Letters: How the BBC came adrift from its Reithian founding principles

The outside of Broadcasting House - VICKIE FLORES/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
The outside of Broadcasting House - VICKIE FLORES/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

SIR – When I joined the BBC in the 1960s, the Reithian principles of public service, probity and equal consideration of all views were drummed into us, along with our ethical responsibilities towards listeners and viewers. It took years to move up the ladder from production assistant to programme editor, but those standards never wavered.

In the mid-1990s, however, experienced producers such as myself were quietly made redundant: too old and expensive for the new age of youth-focused programming. Talented journalists and directors saw any chance of progression dashed as in-depth documentaries and current affairs programmes disappeared.

Television journalism became sloppy and partisan. Gone were the days of objective and informed debate. The case of Martin Bashir and Princess Diana, where deliberate deception was involved, is (I hope) rare, but the BBC’s ethical standards have been found wanting for the past two decades. In 2003 there was the “outing” of Dr David Kelly; in 2007 we had the fake Blue Peter competition; in 2008 there was the Russell Brand Show’s “prank” telephone call to Andrew Sachs; and in 2014, there was the live coverage of a police raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s home.

Most of these cases did not involve deceit, but they show a worrying absence of editorial oversight. I feel less than hopeful about the future of a BBC that I was so proud to be part of.

Carol Jones
Honiton, Devon

SIR – There have been suggestions that Princess Diana would have given an interview even without Mr Bashir’s appalling deception.

This may be true, but the way that the deception would have hardened her resolve to speak out more boldly, based on her understanding of a fraudulent premise, was surely a significant factor in the awful turn of events. Mr Bashir and the BBC should be ashamed.

Quentin Skinner
Warminster, Wiltshire

SIR – It is bad news for all of us for the BBC to sustain serious reputational damage, which it manifestly has. Despite its many flaws, its independence and investigative journalism are vital parts of maintaining the checks and balances of a democracy. Some of its antagonists are pretty sinister, so it is a good thing that it is a better-led organisation now than it was 25 years ago.

It is a pity, nonetheless, that Lord Hall’s apologies were so mealy-mouthed. He was probably not wholly responsible for the culture of cover-up, but it would be good if he took a little more responsibility. The key point, however, is that a national broadcaster must not have the culture of a tabloid newspaper. The BBC should seek not to excite its audience, but to inform it calmly and accurately. Chasing ratings and scoops is exactly what it should not be doing. Trust has become an elusive commodity in the 21st century; we must be able to trust the BBC.

Hilary Davan Wetton
Steeple Claydon, Buckinghamshire

Stick to the roadmap

SIR – What is the point of a nationwide vaccination programme, if not to allow a return to normal life – which means, among other things, scrapping social distancing and enforced mask-wearing?

Andrew Hughes

SIR – The Government set June 21 as the earliest – not absolute – date for restrictions to end. While businesses would prefer more certainty, surely it is better to be given an indication of the timescale than to have nothing.

We are hoping to reopen on this date but accept that it is not fixed, and have planned accordingly. Although the vaccination programme has been extremely effective, the Government is right to wait until it has seen the effects of the new variant before removing the final restrictions.

Jonathan Mann
Director, Launceston Steam Railway
Launceston, Cornwall

Resilient red tape

SIR – I was amused by your headline: “Treasury prepares for bonfire of EU red tape” (Business, May 16). It reminded me of David Cameron’s vow to have a “bonfire of the quangos”.

If recent events are anything to go by, Mr Cameron’s quangos proved exceptionally fire-resistant so I hope the Treasury uses a few more fire-lighters to get its blaze going.

Terry Lloyd

Imperial v metric

SIR – Various aspects of SI (metric) and imperial units were discussed in last week’s letters. The previous day, you remarked in an editorial that the French still used the old word livre for a pound weight.

Indeed they do, and the Germans and Austrians have a similar word: pfund. However, these are not really their old pounds but colloquialisms for a half kilogram, so are actually 1.102 lbs. When you are buying potatoes, it’s near enough.

Similarly, anyone who has poured a half-litre bottle of beer into a pint glass will know that, with the head, this is almost exactly what we get in a pub – so, even if we went fully metric, we could still “pop out for a pint”.

But the most surprising example is milk. At the time of the changeover, the dairy lobby complained that it would result in them selling slightly less, so the quantity is pints but the label is in litres. Thus the everyday conversation: “If you are going to the shops, get me 0.568 litres of milk.”

Roger Hannaford
Haddenham, Buckinghamshire

Bath Club memories

SIR – Your feature (May 16) brought back so many memories of learning to swim at the Bath Club that I cannot resist adding to those of Myra, Lady Butter.

