The Radio 4 Friday 18:30 ‘Comedy’ Slot

The BBC have a ‘Comedy’ slot on a Friday. I would contend it is for left-wing metropolitan ‘comics’ only.

The October 24th edition of ‘The Now Show’ contained its usual blend of both hard and soft left polemics. The show started with a soapbox style rant about the police from armchair SWP member Mitch Benn. This was so unfunny that the audience (composed of BBC staffers and like-minded people) simply did not laugh – this is not surprising though, the script was not meant to be funny, just political.

Could you imagine a speaker from the right of politics being given so much air time on the BBC – I for one cannot.

Mitch Benn then gives way to Punt and Dennis – a pair of what I can only describe as the smuggest Cambridge Lefties you will ever come across outside a sixth-form debating chamber. Week by week, they prod Blair from the left because the government is not left-wing enough for them. Yesterday, they had a long and tedious item about the conservatives.

Fair comment you might say, except that it got me thinking about other shows on this slot.

‘The Now Show’ alternates with ‘The News Quiz’. Two of the regulars on this show are also armchair SWP members – Jeremy Hardy and Linda Smith. Even I admit Linda Smith can be very funny when she leaves politics alone, but the same cannot be said of Jeremy Hardy. Like Mitch Benn, he uses the show to launch furious left-wing rants which strangely never seem to be edited out. No speaker from the right would be allowed as much latitude as Hardy, who is like a bore at an office party who has trapped you between the water cooler and a filing cabinet. A facade of ‘balance’ is achieved by the presence of the Francis Wheen, who I would call an ‘apologetic Tory’.

‘The News Quiz’ also sometimes alternates with ‘The Mark Steel Lecture’, which is a soapbox programme for…an overtly left wing comic. Mark Steel is a darling of the BBC producers, so expect to see him back soon. During one of his last lectures (about a year after the attack on the WTC and Pentagon) he likened Osama Bin Laden to Hanibal, the great Carthaginian general and scourge of Rome, wishing that the Americans could be as respectful to Osama as Rome was to Hanibal. Except, of course, that Hanibal challenged Rome openly on the field of battle, not as a terrorist, in a time when military power was regarded differently. Like all BBC types, Steel parades his contempt of America openly and with pride.

The only exception in the Friday 18:30 left-wing slot is the marvellous Deadringers, which has short and all too infrequent runs.

The BBC response to criticism like this is ‘well, do you want right-wing comics?’ – but I think this misses the point totally. The 18:30 left-wing slot shows how BBC bias operates – giving airtime to views with which it has some sympathy over and over again. An answer would be to be careful not to choose such smug, overtly political performers and to find other voices.

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15 Responses to The Radio 4 Friday 18:30 ‘Comedy’ Slot

  1. Ken says:

    The irony of it all is that your broadcast commission (whatever the name is) has banned the broadcast of the somewhat right of center Wall Street Journal Report program from your airways (at least the last time I read about it). The program is a business editorial roundtable like some I’ve seen on BBC about politics.

    But get this, the program was banned because its content was not considered to be “politically balanced”. BWHAHAHAHAHA.


  2. ed says:

    I think that political comedy has grown in volume and declined in quality since the 1980’s- of course that clever Peter Cook (apparently)did the Shakespeare bit and said all there was to say in the 1960’s.

    That might sound sweeping, but apart from Dead Ringers and Bremner, Bird and Fortune, we do put up with a lot of tripe, and even those two can be tiresome. The Beeb always say they encourage the best in television, but since the genre gains its biggest laughs from saying f*** Thatcher (and her brood, wherever it sees them), you begin to wonder whether the genre isn’t half-cooked and the Beeb is incubating its lukewarm representatives, who will never hatch properly because their parent’s an unrepeatable hybrid. Political comedy (I think) only works well under certain social conditions, which means not in today’s society. That’s why we are left grasping at leftish straws, paying homage to Cook et al. The BBC institutionalises all that it touches though, so I think that they’ll be around until its privatised, and afterwards for fetishists only.

    Of course, if people want to pay for it, then rather like Tracy Emin’s bed, they ought to be free to do so, absolutely.


  3. lee moore says:

    Francis Wheen, the Guardian, Observer, Independent, Gay News, New Statesman and New Socialist columnist, and sympathetic biographer of Karl Marx is an “apologetic Tory” ? I hope you have your legal funds well topped up, because in the circles in which Francis Wheen moves, this calumny is a bankable libel. Still, on a panel where the SWP represents the “left”, a well educated anti-Blairite old Labour socialist probably does represent the “right.”

