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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 James Dance Mr James Dance , Bromsgrove 12:00 am, 13th May 1965

I hope that the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) will forgive me if I do not comment on his speech, but we are short of time and I should like to get straight on to my own.

I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity of speaking in the debate, because I want to clear up a misunderstanding among many hon. Members opposite and people outside the House who are under the impression that my colleagues inside the House and the Viewers and Listeners Association are gunning for the B.B.C. Nothing could be further from the truth. All we are endeavouring to do is to see that broadcasting and television are brought up to a better standard than is now sometimes the case. When we started to form this group, I sincerely hoped that hon. Members opposite would join us. They did at the beginning, and I hope that they will come back in future, because this should be an all-party matter.

Nevertheless, it appears to many of us that some programmes produced by the B.B.C. are of a lower standard than those put out by the independents. This is very likely due, as has been said, to the fact that there is the Independent Television Authority which has power over all the 12 producing companies. It uses that power to say, "This is not a good programme; we do not like it." It also has the sanction of taking away the company's licence at the end. It might have a beneficial effect if the whole of broadcasting and television came under the same type of umbrella, in other words, if there were a British Broadcasting and Television Authority. This might be a good idea. I am not having a go at the B.B.C. on this matter, but the independents have the protection of this umbrella of the Authority and I should like it to be extended.

The other point I want to make clear is that in no way do we want to set ourselves up as censors. That is not the idea. It is merely that we wish to convey to those who put out television and radio broadcasts the genuine views and feelings of the nation as a whole, and we feel that we are in a good position to get those views. I want to make it quite clear that it is not censorship, but merely conveying our views to the authorities concerned.

I do not believe that Lord Norman-brook and the governors of the B.B.C. are doing their jobs properly. They are there to do the job which I.T.A. is doing, but they are failing abysmally. Can the Postmaster-General tell us what has happened to the Noble Committee, which was set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke)? Has it made a report and has any action been taken?

I firmly believe that the public is sick and tired of bad taste on some programmes. Nobody can deny that there are many excellent programmes, especially from the B.B.C., whose programme about the Great War was magnificent. Nothing could have been handled more beautifully and with greater dignity than the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. Our sports programmes are second to none and great compliments should be paid to the B.B.C. for that sort of work. Technical achievements have been fantastic.

What a great pity it is to spoil these excellent programmes and the excellent showing which we get from the B.B.C. by distasteful programmes, chiefly plays. Some of the plays are extremely unpleasant. Many people have also been offended by the satirical reviews, in particular, "Not So Much A Programme, More A Way of Life".

I was delighted to read in the newspapers some time ago that this programme was to be removed, and one hoped that it would not come back. In a way I was just as horrified to read the other day that it is coming back again with Mr. Frost as the compère. It certainly was a "Frost" and apparently a rather expensive "Frost" in New York. I feel that we should not have this type of programme.

Let us consider what it did. It gave offence to very many people. I want to make it clear that I am a member of the Church of England, but I saw the programme about Roman Catholics and, frankly, I was absolutely appalled at the offensive way in which it was put over. I remind hon. Members that it was only a short time before this programme about Roman Catholics that there was a programme which made a mockery of our Holy Communion. I took very great offence at it and took the trouble to ring up the duty officer at the B.B.C. immediately it was over.

No words of mine would be anything like as adequate as the words of Cassandra in the Daily Mirror of 16th November: The successor of 'That Was The Week That Was' bears the elephantine title of 'Not So Much a Programme More a Way of Life'. I think I can say with all the restraint that I can muster that rarely on television have I seen such an embarrassing performance. As a mixture of pretentiousness, bathos and approved-school humour, nothing I can recall has ever been served up more calculated to make one writhe and retch. In its least offensive moments it was owlish and oafish. The self-conscious artificers of this epic combination of facetiousness and fatuity have one consolation. No matter how they strain every nerve in their bodies and rack every cell in their brains, they cannot do worse than this. This is the bottom and the end. This is the absolute and ultimate zero of what can be committed on the television screen. A great multitude of the public have very much the same view as Cassandra about this programme, and I sincerely hope that it does not come back.

