TV COLUMN: BAFTAs, BBC Charter, Attenborough at 90

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his views on some of the recent events on television.
James Waller-DaviesJames Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

The annual TV industry back-slapping parade of the BAFTAs (BBC1) presented the usual array of lovies last weekend. This year, however, with the BBC Charter renewal in the air, this year’s television awards ceremony had more of an edge to it.

After what turned out to be a series of rogue threats bringing doom, gloom and the end of Saturday evening Strictly, winners’ speeches were more about putting the boot into the government, than the more traditional thanking everyone they’d ever met.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been some great TV this year. Wolf Hall, Great British Bake Off, Strictly Come Dancing, Peter Kay Car Share were all worthy winners – and all from the BBC.

They are the cherries on the BBC cake, but cakes are not all cherries and anyone who’s had a sick day and has had to endure daytime TV, will know that too much of the BBC’s output would not even get a BAFTA invitation, let alone a prize.

By Thursday, John Whittingdale, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, published the white paper for the BBC’s charter renewal. It was remarkable only for being unremarkable.

One could almost hear the sighs of disappointment as the protest bubbles were burst and the placards and pitchforks were packed away for a further eleven years. It was left to just a few zealots to make the forlorn case for a bygone, misty-eyed BBC that can run forever on public money without accountability, self-regulating and with effectively a state subsidy to take on commercial providers.

This BBC charter was never going to be the public service broadcasting apocalypse the doom-merchants were threatening, but the next one, in 2027, might well be. By 2027, the world of digital broadcasting will make today’s audience experience be as a prehistoric cave painting. Changes in finance, technology, distribution, reception and audiences will make the current BBC model a thing of the past.

Someone who has seemingly been around so long, he may well have painted some of those Neolithic cave paintings is David Attenborough. Kirsty Young charming presented a retrospective of Attenborough’s career in Attenborough at 90 (BBC1).

The sheer scale and scope of Sir David’s career is breath-taking. Generations of television audience have him to thank for some of the most informative, technologically innovative and stunningly beautiful glimpses of our natural world.

It was a fitting tribute to one of the foundation stones of the BBC and proof that quality and distinctiveness can go hand-in-hand at the Beeb, if the talent is there to make it work.