CLOSE-UP: PERSPECTIVE - UK TV must lose its parochial outlook to thrive at the top

Should we laugh or cry at the recent events in the grubbier commercial side of the British television industry? For some the reassertion of the amateur hour-ethos is good news, a sign that art has not prostituted itself before mammon. For others, it’s another nail in the coffin for Britain as a global player.

Should we laugh or cry at the recent events in the grubbier

commercial side of the British television industry? For some the

reassertion of the amateur hour-ethos is good news, a sign that art has

not prostituted itself before mammon. For others, it’s another nail in

the coffin for Britain as a global player.



At first sight, the passing over of Sue Farr for Matthew Bannister for

the top marketing job at the BBC appears based on extraordinarily

parochial reasoning. Flailing around as we must for an explanation

behind the unseating of one of Britain’s most successful marketers of

recent years, we can only alight at a desire on behalf of the incoming

director-general, Greg Dyke, to keep the talented Matthew Bannister (see

interview, p10) within the corporation. Which is fine, except that -

whatever attempts there may now be to rewrite the past - Bannister has

no marketing experience.



Imagine the outcry if Farr - or Jane Frost, for that matter - had been

given the post of controller of Radio 1 or something similar.

Unthinkably amateur?



While the BBC takes two steps back, the Government appears intent on

keeping ITV stymied in the quicksand of Britain’s impenetrable media

ownership legislation. In the week that the Government announ-ced it

needed to take further soundings in the proposed Carlton/United News &

Media merger, Bertelsmann and Pearson announced a deal that changed the

face of European television. We all know why the UK advertising industry

and Carlton-United’s domestic rivals have contested the merger proposal,

but try explaining the regulations to anyone from abroad. It is yet

another example of that great British habit of turning assets into

ashes.



Some will find it inconceivable that television might go the way of

shipbuilding, coal, motor-cycles and cricket and football. It’s the same

arrogant, blinkered world vision that conveniently ignores Friends,

Frasier, Seinfeld, ER, The Sopranos and Ally McBeal to insist that we

have the best television in the world, that asserts we have nothing to

learn from Cannes because we create the best advertising in the world

and that is disappointed every time a major football tournament comes

around although we have won nothing since 1966.



Some may find the amateurism that so long characterised the British

attitude to sports such as athletics and rugby union reassuring - a sign

that even in business we are playing fair and letting the real talents

have their head. But, the stark truth is that be it the BBC, ITV,

British athletics or rugby, professionalism is what is required to

survive at the top international level. The moves of the last week are

fiddling or, to be more precise, tinkering while Rome burns.



They are the TV equivalent of blaming BMW for the fact that Rover could

not make cars the British public wished to buy.