So farewell, then, Mark Thompson

Yes, Mark Thompson has announced that he is stepping down as Director General of the BBC.

That news is a fantastic birthday present.

Just a few weeks ago, he admitted that the BBC had got it wrong on women, “that the broadcaster does not have enough older female newsreaders and presenters“.

No. I’d say he‘s got it wrong. After all, who’s in charge?

And I’d say he’s got it wrong in so many other ways too.

He totally underestimated the popularity of BBC local radio. The BBC Trust has forced you to reconsider making huge cuts to local radio which would result in a much less local service. Making us wonder, what’s the point of having local radio at all?

Before that, he wanted to shut down BBC 6 Music. He thought it was just another pop station. But the great British public stood up and told the BBC Trust what the pioneer DAB digital radio station means to them. So (until the next useless out of touch DG comes along) 6 Music has been saved.

Great to see Broadcasting House being refurbished of course, but why was it so over-budget? Who’s in charge? That’s my licence money he’s been wasting.

This big move to Salford: I don’t know but I suspect the BBC will live to regret that decision. London is the nation’s capital, an eighth of the population lives within striking distance. It’s the cultural centre of the nation, whether you like it or not.

Selling off the iconic Television Centre. I don’t know but I suspect the BBC will live to regret that decision too. In the same way they now regret erasing all those Doctor Who tapes. Because we need more empty office blocks in London. If this building is no longer needed for producing programmes, surely it can be turned into a money-making tourist attraction? Decades of history available, radio,  TV, film, documentaries, technology, props: it would appeal to everyone.

But I can’t resist this opportunity to recall the first time I became aware of Thompson’s existence, back in 1999. The BBC radio station for London, GLR, was threatened with closure. The campaign to save the station ultimately failed but Mark Thompson’s true colours came to the fore:

IN THE light of the BBC’s recent “Train Week”,
viewers and listeners may be interested to hear the
unexpurgated opinions of Mark Thompson, the
corporation’s grandly titled director of nations
and regions, towards rail safety.
Thompson aired his views during a recent staff
meeting at Greater London Radio – which, unhappily
for him, was secretly recorded. The main topics on
the agenda were the proposed reduction of music on
GLR, and Thompson’s Guardian article criticising the
station for playing “pop” music on the day of the
Paddington train crash. Also on the panel was Jane
Mote, head of London and south-east regions…

GLR staff member: “If you turned on GLR in five
years’ time, what would you want to hear?”
Jane Mote: “Mark’s not going to give you a schedule
now because there isn’t a schedule.”
Mark Thompson: “I could do, I could do.”
JM: “No, please! [Thompson laughs.] Paddington
train crash!”
MT: “YES, lots of train crashes please!” (MT carries
an laughing.)

Later in the meeting, Thompson returned to the
subject.
JM: “I think music is an expression of cultural life in
London and therefore it has an important role to play
and…”
MT: “I just want to hear about train crashes.”
JM: “…and Mark just wants death and gloom.”

Thompson seemed to find this all vastly amusing,
apparently regarding the Paddington disaster as
nothing more than a way of jacking up the ratings for
extended news coverage. But he was rather less
amused when staff challenged him about the
Grauniad article in which he revealed that he had “hit
the roof” when he heard a pop song on GLR on the
morning of the crash.
The song in question, Mambo No 5, was played
on Kiss FM at 8.31 that morning and on Capital
Radio at 9.01am – but it wasn’t played on GLR at all
that day, not least because GLR was too busy
providing, er, extended coverage of the disaster. It
transpired that Thompson is so incompetent he hadn’t
even tuned his radio to the correct station!

That’s from Private Eye No 993 Friday 14 January 2000.

Mark Thompson will not be missed.

But on a more positive note, what else did I get for my birthday? Well, a couple of CDs related to radio shows that I like. What a lovely surprise!

The Old Grey Whistle Test 40th Anniversary Album

and

World Routes on the Road

Catch up

Well, I’m catching up on a bit of a backlog. Always will be, I suppose, since many of the shows I want to hear are on late at night.

But, as I write, Tuesday 14th February, 2.30pm, I’m listening to Robert Elms on BBC London 94.9. I’ve been listening to his show, on and off, for, crikey, it must be twenty years or so, since he first arrived at GLR. His knowledge of and interest in all things London are contagious. Today’s show, being on St Valentine’s day, include more love songs than he usually plays, but that’s OK.

Speaking of Robert Elms, it was he who introduced BBC London’s ‘Your Desert Island Discs’ show on the 70th anniversary of the Radio 4 programme devised by Roy Plomley. It featured eleven listeners and their choices of desert island disc with, in a couple of cases, a truly heart-breaking story. Robert himself said that one of the interviews was the hardest he’d ever conducted. The musical choices were interesting, I couldn’t have predicted any of them, I don’t think. I did wonder how he’d cope if one of the contributors had chosen a Beatles song. Robert’s notorious for his dislike of the Beatles, thinking they’re vastly overrated.

I listened to the Radio 4 ‘Soul Music’ programme that featured Gresford, The Miners’ hymn. This tune was written to commemorate the mining disaster in Wales in 1934 by a Durham miner. I was unfamiliar with the tune, but it is indeed very moving.

Last year, ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris compiled a series of 16 programmes to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test. I downloaded the whole OGWT40 series with a view to listening to it while on holiday over Christmas. Well, I heard a few episodes, and I am slowly catching up on the rest! And very interesting it is too. There’s a nice mix of chat, replays of the original sessions together with newly recorded sessions. The latest revelation is Midge Ure’s new, acoustic version of ‘Dancing with Tears in My Eyes’. It’s no longer on iPlayer, but I’m sure it will be repeated sometime, probably on BBC 6 Music.

And finally (for now): I listened to Johnnie Walker’s Long Players – the one about Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. And I didn’t break down in floods of tears as I thought I might. Rather, I enjoyed Johnnie talking with David Hepworth about the album. Both Elton and Bernie Taupin contributed to the programme. But ultimately, it was wonderful to be reminded of what a great album this was. Yeah, some songs are better than others, of course, but after eleven years, maybe it’s time to listen to the whole thing from start to finish.