What would happen if we had a modern Rip Van Winkle who woke up and said, "How can I find out what life is like now? What is going on?". Suppose he were told to look at television for a day or two and that that would put him in the picture. What a horrible shock he would have. He would see sick humour in bad taste, undue violence, condonation of homosexuality and free love, many of our churches and religion being ridiculed and attacks on our most beloved institutions and traditions. He might think that what he saw really represented modern British life. Of course, it would not be true. He would be seeing only what a very small proportion of the British people indulge in and like. The vast majority of our nation are as fine and good as they ever were. Why, then, must we show this sort of thing which is a representation of the life of only a minority of people in this country? What effect does this have on overseas visitors? If they look at the television, they get a very wrong impression of the sort of people we are.

There appears to be an extremely unco-operative attitude on the part of members of the B.B.C. towards individuals and various institutions. If members of the public take up with the B.B.C. criticisms of various programmes, they are apt to get a complete brush off. I read on page 130 of the B.B.C. Handbook for 1965: It is the duty of the Corporation to keep in touch with public opinion and to weigh such representations as may be made to them. Yet I read in a book written by Sir Hugh Greene: The attempts at censorship come nowadays also from groups—Hoggart calls them the new Populists'—(one might call them the 'new Puritans')—which do not claim to be Guardians' but claim to speak for ordinary decent people' and to be forced to take a stand against' what they arbitrarily call unnecessary dirt, gratuitous sex, excessive violence—and so on. These 'new Populists' will attack whatever does not underwrite a set of prior assumptions, assumptions which are anti-intellectual and unimaginative. Superficially this seems, and likes to think of itself as, a 'grass roots' movement. In practice it can threaten a dangerous form of censorship—censorship which works by causing artists and writers not to take risks … This is the point. These modern-thinking humanists are undermining all the things which most people believe in. Indeed they are. Let hon. Members go round the country and hear what is being said. This is factual. It is true. The humanist attitude which is creeping into our society is undermining it very badly.

I was horrified the other day to learn that the programme, "Lift Up Your Hearts" was to be taken off. I quote from a letter written to the Scotsman and signed by Alick Buchanan-Smith, Michael Clark Hutchison and W. H. K. Baker: A motion was tabled today in the House of Commons deploring the decision of the B.B.C. to withdraw the programme 'Lift up your Hearts'. This motion has been signed by many members. Whilst appreciating that it is desirable from time to time to alter the form of such programmes, we deprecate the implications which underlie the statement by the Director of Religious Broadcasting that this type of programme is not in keeping with modern conditions. If society is more pagan than 25 years ago, then, surely, the need for the programme is greater than ever before. I entirely agree.

The unco-operative attitude of the B.B.C. goes further. Earlier this year, there was a programme on farming which ran down the farmers completely, saying that they were feather-bedded, going on about the subsidies they received and so on, utterly ignoring and failing to bring out the fact that those subsidies are very largely consumer subsidies. Sir Harold Woolley, President of the National Farmers' Union, saw a preview of the programme and complained, insisting that the farmers' viewpoint should be given. But, although there is a farmers' subcommittee in the B.B.C., their view was not allowed to be heard. I understand also that the religious committee was not consulted and its views were not heard about taking off that fine programme, "Lift Up Your Hearts".

When the Viewers and Listeners Association was formed, Sir Hugh Greene that evening called it "a lunatic fringe". What does this so-called lunatic fringe consist of? Among its members are an Anglican bishop, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain, a high official of the British Medical Association, many chief constables and many Members of Parliament. I submit that the lunatic fringe, who ought to look at their own misconduct, are the minority to whom I have referred, not the people who are trying to get things put right.