‘You cannot hope/to bribe or twist/Thank God! The British journalist/But
seeing what/That man will do/Unbribed, there’s no occasion to.’ There
was always a grain of truth in that charming piece of doggerel by
Humbert Wolfe but never did one think it might apply to the BBC.
Not so anymore, judging by the evidence of my own eyes and a Tim McKane
of Belfast, who tells me he has heard no less than three ‘commercial’
plugs on Gary Lineker’s Radio Five Live show for Walkers and its Salt
and Lineker flavoured crisps. To wit: 1) A reference to Gazza crying,
just like he does in the ad. 2) A direct reference to ‘my crisps’ by the
sainted Gary. 3) A reference to the show itself as ‘Sport and Lineker’.
Since he has a crisps client, McKane asks, can he book some airtime on
Of course he can’t, but if I was him I’d hire myself a PR company pretty
quick to see if it too can put one over on the BBC.
The thing is, it doesn’t seem that hard to put one over on the BBC these
days. In fact, given the ever-watchful eye of the Independent Television
Commission - remember the pounds 500,000 fine levied on Granada for
giving undue plugs - it seems you can get away with murder on the BBC,
but not on ITV.
For example, a few weeks ago in Ruby Wax Meets...Pamela Anderson, the
first five minutes were a massive plug for Richard Branson and Virgin
Airlines. But you have to hand it to Richard, who did nothing more than
mug shamelessly for the camera and give Ruby a free flight. But how did
he get away with it? And why didn’t BA go apeshit?
More recently I saw an episode of a (dire) sitcom called Next of Kin in
which Penelope Keith took the grandchildren to Chessington World of
Adventures. This was fine, except that Chessington received about ten (I
gave up counting) gratuitous namechecks, as well as numerous action
shots of its branded rides - the best ad I’ve ever seen for the place.
What gave it added piquancy is that Chessington belongs to the Pearson
Group, which owns Thames TV and a stake in Channel Five. And the plot of
last Sunday’s Ballykissangel concerned the tragedy of the missing stout
(guess which brand). Effectively, it seems to me, it is now possible to
sponsor a BBC programme. So, in the immortal words of another BBC
programme, ‘How do they do that?’
How indeed? I can only think of three possible explanations: first,
sheer naivety such that the BBC doesn’t know it’s being had. Second,
like a housewife who goes on the game when the family falls on hard
times, the BBC does it because money’s tight and it has to use every
funding trick in the book. Third, it’s all part of a giant conspiracy to
introduce creeping commercialism to the BBC.
Whatever, my advice to any advertiser is not to complain but to get
moving and make some friends in the BBC’s props and production