The BBC, as a publicly-funded organisation, is often being called upon to save money. Star salaries need to be cut, people say. The corporation needs to be more prudent with its money.
To my recollection, there are two things I can think of that have happened as a direct result of the BBC trying to save money. Depending on who you are and what you like, you may not care about either of them. But I’m sure some will.
Firstly, and most recently, the BBC is selling off its iconic Television Centre. The home of the Blue Peter Garden – where countless childhood companions are no doubt buried, like Petra, Bonnie and the original John Noakes – is being sold off to raise – and save – money for the BBC. The site is to be redeveloped into we don’t know what yet, although due to the fact big bits of the Centre are grade listed, whatever results is going to look a bit bizarre.
It is a great shame. There are few as iconic buildings in the media anywhere, and it is in many ways part of our national heritage. Many of us growing up with Saturday TV will be familiar with TV Centre, from the opening titles of Live and Kicking in the morning or Noel’s House Party in the evening.
The Beeb are moving to far less iconic buildings up in Salford, whilst BBC News is moving over to the almost-as-iconic Broadcasting House (although for some reason, BBC Breakfast – ostensibly a BBC News broadcast – is moving up to Salford too, with a splitting up of the presenting team that help many of us to get to work in the mornings).
I don’t like it, but I guess for a corporation funded by public money, there’s not much that can be done when people start calling for efficiency savings. But I’m glad to say I have been to Television Centre for a handful of TV tapings, and I’ll probably get on one of the official studio tours before they pack it all off to Greater Manchester.
The second problem that has resulted from the Beeb trying to save money is less recent, but is probably far, far worse. As recently as the early nineties the BBC (as well as other broadcasters) would routinely wipe tapes of broadcasts in order to reuse tapes or save space in what were, back then, physical archives.
Stuff lost includes early episodes of Doctor Who, an episode of the Goodies, and the British coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landings.
108 episodes of Doctor Who. Destroyed to save a bit of money. License fee payers and BBC management have done more to the Doctor than the Daleks, Cybermen and Russell T Davies combined.
Not with my license fee
That’s one complaint you always seem to hear on those vox pops on the news when it emerges the BBC has spent x amount of money on something that wasn’t a programme they enjoy, like Jonathan Ross’s £18m salary or the rumoured £147,000 cost of a single episode of Top Gear.
Of course, any sensible person will tell you, the annual license fee costs £145. Which means if you watch even a small part of a single episode of something on the BBC, be it the news, a soap or a documentary, you’ve already technically gotten your license fee’s worth.
The Beeb have been kind enough to break down their expenditures, showing where your month’s worth of license fee goes. Long story short, two thirds of it goes on TV productions (which may or may not include big salaries like the one Jonathan Ross got, I don’t know). That’s £7.85. £7.85 of your license fee in a month goes on TV. That won’t even cover the first tape, let alone any of the cameras, explosions, or special effects you find in many productions.
There’s more to it than that, too. Shows such as Top Gear and Doctor Who are really rather lucrative for the BBC in terms of merchandising, licensing and selling the show overseas. They could, in real terms, even be paying for themselves. So whether you watch these shows or not (although you should, they are the best shows the Beeb has), it doesn’t really matter because they probably don’t cost much to the license fee payer.
I do also hate people who dislike, say, Top Gear because they take offence to its content, and complain about their license fee being spent on it, but then turn around and watch something I truly can’t stand like Songs of Praise without batting an eyelid. That, however, is fodder for a separate rant about how everyone is self-absorbed into their own problems and don’t care about other people. As is the argument that Top Gear is as much a pro-oil pamphlet as Songs of Praise is a pro-religion one.
That way I look at it is this: my £145 a year pays for the TV I like. Yours pays for the TV you like. And the BBC is a national institution that is extremely rare in the world, and we should be fighting to protect it. In fact, on that front I’ll get Mitch Benn to play out this post: