I did something I regretted last night – something I thought I grew out of a long time ago, and something which very few grown people admit to doing. Yes, I watched the BBC1 evening schedule. All the way through.
The first programme I watched was Only Fools And Horses. And not just any episode of Fools and Horses, but the episode – the one where Del Boy falls through the counter of the wine bar while pretending to be smooth. Either the BBC screen this episode every Saturday evening at 5, or I am spectacularly unlucky, because I have seen this episode a good half a dozen times, just by switching on it randomly. However, despite being repeated for the 1000th time, it was still better than what followed – it was funny and intelligently considered on wider issues. It’s quite shameful that the rest of the evening’s entertainment was still outclassed by a 15-year-old repeat.
What followed was, quite frankly, dire. The National Lottery Jet Set is a totally joyless gameshow that effectively makes the licence payer pay for a half-hour long promotion of the National Lottery. Out-take TV is a recycled version of a program that recycles the bits that weren’t good enough to make our screens in the first place. Carrie and Barry is a sitcom about absolutely nothing – just ordinary people in a house and their ordinary lives (this week, Barry tries installing damp-proofing). It’s a sitcom without any sit; in fact, as it’s not very funny, the “com” bit is also rendered unnecessary.
All of these could have been the nadir of the night’s entertainment, if it weren’t for one clear winner. Strictly Come Dancing (for starters, why the fuck did they go with that title? It makes no grammatical sense. Was a ripoff of Strictly Ballroom really the best they could come up with?) was the most appalling programme of the night. Not just the fact that it keeps a long past his best Bruce Forsyth on the screens, nor the fact that it is basically another check-the-boxes talent show (controversial judges – check, phone poll tension – check, useless underdog – check, behind-the-scenes bits- check).
No, the thing that irritates me most is, at least with Pop Idol, Fame Academy, Stars In Their Eyes and the rest, there was the chance of an unknown with talent to make it big. Not so in SCD – all the contenders are celebrities who have made it in some other way. And then they dance. Not particularly well, in most cases. Basically, people who are already famous and successful are made even more famous and successful by being mediocre at something. This is an insult to any sort of notion of fairness or reward, as well as perpetuating the lie that the ability to take part activities like ballroom dancing can be picked up quickly and learned with a few well-drilled movements, with no need for things such as talent or dedication.
Hang on, hasn’t this been going on for years? Well, yes, but usually on commercial television (e.g. Hell’s Kitchen, I’m A Celebrity…). Strictly Come Dancing, however, is a BBC programme. It does not seem fair to me to use the licence fee, ostensibly as a means of maintaining non-commercial, quality public service broadcasting, merely to reward the already rich and (moderately) famous for doing something that many not very rich and totally unfamous people with actual dancing talent could do much better. Public service entertainment should be there to showcase the best and to reward the talented, not merely feed the cult of fetishised celebritism inherent in the commercial television sector.
There was a recent proposal to reform the licence fee, to allow other broadcasters such as Channel 4 to produce licence fee-subsidised public service television. I rejected it initially, as doing so would make the converse move more acceptable – it becomes easier to justify converting or part-converting the BBC’s output to being advertising-funded. However, after watching last night’s spectacle I’ve changed my mind. As BBC1’s Saturday evening output is now no different from that of the commercial broadcasters’, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be advertising-funded. The licence fee could still remain for genuine public service broadcasting, such as news, documentaries, history, science and culture (all the bits that traditional BBC-haters would prefer to be scrapped or reformed to parrot their own political views) that could not be funded by advertising, but it can be cut down and part of the proceeds would up for grabs for other broadcasters to keep the BBC on its toes. We would still have a reasonable proportion of quality televisual output, while the ordinary licence payer is no longer obliged to pay for dance lessons for the wealthy.