    Surely the main qualification for appearing on a comedy programme is that you are funny ? Jeremy Hardy is funny occasionally, though not very often I admit. The one I could never understand getting airtime was Ben Elton, who was embarrassingly unfunny as a stand up comedian. Wrote a few good lines for Blackadder though.


  4. Andy Whittles says:

    Lee, you are right about Francis Wheen, I was in error – and he does represent the right on a programme like The News Quiz. I guess all things are relative.

    I won’t execute a BBC-style stealth edit though…


  5. PJF says:

    The leftie ‘comedians’ won’t disappear with any ending of the BBC (short of machine gunning the whole edifice into a ditch).

    Just tonight on CNN I saw an American “satirist” deliver an unremitting attack on the Bush administration and Governor Schwartzenegger. I was a bit puzzled as to the justification of his appearance on a (supposed) news channel, but not at all surprised by the low standard of glib, pseudo-intellectual disdain frothing forth from a left wing broadcasting outfit (usually it’s just the raised eyebrows, sneers and guffaws of the anchors).

    It’s only fair and correct in a democracy that political satire should be directed primarily at those in power, but that doesn’t mean exclusively. The left-wing political scene is absolutely crammed with corrupt crackpots that make ripe targets. Private Eye takes a crack at them, but I doubt Radio4 does. I can’t know for sure because I gave up on the wretched, guilty-middle-class-liberal channel some time ago.


  6. chinditz says:

    Three words:
    “Bring back Angus”


  7. john b says:

    Blair’s in power. There’s no shortage of satirists of all political hues willing to lampoon him.

    Ken Livingstone’s in power. There’s no shortage of satirists of all political hues willing to lampoon him.

    The people who aren’t being lampooned are the people on the far left – the Trotskyites, the Socialist Alliance, the SWP. There are some reasons for this: they don’t have any power, nobody really cares what they think or say, and they satirise themselves so effectively there wouldn’t be any point anyway.


  8. DumbJon says:

    This post is a good one, because it points out something particularly obnoxious about the BBC. The bias in pushing overtly political lines in straight news reporting is bad enough, but there’s also the soft-Liberal bias everywhere else, the unstated, but always implied, assumption that no thinking person could possibly disagree with the Liberal agenda.

    Take today’s (Tue 27 Oct) Working Lunch for an example of that. In case you’ve never seen it, it’s a program dealing with business/personal finance that includes a section where one of the presenters visits businesses/groups/whatever, in this case a shop in a small village in North Wales. So far, so unobjectionable, except today’s segment was dealing with the impact of the Disability Discrimination Act. The report was simply a disgrace.

    The opener was a quick interview with the patsy…. errr, shopkeeper. How was he dealing with the Act ? He had a notepad so deaf people could write down what they had to say and he could write back. Why he used that strange example became clear when we moved on to the main part of the segment: an interview with a flack from the British Deaf Association. ‘Softball’ doesn’t cover it. The Act would be no problem for Mr Shopkeeper says the flack, all he has to do is splash out £40 for an induction loop (?) and he’ll be all compliant. Never mind that £40 may not be trivial sum in those parts, or that in that size of town there may not even be any deaf people – just a minute ago we were talking about how using a notepad would be enough. Now, they want him to spend £40 ? Needless to say, the flack wasn’t picked up on this – but that is the central problem with the act. It’s £40 for the loop, but what about those who can’t use it ? What about the telephone ? Or maintenance costs ? Costs are moving North rapidly and we’re still only talking one range of conditions. Mr Shopkeeper will have to deal with them all -in fact, similar legislation in the US forced transport companies to add low-level Braille timetables – for paraplegic blind people, of course, which shows how open-ended these commitments can be.

    You can imagine how damaging this can be for a small business, and you would have to imagine it – no dissenting voices were represented, or even mentioned. The BDA flack was all but given free rein to push the party line. In fact, the flack managed to slip in the most outrageous argument of the DDA boosters, namely that costs didn’t matter because our shopkeeper friend would make all the money back on increased trade. You don’t have to be especially cynical to take that with a large pinch of salt but it was swallowed whole by the interviewer.

    Likewise, wider issues went unexamined. What can we make of the fact that similar legislation in the US meant a nightclub which featured dancers in suspended cages was closed down because the cages had no wheelchair access in case they recruited paraplegic dancers ? How about the fact that our shopkeeper fri


  9. DumbJon says:

    Cut off in my prime!

    Actually, all I’d really like to say is this:

    How about the fact that our shopkeeper friend could risk bankruptcy trying to comply with the act and still be wide open to a lawsuit from some activist weenies complaining he doesn’t have the facilities to deal with a one-legged dwarf with Tourettes ?

