Repurposing the Licence Fee

BY JAMES BEMBRIDGE

Last month, Britain’s broadcast media subjected the nation to a series of bombshell revelations from which it may never recover.

First came the news that Philip Schofield isn’t the red-blooded womaniser his tousled hair and flowered shirts would have us believe. Then the BBC’s Head of Drama, Piers Wenger (pictured), revealed that far from some happy coincidence, it is actual BBC policy to make every third character an ethnic minority, homosexual or some mirthful mixture of the two.

This diversity policy was notable in three recent BBC adaptations that were so far removed from their source material as to be unrecognisable: War of the Worlds turned an inconsequential female character into the heroin of the story, Scrooge saw the Cratchit family turned mix-race and Dracula became a wisecracking bisexual.

Wenger defended these changes by saying: ‘Period dramas based on stories written 100 or more years ago have to be made more diverse for a 21st century British audience’ and that such books must be ‘repurposed’.

One can’t help but sense an air of menace behind that word. If books are to be repurposed for the artistic or political fashions of the time, then how many would remain and what would remain of them?

Recent findings that ethnic minorities and gays are actually vastly overrepresented on television lay waste to Wenger’s claim that they are chosen to reflect the reality of modern Britain. One suspects that, in the BBC’s mind, this overcorrection serves as flypaper with which to catch bigots. The changes aren’t so slight as to be unrecognisable, but slight enough to make them unobjectionable.

‘Oh, you don’t like the new and improved mixed-race Cratchit family, how does their ethnicity change the story exactly?’

‘That’s right, Dracula is penetrating some young twink whose character didn’t appear in the novel – what do you have against gays, bigot?’

This ‘bigotpaper’ offends on two levels. Firstly, it assumes that enough of the British public are insular philistines in need of being taught or tortured by diversity. Secondly, to use minorities as nectar demeans them greatly.

The BBC may be disappointed with its haul as sweeter nectar is now to be found elsewhere. Subscription based media providers such as Amazon, Nextflix and Now TV all take the novel approach to entertainment that its purpose should be to entertain, liberating the public from having to endure the priggish preaching of the BBC.

Whilst those within the metro-bubble of the BBC may see themselves as more open-minded than their audience, it is they who are insular luddites to this new world of entertainment on demand. Despite warnings from Ofcom that they stand to lose a generation of viewers, the BBC’s response is to either double down – as in the case of Wenger – or deny the threat entirely.

What is the BBC’s answer to the long-form interviews one can watch on YouTube, free of both charge and trite gotcha moments? What is their answer to the testosterone-fuelled action and sex of Game of Thrones, where men are killed in the most bloodthirsty fashion indiscriminate of their race; where women embrace their sexual allure rather than shun it?

To see the BBC carry on as normal amongst this media boom is like watching the final days of the Romanovs.

Wenger’s decision to repurpose literature will no doubt inspire many more to abandon the BBC and explore these new avenues of entertainment, perhaps ‘repurposing’ their licence fee in the process.