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Broadcasting

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th May 1965.

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Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West 12:00 am, 13th May 1965

The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) ventured on to slightly dangerous ground when he attacked, in rather general terms, the Director-General of the B.B.C. Earlier a similar attack was made, commenting on the Director-General's sense of humour when he used the phrase "little bleeders". This was when the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) was talking about "low taste".

The whole debate, gentle in tone as it has been, has been an exercise with one objective. It has been an exercise to secure the maximum amount of time on radio and television as quickly as possible for commercial interests. This is gentle seduction of the innocent. I hate to admit that there are one or two innocents on this side who have been seduced in regard to the question of advertising on B.B.C. and, above all, the development of what is known as a permanent kind of "pop" programme on television and especially on radio. I sometimes wondered whether we were living in cloud-cuckoo-land as I listened to the analysis of the different forms of control and authority, with suggestions made for control over the B.B.C. and I.T.V. This is not a gentle process. Behind it all is the straightforward, grim, hard, businessman.

We were not in fact discussing the central core of television or of radio, which has things to say to us. It talks to us. It gives us music and drama. All that these people were concerned with was methods of control which would allow the hard-faced men who have done well out of "pop" to get an even firmer grip upon it. The sooner we realise that this is what the debate has been about, gentle as the accents have been, the sooner we shall understand the question at issue.

It seems to me that already the pressure which has been building up is having some effect on the Government. I hope that before the night is out my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General will deny reports which have been appearing—for example in The Times and the Sun last week—to the effect that The Government have decided that when the pirate radios are driven off the air by the effects of the legislation they intend to introduce next session, some equivalent programmes must be provided by the B.B.C. The argument is that there is a demand for a form of permanent "pop" programme. Hon. Members opposite are offering to do it for money. There is pressure on the Government and on the B.B.C. to provide this kind of music. I hope that the Postmaster-General will keep in mind his own characterisation when he referred to sounding wallpaper, because the whole of our musical and cultural standards are being degraded on the altar of the great god profit. On these kites in the air I shall want some reassurance before the night is out.

Just as we are getting this kind of accent tonight, we are getting the same kind of accent on the general projection of television. People tend to refer to "our television" and "their television", "our television" being the commercial station. We get this permanent kind of "phoney" projection of being at one with all these nice gentlemen. It is the "phoney" accent of bonhomie, with a kind of popularism behind it.

In this kind of drive by the commercial interests at present and the scampering after it by the B.B.C., which is much more serious, I am reminded of the story of the two young producers who put in front of a more senior producer of the B.B.C. a model of the battleship "Potemkin" in order to remind him of what happened when the ratings got out of control. I hope that we shall not indulge in this kind of scampering any longer.

The difficulty in dealing with this matter is that we are accused of two things. We are accused, on the one hand, of having a paternalistic attitude, of being long-haired, of knowing what is best for the people, and of handing it down as if we were standing on the top of a shute and merely dropping little parcels of culture down to those waiting below. On the other hand, we are accused of being killjoys, as though the tycoons behind the "pop" singers, behind Denmark Street, behind commercial television, were concerned with people's fun. They are not concerned with their fun, but with their money. They would not know Joan Littlewood if they saw her walking in the street. They have had no dealings with her. Those of us who are trying to defend standards against what we see happening by way of "pop" are those of us who are interested in fun and in joy, and not those on the other side attached to commercial interests outside.

The Pilkington Report said that commercial television had two tasks to perform. One was to sell advertising space and the other was to produce programmes. The Report said that these two things did not coincide. The Committee was far too kind. These things are mutually contradictory. When actors are paid to appear on advertising and a few minutes later they appear in a programme they are treated with the same kind of disbelief and scepticism, and the truth of the play is destroyed. After having created the demand in these popular markets those concerned now want permission to fulfil the demand. This was the point of Tory Party Questions yesterday.

This is the exploitation of young people. We are told that young people make this world of "pop" and are demanding it. I have been in this business. People in the business make this world. They call these voting people "the mugs". I have, God help me, taken part in all this. Young people who believe that this is the world of "pop" are a mirror image of the hard men who are projecting this world upon them. I do not think that the B.B.C. should have anything to do with this kind of destruction of culture.

We are all affected by this, not only at the top level but at all levels of art at the present time. The best possible example is the kind of deference that has been paid in the Sunday quality papers to the worst writer of the age, Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. This is the kind of effect that kow-towing to the world of "pop" has on our total of culture.