Maiden Aunts were always interesting. Your parents would pack you off to them, with the parting admonition don’t upset auntie, for a few days during the summer holidays, and you would have a great time – most of which was conducted under censorship administered with a finger to the lips accompanied by whatever you do, don’t tell your Mum. They always sent you a card on your birthday or at Christmas with ‘a little something’ inside, and you always sent them a postcard selected by your parents with a boring view of whatever Godforsaken coastal village you happened to be staying at that year.
Then came adolescence and the personal selection of a saucy holiday postcard about an actress and a bishop, followed by the frosty reception you received from her at the next family gathering months later. Well, if your parents had spoken about her once being an actress and the young admirer whose parents considered her ‘below them’ who became a bishop, you would have known not to send that particular card, wouldn’t you?
The BBC was once known as Auntie. Whether that was because it hid its playfulness behind its strait-lace, or it had been rejected by the Church of England in its younger days, there is no definitive record. But back then it held a somewhat special relationship with us – probably because it managed to safely-navigate those very choppy waters of political neutrality successfully. Part of that process included not upsetting Prime Ministers of very differing political persuasions with an almost seamless transition between extremes. Of course, some of that was self-preservation, as there have always been calls from the back benches, whatever their colour, of perceived bias. But if a PM was onside then they could quell those clamourings on the corporation’s behalf. Not so now.
You see, Boris has been a very naughty boy and has put a frosty countenance on the face of the old lady. How do we know this? Well, she refused to broadcast his message to the nation scheduled to be shown on the cusp of that historic occasion formerly known as Brexit.
Now, I appreciate that Brexit Day was a rather difficult occasion for any mainstream media outlet to broadcast in a balanced manner, hence why every channel that attempted it patently failed. In keeping with the stark division in the country promoted by both sides over the last three and a half years, the choices on the night were a stark contrast: you could either report on revellers staggering round Parliament Square draped in Union Jacks and drunkenly attempting to sing Rule Brittania when they could only remember the opening words, or show a gathering of anorak-clad individuals hunched around a candle outside of the local Polytechnic, woefully humming ode to joy because nobody brought the words with them.
Not a great choice for prime-time viewing which is why most of us, I’m sure, chose to watch the actual moment projected on the white cliffs of Dover (wot, no bluebirds?) then divert to something we had recorded or downloaded earlier that was far more entertaining. Our choice was that wonderful new comedy The Goes Wrong Show – the latest perfect illustration of how wonderful the Beeb can be when it puts its mind to actually entertaining us.
And therein lies the problem – Auntie can really be fun when she is concentrated on providing the evening’s entertainment, but when her dark alter-ego emerges that disapproves of anything remotely like your showing a degree of independence of thought, things can get a bit testy. And there is no greater contrast than the two extreme egos of the BBC’s Entertainment and Current Affairs departments.
What is difficult to avoid, whatever view you took on Brexit, is that 11pm on Friday 31st January 2020 was a moment in history. Whatever they evolve into, such moments are often marked by a soundbite from one of the great and the good. Whether that was Lincoln’s four score years and seven ago, Chamberlain’s piece of paper, Churchill’s Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat or JFK’s choosing to go to the moon the words remain resonant for decades after.
To mark this latest milestone, our current Prime Minister produced a message to be broadcast to the Nation one hour prior to our actual departure. It was trailed throughout the day and I tuned-in at 10pm to hear what he had to say to mark this historical moment. So what did he say? Actually we didn’t know, because his words were never broadcast – and like many others I’m sure, I was left wondering what had happened to them.
This morning, I googled-around a bit and was first informed, under the above headline, that on the most significant day in British politics for a generation, the PM hid inside No 10. It then went on to say that, instead of addressing the nation, he chose to release a recorded video on his Facebook page. As always, just in case The Grauniad might, heaven-forbid, be showing a degree of left-wing bias, I went in search of corroboration or otherwise, and eventually found a relevant hit – from the Luvvie’s rag Variety with the headline: Boris Johnson Shuts Out UK Broadcasters from Brexit Day Message. This had been published the day prior, and gives details of how the Prime Minister intends to break with a long-standing tradition by filming the message internally, and then distributing the recording to news outlets and publishing the message on social media.
Apparently, there is/was a tradition that PMs created a ‘pool’ where one of the main broadcasters would film such a message, then share it with the others. This was not going to happen this time – in any case, nothing of such nature is transmitted live these days, not even the Queen’s Christmas message. Surely, in this era of green broadcasting, saving the ‘chosen’ channel a wad of cash and carbon by not having to send an entire crew to Number Ten is good isn’t it?
Oh no, not for the BBC – who presumably expected to be the filmer of choice – as the Variety article quotes a very sniffy BBC spokesperson as saying: If Number 10 wants to supply its own footage, we will judge it on its news value when deciding whether to broadcast it, as we would with any footage supplied to us by third parties.
And hence, the BBC decided that a Prime Minister’s address to the nation on an historic occasion was not deemed newsworthy – because it wasn’t filmed by them.
Thus Auntie has demonstrated her displeasure of a troublesome nephew by not just adopting a frosty stance, but by cutting him out of her will. Were this the rich maiden aunt of the family, her withdrawal of support might signal a somewhat threadbare future for her errant relative. Unfortunately for her, however, this nephew now holds the family purse strings, and hence possesses the means to make her later life comfortable – or otherwise.
If you want to see what the BBC considered un-newsworthy, click here: