Classic Comedy

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By Derek Bateman
 
W1A was the comedy based on the BBC in London. My old chums at BBC Scotland are clearly going for their own version – PQ – having screwed up their radio schedules to drop – yet another – popular programme and then replacing it by offering a contract to someone entirely unsuitable and then dropping her too.

That looks to me like making a big mistake first and then wheedling a way out. If this was Kezia’s idea to pull out, it doesn’t sound as if the BBC made herculean efforts to retain her. Put another way, it implies they’re happy to wash their hands of her, after realising too late that there’s, there’s…an election on.

By Derek Bateman
 
W1A was the comedy based on the BBC in London. My old chums at BBC Scotland are clearly going for their own version – PQ – having screwed up their radio schedules to drop – yet another – popular programme and then replacing it by offering a contract to someone entirely unsuitable and then dropping her too.

That looks to me like making a big mistake first and then wheedling a way out. If this was Kezia’s idea to pull out, it doesn’t sound as if the BBC made herculean efforts to retain her. Put another way, it implies they’re happy to wash their hands of her, after realising too late that there’s, there’s…an election on.

The idea she herself is promoting that nothing was signed or sealed is bogus. BBC Radio Scotland wouldn’t offer a written contract for this type of gig. That would imply professionalism, or someone capable of drawing up a contract. It would simply be agreed that she would do it, how much she would receive – nominal, I’d say, £100 at most – and the ‘deal was done’.

She wouldn’t be asked to sign something because the BBC writes down as little as possible in case it has actually to meet its contractual arrangements. And if you give someone a contract they take it away and let their lawyer check it over – can’t have that.

Their own staff are treated the same way. There are pay grades like in the Civil Service on which the BBC is based. But if you’re a BJ, that is a Broadcast Journalist doing the basic job and on the basic salary, they will still entice you to do presenting shifts when they’re short-handed and you do because that’s the glamour end of the business. (Hard to believe when you look at the picture at the top of this page, eh?). So many a BJ has worked their socks off doing all hours as a presenter but never received a bean in extra pay. It’s called exploitation. If I remember correctly that’s exactly what happened to Ruth Davidson at BBC Scotland before she was unveiled as an Evil Tory.

Once Kezia’s name appears in radio times, it’s been agreed she’ll do it and plans are well in hand. I understand she and Andrew did a pilot show last Sunday. That’s where they get into a real studio, get used to the kit, run through a ‘real time’ programme and then do a debrief to see what works and what doesn’t.

It’s at that point, you will know, in your heart of hearts, if you feel happy you can do it, or not. Suddenly when the studio lights go red and mic lights turn green and the faces through the glass are all trained on you and someone says in your ear… ‘Speak, Kezia! Let’s hear you…’

All the three-minute interviews and question time contests you’ve done then seem very small and easy, when you can put on your professional politician’s voice and look stern. This is different. Now you’re running the show, using your voice to reach out to an audience from Yell to Yetholm hanging on your every word. You must read script, answer your co-presenter, challenge him back with wit and verve, use correct language, take producer instructions AND remember your political positions. There is no hiding place.

I think it was nuts to hire a serving politician during a pending period but my bottom line on broadcasting is the same as my line on comedy. Everything and anything can be a subject for comedy – so long as it’s funny. That’s the one golden rule and then you can tell jokes about my mum.

In this case, if they got a serving politician and one other and if they made sparks and if it was unmissable dialogue and genius radio then frankly, I don’t care who they hire. And if it did work, the BBC rules would be quietly forgotten. (They have one about BBC staff not commenting on BBC policy in public. But when Scottish management wanted a Scottish Six, a whole group of us presenters were allowed by management to write a letter for publication to the Guardian backing them. I did a column for the Record and got paid – with BBC management approval, breaching their own rules.)

But here it looks like someone, and it has to be John Boothman, grabbed at the idea – possibly recommended by Andrew Wilson – and went ahead without running it past the people paid to adjudicate on policy. This should have gone all the way up to Ric Bailey, chief adviser on politics before it was ever near public knowledge and it may be it finally did reach him and explains why it’s not going ahead.

Four days before launch is not the time to find out a presenter doesn’t want to do it. This is local radio behaviour, not national broadcaster territory. Will the list of idiotic self-inflicted errors get even longer?

I watch some brilliant television produced in Scotland nowadays – the David Hayman Clyde ships series was excellent and I loved the Bannockburn investigation, both big budgets, top presenters and great graphics. But there is a deep malaise in news and current affairs. Angus Roxburgh wrote about it in the New Statesman this week.

I have come to think that Jim Naughtie genuinely thinks he is being impartial on air. His compass is so skewed from a lifetime in London that he is like John Major – utterly incapable of imagining a different Scotland, one that is modern, outward-looking, European, green, fair and prosperous, as if that’s not our role in life.

I’ve written before about some ‘exiles’ who seem to resent any improvement in the country they left as if the unchanging mundanity of Scotland was the validation of their move away. And when they see real progress made at home, they resent it as if saying: ‘Hang on, if you get better and better I can’t justify leaving so easily. I need vindication by coming home and laughing at you/patronising you…’

I got a glimpse of this last night with Sarah Smith who seemed infuriated, Kirsty Wark-style, that Kenny Gibson wouldn’t admit that Scotland would have less power over interest rates if independent. She was exasperated that he wouldn’t accept that having a few dozen backbench MPs in Westminster somehow amounted to influence over the Bank of England on interest rates. She should simply have shouted: ‘But that’s the status quo. What’s wrong with it?!’

Doesn’t she understand that Scotland has absolutely no influence now? The whole point about our economy is that it is run for the City of London and we get their interest rates. Anybody disagree? With independence, there isn’t less influence, there is still none but we do have all the other levers of economic decision-making. And there may be a Scottish representative on the MPC.

It sounded very metropolitan to me – the London-minded Scottish elite puzzled why the rest of us are so worked up. Wouldn’t it be great to hear better politics on radio? I’ve given up doing BBC-style interviewing. I’m more interested in what my guests actually think. If you do it right, it can be illuminating. Not laugh-a-minute, zippy zoo radio but thoughtful, urging speakers to get out what they’re really thinking.

I’ll be talking referendum with a socialist and a Labour man – and having a rant at the extra-powers merchants – at batemanbroadcasting.com rom tomorrow night. Have a listen. There’s no sign of Kezia…