The BBC receives four billion pounds in free money each year, from the licence fee and from other State departments. That is four thousand million or £4,000,000,000.
I received the following email:
I am contacting you from BBC History department as we are currently making a four part history series for BBC Two which explores 2,000 years of Black British history. As part of that we are exploring the history of the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852) and are looking for a couple of young people to do some readings from it.
We will be filming in Granary Square at approx. 5pm on 30th August and I was wondering if there was anyone at the school of African or Afro-Caribbean heritage who might be interested in taking part? We are principally looking for anyone under the age of 28 who may be free to come along – we would ask them to read a short excerpt from the book directly to camera, and after this they would be free to go – there may be a short wait but it should be pretty quick. Unfortunately we are not able to offer a fee, but could cover travel expenses.
If you could pass this onto anyone who you think might be interested in taking part that would be greatly appreciated. Or if you can recommend anyone who we should contact that would be great also.
Thank you so much,
I receive several requests per week for actors to work for nothing. Occasionally these come from individuals with no money committed to genuine projects and I do my best to support them. The History Department at the BBC, however, is exceptionally well supplied with funds. Here is what I sent back:
“With respect and apologies I have a policy of not passing on requests for free labour, except under particular circumstances which don't apply here.
May I ask why the BBC is looking to use actors and not pay them?
Upon which I got this:
Thanks so much for your email. Huge apologies, I didn't mean to cause any offence and of course we would pay actors on any normal occasion, and understand why you would not like to pass this enquiry on. We were looking for contributors in the area from all sorts of backgrounds, whether that be acting, a passion for literature, or an interest in the subject from a historical or an artistic point of view. This is the core reason why I regret on this occasion we weren't able to offer a fee. Apologies, I perhaps it don't make that clear in my email.
I completely understand and agree with your policy.
Huge apologies, and thank you again for your email.
All the best”
To which I responded with:
" 'We were looking for contributors in the area from all sorts of backgrounds, whether that be acting, a passion for literature, or an interest in the subject from a historical or an artistic point of view. This is the core reason why I regret on this occasion we weren't able to offer a fee.'
This doesn't make sense. There is no natural connection between the first sentence and the second. The one doesn't lead to the other. It is like saying "I wore a raincoat today because my printer had run out of ink".
Could I have the reason, core or otherwise, why the BBC is seeking presenters to work unpaid?
That was several weeks ago. The charming researcher – I imagine her as very bright, with a very good degree, early twenties, eager to please – has been leant on by a producer on 200 grand to get stuff for nothing. She thus fires off a series of fascistically correct, pious mails, essentially looking for something free which ought to be paid for. From me she had the unanswerable question: why is the BBC doing this? Her response was educated, mendacious, and bore no scrutiny whatsoever. Her reaction to my last mail was to ignore it; I have had no response.
I wonder if she realises that by telling serious, syntaxically impeccable lies to me the person she most insults is herself? I hope so. On the other hand perhaps she is aware that effortless dishonestly followed by denial is one of the characteristics of those who go far.
A complaint to the BBC would take months of persistence and result in an apology, qualified by an assurance that this was a misunderstanding, not representative of usual practice. This would be a lie. The researcher’s attitude to me and veracity is a microcosm of what the BBC has now become; a corrupt, unreformable monster which has contempt for the people it is paid vast amounts to serve. The institution will come crashing down - the only question is when. I wish someone would orchestrate a licence fee strike. It would only take 200,000 or so to make it logistically impossible for the State to cope, and if there were that many there would soon be ten million. The French would do it, why not us?