    Nada. Of course, you may think the DDA is a moral imperative, a price worth paying or such. But this wasn’t the line the BBC pushed. The BBC didn’t argue for the Act as a Good Thing – the report didn’t just push a pro-DDA line, it denied the existence of any other valid view. In short, it was the perfect example of Auntie giving us idiots the benefit of her wisdom – and on our dime too.


  10. DumbJon says:

    Oops, I meant Monday 27 Oct.


  11. Jon says:

    Yes, Working Lunch, what a programme!
    One would assume it to be for people interested in financial affairs.
    But too often it is just another consumer programme such as Watchdog.
    The supplier is always wrong (unless a farmer)
    The consumer needs more protection.
    But then occasionally after numerous items pressing for more protection, rules & regulation; the programme rounds on the government for an excess of “red tape”.


  12. mark holland says:

    Mmm last night’s QI on BBC4 (on BBC2 next Thursday) was a lefty free for all. Jo Brand, ex Greenham Common protestor Alan Davies and the SWP’s Jeremy Hardy. Add in quizmaster Stephen Fry and it’s a chummy left of centre knees up. Dave Gorman was also on I don’t know what his beliefs are.

    Normally this wouldn’t really matter. Normally it’s just jokes and mucking about without and political stuff at all. I can live with that.

    But last night Hardy, for some reason I forget, thought that it would be amusing to tell us the “Thatcher’s grave will just be one big urinal”

    Charming. This lousy bastard would have us all in the gulag like a shot so why I have to pay for him to be on the telly I do not know.

    Mark Steel was on after and I must confess I enjoy his programme immensly, as I did the radio version before that, much to Jackie D’s annoyance!


  13. Andy Whittles says:

    Mark Holland’s comment above prompted me to add two things.

    Firstly, I stopped listening to Radio 5 a few years ago because of what I perceived to be left-wing bias. About four weeks ago I switched in on at about 11:00pm for the first time in ages. This is no word of a lie – within 30 seconds I heard ‘…that is about as revolting as having sex with Thatcher…’. They don’t like the woman’s politics – fine by me – but I’m just sick of hearing this kind of thing on the BBC.

    Secondly, there must be collective noun for BBC lefties, but if not I’d like to suggest one. How about ‘a *smug* of BBC lefties?’.


  14. Person of Choler says:

    So Mark Steel wishes that America would have the same respect for Osama as Rome had for Hanibal.

    Well, there are plenty of Americans who wish that America had the same respect for Osama’s homeland as Rome had for Carthage. But we have so far stopped short of that sort of homage.


  15. Mitch Benn says:

    On October 25th Andy Whittles wrote, with reference to Radio 4’s The Now Show:

    >The show started with a soapbox style rant about the police from armchair SWP member Mitch Benn.

    Interesting that Mr. Whittles claims to know about my personal politics based on hearing me on the radio. I’d say “listening” to me on the radio but given that he describes my piece that week as “a soapbox-style rant about the police” it’s clear that he wasn’t listening at all. Or maybe he just couldn’t make out the words over the sound of his knee jerking.

    To jog Mr. Whittles’s supremely selective memory, the piece was actually a criticism of David Blunkett’s bizarre response to the BBC’s undercover exposé of police racism; he seemed less concerned by the programme’s findings than by the reporter’s use of underhand tactics to obtain them.

    The point I was making would have been obvious if Mr. Whittles had paid attention, unless of course he applauds violent racism in young police officers, and I can’t imagine that he does.

    If criticism of David Blunkett, a Labour Home Secretary, constitutes left-wing bias nowadays, frankly that says more about him than it does about me or the BBC.

    Mr. Whittles went on:

    >This was so unfunny that the audience (composed of BBC staffers and like-minded people) simply did not laugh…

    Yeah they did. Got tapes if you want ’em.

    And no the audience doesn’t consist of BBC staffers, but the Great British Public. If they are also “like-minded people”, well sorry. There’s a lot of people who think our show is funny and perceptive. Same goes for the 2 million who listen at home.

    I wonder if the Silent Majority whose support Mr. Whittles assumes may turn out to be a Noisy Minority after all. It happens.

    With regard to what my personal politics ARE, mind your damn business. It’s called democracy.

    But yes, Mr. Whittles is right, a lot of political humour does seem to come from a liberal perspective. I think this may be because successful political humour requires a degree of perception, intelligence and compassion.

    I’ll leave you all to ponder that. In the meantime, might I suggest that if you wish to see the situation redressed, write some scripts from your point of view and submit away. You may find this comedy lark isn’t as easy as it looks.

    Must away, I have another tirade to prepare. Glad I found this site; whenever my energies flag I know I can rely upon the impotent frothings of Tiny England to remind me why I do what I do.


    Mitch x