She is correct that, before being allowed in the pool, we had to lie on a mat learning the breast stroke movements of “YITX” under the eagle eye of Miss Daly. But it is not correct to refer to the Bath Club as a gentleman’s club. It was very much a family club, and it was my mother who was a member, not my father.

Each year there was a competition at which almost everybody got a prize. In my year the prizes were presented by the then Princess Elizabeth. I often wonder if that was the first of the Queen’s many thousands of public engagements.

Dion Beard
Sunningdale, Berkshire

Face-to-face care

SIR – I struggle to understand why certain areas of the NHS are having difficulty re-establishing face-to-face consultations as the norm.

In my NHS clinic I have found telephone consultations to be of very limited value. Nearly every clinical decision requires a physical examination, so most remote consultations result in a decision to decide later (ie, a face-to-face consultation). This is clearly a waste of time, with obvious consequences for future clinic capacity.

All of our staff are vaccinated. Most of the patients are elderly, and therefore vaccinated, and the majority of younger patients seem happier to attend the clinic than wait any longer than they have already.

We have been seeing emergencies in the flesh throughout the pandemic, so social distancing and other hygiene measures are no longer onerous and the clinic space is set up appropriately despite its small size and the necessity, in ophthalmology, of face-to-face contact (meaning literally that: 30cm, or less, apart). Only we, dentists, ENT surgeons and anaesthetists require such close contact with patients, so if we can do it I am sure others can.

This (modified) normal working required simply offering the patients a physical consultation rather than a phone call. Most accepted. After a month, in my clinic last week all of the appointments were face-to-face.

Most consultations took less time than they would have done over the phone and all resulted in a proper clinical decision being made. One third of patients were put on the surgical waiting list, one third were discharged with treatment or advice and one third required investigation or treatment and a future appointment.

Reverting to these consultations has resulted in a two-thirds reduction in the need for future appointments. Now we just have to address the surgical waiting list.

Neil Rowson
Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon
Burwash, East Sussex

How to act

SIR – The actor Martin Freeman has poured scorn on the school of method acting promulgated by the likes of Marlon Brando many years ago.

When the Hollywood legend Spencer Tracy was asked the secret to being a successful actor, he replied: “Know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.”

Martin Henry
Good Easter, Essex

Why are amateur choirs still being kept silent?

A Village Choir (1847) by the English painter Thomas Webster - bridgeman
A Village Choir (1847) by the English painter Thomas Webster - bridgeman

SIR – Churches across the land are this morning celebrating Pentecost – but despite now being in Stage Three of the Government’s Covid roadmap, they must do so without their choirs.

Guidance published this week – 36 hours after we entered this phase – reduces the number of singers amateur church choirs can include. So, while enclosed gyms can have dozens of panting bodies participating in an exercise class, amateur church choirs – no matter how spaced and how much ventilation is available – are limited to a single group of six people.

Last weekend 10,000 people were at Wembley – many singing – at the FA Cup final, we’re told with no ill effects. Perhaps it’s time for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to be honest and rename itself the Ministry of Football. It clearly has no interest in, understanding of or desire to support the great tradition of choral singing in our parish churches.

Marie Price
Director of Music, Parish of Harpenden

A royal yacht would boost Britain’s morale

SIR – I believe that a new royal yacht, dismissed by Kevin Platt (Letters, May 16) as a “useless floating palace”, would be a boon for trade, diplomacy and the nation’s sense of pride (assuming such a thing is not a crime now).

I would be glad to contribute, as would many other individuals and businesses. It could be our yacht.

Alan Sabatini
Bournemouth, Dorset

SIR – Several recent letters have objected to the idea of the royal yacht being a “fighting ship”, crewed by Royal Navy personnel.

However, one reason for this is that it could then be built in the United Kingdom, thereby giving much needed work to British shipyards. To designate it as anything else would mean putting the vessel out to tender internationally.

Vanessa Arnold
Conisbrough, South Yorkshire

SIR – C A Anderson (Letters, May 16) worries that the royal yacht could end up looking like an oligarch’s super-yacht, but this allows prejudice to overtake fact.

Almost without exception, today’s super-yachts, however owned, represent the most advanced design and engineering, as well as being the most eco-friendly vessels available. Prince Philip of all people would have appreciated this.

John Walker
Cadnam, Hampshire

SIR – C A Anderson is incorrect in saying that the hull of the Royal Yacht Britannia was black.

It is a deep blue. This was personally requested by the Queen, and the colour was subsequently known as Britannia Blue. It does, from a distance, appear black.

Frank McCallum