC2)

Published 27/07/2015 | 02:30

Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Cartoon by Jim Cogan

There was a scandalous end to the Open golf, but it wasn't anything that Peter Alliss said, it was what the BBC said - and what they didn't say.

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They apologised for his line about Zach Johnson's wife getting a new kitchen, but then you get the impression that they kind-of enjoy apologising. That there's a certain enthusiasm at executive level for putting out another statement pandering to the few cranks who give a damn about such things.

Indeed, in that executive lingo which has now replaced English as the first language of the corporation, you might say that apologising is "what they do".

And, of course, not only are they apologising to the wrong people, they are apologising for the wrong thing.

They should be deeply embarrassed by the fact that on their watch, the BBC will be losing the Open to Sky Sports.

This is a scandal, a strategic strike against one of the last great symbols of the tradition of public service broadcasting. If you were trying to think of something unique about the BBC, something that they still do that nobody else does, you could always point to this phenomenon, this miracle in terms of modern broadcasting, whereby they cover the Open for four consecutive days, for about twelve hours a day, uninterrupted by advertising or by any other interference - and now they're letting that go.

Not only are they letting it go, they are apologising on behalf of one of its most important contributors on his way out the door - if they were any good, they might have put out their routine apology, but with a large acknowledgement that the coverage of the Open has been one of the towering achievements of the BBC, and that the voice of Peter Alliss has been definitive.

Instead, they seem quite relaxed to be losing all that, to be just another number out there on the digital wasteland, to be finding new things for which they can apologise.

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They won't be apologising to me for having a debate about the Labour Party leadership contest on Newsnight, during which someone compared the party to fans of Millwall FC who say, "nobody likes us but we don't care". They won't be apologising to me when I hear the punchline that "unlike Labour, the Millwall team can still score goals".

I find it utterly inappropriate and deeply offensive that members of the political class should be confusing their own measly performances with something that actually matters to people - but I won't be demanding that apology this time, because there was also much to savour here.

Indeed, this leadership contest is turning Newsnight into a regular source of light comedy, based on the premise that one of the candidates, Jeremy Corbyn, actually has left-wing views.

In fact, Corbyn is a kind of living cartoon, a fantastically boring man who has been to too many meetings with other fantastically boring men, who is so unelectable he doesn't even seem to realise that having his picture taken with his old mates in IRA/Sinn Fein might not be the smart play for a party trying to win a few seats next time.

But he carries on anyway, because he knows no other way, and here the comedy really starts - in some polls he is leading the contest, with dark suggestions that Tories are actually joining the Labour Party to vote for Corbyn.

In the higher echelons of Labour, there is, of course, total consternation, the energy which has driven many a classic English sitcom. These people in theory are supposed to have vaguely left-wing beliefs, but like any other Labour Party these days, they have no beliefs, only ambitions.

And if beardy old Corbyn somehow wins this thing, clearly all those ambitions are dead, because no-one will vote for them for about a thousand years.

And so they come, the ambitious lawyers and those who have ambitions to be ambitious lawyers, urging the Party to be sensible, to pull back from the ultimate insanity of a Labour Party led by a man of the Left.

They even threw Tony Blair at it, Blair the ambitious lawyer that the other ambitious lawyers call the Lord Chancellor. And Blair said that if your heart is with Corbyn, "get a transplant". Such a poor line.

But oh, how they laughed.

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