September 11

Why I still love the BBC (despite everything)

The BBC has had a real battering over recent months – much of it deserved. Like many people I have been furious (and have tweeted my fury) at the behaviour of some senior executives (many of them now ex-executives) at the corporation who thought giving huge severance payments (and sometimes payments above contractual obligations) to colleagues was a good use of licence-payers money to slim-down senior management. The BBC Trust, which, as a colleague wrote yesterday “takes over from military intelligence as best contradiction in terms,” has been woeful in keeping a check on what was going on. In short: it’s been a disgrace and a fiasco and, on top of its failure over Jimmy Savile (and the Newsnight investigation into him), it hasn’t been a good couple of years for what had previously been a highly trusted organisation.

But there’s another story. The corridors at the BBC aren’t paved with gold. Most people who work there don’t earn huge six figure salaries (nor do they get massive pay-offs). Yes, there has been – and still is – waste, but in my experience most people who work there – at all levels – do so with great creativity and pride in what they are doing. The BBC can be annoyingly ‘right on’ and there are plenty of things that annoy me about it (for example: excessive payments to ‘talent’, selling off Television Centre, dumbing down of (some) news, an obsession with youth and excess, like expense payments connected to its new base in Manchester) but it is still a great institution.

Its journalism (particularly foreign coverage) is still excellent, many of its documentaries still challenge and educate and I’d pay my licence-fee for Radio Four alone if I had to. The BBC been let down by some poor decision-making, corporate largesse and, as Michael Grade said the other day, it “doesn’t understand the value for money.’ Let’s hope it can be fixed.

But I still love the BBC and this video, perhaps more than any words, sums up my feelings about it:

March 22

Goodbye BBC Television Centre – thanks for the happy memories…

BBC Television Centre pictured today by

Like many people growing up in the seventies and eighties, BBC Television Centre was part of my childhood. It was where we phoned to try to get through to Swap Shop, it was home to the Blue Peter garden and it where Roy Castle broke tap-dancing records.

Then, from the age of twenty and working as a journalist specialising in behind-the-scenes reports about television and celebrity interviews, it became a regular place for me to go to do those  interviews. And at least twice a year, for around a decade, my colleagues and I would attend lavish press launches of the BBC’s schedules – usually held in one of the big TV Centre studios. A rather pompous floor manager would welcome us and then give us a necessary, but somewhat patronising, fire briefing.

A highlights of the season tape would be played and then a whole list of celebrities would be wheeled out and stuck on tables for us to go round and talk to. It was usually quite an eclectic mix: anyone from presenters David Attenborough and Clive James,  sitcom stars like Buster Merryfield and Richard Wilson, actors from a new drama and, if it was Christmas, the duty Christmas newsreader and weather presenter. These events were fun – partly because you never who would show up – and also because the wine flowed and the food was pretty good.

Then there were the one-off announcement launches like 1990 when Bruce Forsyth returned to the Generation Game…. (and I was back there a version of that show in 2005 when I watched rehearsals of Generation Fame and then interviewed its host Graham Norton and his guests.)

I also went there for lots of normal, relatively run-of-the-mill interviews (the one with Michael Parkinson sticks in my mind because as an interviewer himself I thought he’d be tricky – he wasn’t)  in rather nondescript offices. Television Centre could be a baffling place to find your way around and I got lost on more than one occasion, but then, so I’m told, did people who worked there.

A studio recording of Only Fools and Horses at BBC Television Centre

I was also lucky enough to attend the recordings of some great sitcoms including One Foot In The Grave, Only Fools and Horses and The Fast Show – and be part of non-transmitted three-hour practice run of the BBC2 roleplay show Crisis Command, which was great fun.

Television Centre has been sold to developers and will be turned into restaurants, shops, a hotel, flats and houses and offices but in 2015, as this blog explains, television production will return in a limited way and the famous Studio One will be back in operation.

I still think it’s a shame that it’s been sold at all – and it is something I wonder if BBC bosses will regret in years to come. It’s a magical place and I feel really privileged to have been lucky enough to have visited it so many times. I’ll certainly miss the old place.


January 13

Two television vets, a film crew and a lot of polar bears… my week in the Canadian wilderness

Last week’s BBC Two documentary series The Polar Bear Family and Me was an extraordinary piece of television in which wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan followed a polar bear family. It was moving, beautifully shot and at times gripping as Gordon got closer to the bears than others might consider wise.

For while they look cuddly, polar bears can be lethal and as global warming impacts on their environment resulting in them often going hungry they are increasingly looking for new sources of food.

Watching the documentary brought back memories for me of a trip I did to the snowy wastes on northern Canada with a BBC film crew in 2000 for Vets in the Wild, featuring Trude Mostue  (pictured) and Steve Leonard.

We were based in the tiny town of Churchill on the shore of Hudson Bay, a place of 800 hardy souls, which has become a magnet for eco-tourists wanting to see polar bears at first hand, on account of its position on the bears’ migration path.

The point of the programme was for vets Trude and Steve to see how the authorities in Churchill cope with the bears that increasingly head into town scavenging for food. In short – they shoot them with tranquillizing darts then hold them in a ‘polar bear jail’ before flying them out of town by helicopter and releasing them in the wild.

It was certainly drummed into us by the locals that we needed to beware of the bears even when moving from one hotel (mine is pictured below) to another in the town. At first you assume they are exaggerating, before it’s pointed out that they are the world’s largest land carnivores  that they can run faster than we can – and weigh considerably more than a human (around 1000 lbs – although cubs are tiny and often only weight about 1 lb at birth – which is about an seventh of the weight of a newborn human baby ). In a scrap with a polar bear and a human, the bear will win (although, in truth only two people from the town have been killed by polar bears, most recently in 1983, although more recently, a tourist had an arm ripped off by a polar bear).

Seeing Gordon Buchanan in his clear glass box (there’s some footage here) in The Polar Bear Family and Me almost becoming a snack for a polar bear (fortunately the glass stayed intact but I imagine Gordon wasn’t totally sure it would while under bear ‘attack’) reminded me of sitting in a 4×4 with the Vets in the Wild team while they got footage of some bears. At the top of the page – and below – are two my snaps taken through the windows (at least I assume we didn’t open the windows!)

It was a fascinating (not to mention fun) trip – and in addition to seeing polar bears in the wild, which was something I’ll never forget, I also landed and took off in snow (and I mean that the runway was like a ski slope!) for the first time and endured temperatures that I’d never faced before – it was minus 34 degrees on the coldest day, (It’s a mere minus 24 today – I’ve just checked on the BBC website!) which I can tell you, is snow joke…

(c) Steve Clark 2013. All rights reserved.