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Licence to lie.


At last the BBC has publicly admitted it sees its true mission is to reeducate us plebs by leading us into the paths of politically correct righteousness in all matters ethnic, social, sexual and political. We need no longer complain on social media and to the great corporation itself for its left wing bias, nor waste time batting away counterclaims by its acolytes that it is a Tory-supporting, right wing organisation. Aunty’s woke now — and she’s out and proud.

We can thank Piers Wenger, controller of drama commissioning, for making this plain in responding (belatedly) to criticism over a couple of its adaptations of literary classics screened in the Christmas period. No doubt goaded into making his comments by the aggressive noises by Boris Johnson about the corporation’s funding structure, Wenger claimed that adaptations of the classics in question, The War of the Worlds by Wells, and A Christmas Carol by Dickens, needed to be “repurposed” for contemporary viewers. These were books, he informed us in suitably patronising tones, “that were written a long time ago — hundreds of years of years ago”. Ooh, yes, that sounds a long, long time ago, sir; was this before mobile phones and Netflix?

He explained further, “They need to speak to a contemporary audience and represent a contemporary world as well as being stories set in our past. That’s the point of adaptation. You do that with everything.” That’s as insulting and ridiculous as it sounds. If an old text doesn’t speak to us now on its own terms what is the point of repurposing it? All you are doing is twisting the original material to fit a modern, and most likely alien, agenda.

A book that has something valuable to say about the human condition does not need to hashed about so that it “represents” the contemporary world. That is to underestimate the intelligence of the contemporary viewer, but then the BBC has been progressively doing that for a couple of decades. In my own life it has gone from being somewhere youngsters such as myself could first encounter adaptations of classics by Shakespeare, Dickens, Checkhov, Gogol and Tolstoy, etc, in all their uncontemporary glory to an arena of preachy wokeness where production values outrank intellectual engagement.

I think the process went into overdrive after 2016. Trump and Brexit pitched them into the abyss. The world was revealed to be full of heretics. Urgent action was required. The plebs needed to be corrected and converted: “You’re a bunch of rightwing, racist thickos,” became the BBC’s explicit attitude to its licence-payers, “and we’re going to make sure you get on message, even if we have to trash the classics to do so.”

That’s why we ended up with these desecrations at Christmas.

In War of the Worlds, for instance, they could not resist pushing the feminist, anti-patriarchy agenda. Not only did they knock the male protagonist off his perch and reduce his role to that of a feckless soyboy but they also replaced him with a woman. And not just any woman; not even his wife (from whom he was separated and seeking a divorce, according to the new dispensation) but his mistress. With whom he was apparently living, without any social opprobrium. Nothing to do with the book and nothing to do with representing the contemporary world — unless it was some feeble critique of the institution of marriage.

Further insults piled up. Minor characters, such as Ogilvie and the narrator’s younger brother, were given expanded and different roles, the former, it is hinted, being homosexual; important encounters with the clergyman and the artilleryman were either omitted or reduced to irrelevance, a token ethnic character was inserted in the form of a little black girl, and the time frame completely distorted by the introduction of a before and after scenario. The narrative pace was also rather sluggish.

Scrooge spent a lot of time waxing philosophically nihilistic about life, death, the universe, money and the miserable nature of mankind. Rather like Schopenhauer but without the humour.

The irony is that none of this was needed. It must have slipped the attention of the writer and the BBC that Wells was a committed socialist and therefore one of them. The book already deals with big social issues including colonialism, eugenics, the failure of religion, the behaviour of crowds, the limits of science and technology, and the growing importance of modern media (in this case, newspapers). It is also prescient about the use of gas in warfare.

Similar criticisms apply to A Christmas Carol, which saw some attractive scene setting, mainly in Scrooge’s house, but an awful lot of imported anti-capitalist, psychosexual agitprop. Scrooge’s miserliness was explained by sexual abuse in childhood and exacerbated by his devotion to the capitalist pursuit of profit by all means. He sexually humiliated and blackmailed Mrs Scrooge (miraculously cleansed of whiteness) and spent a lot of time waxing philosophically nihilistic about life, death, the universe, money and the miserable nature of mankind. Rather like Schopenhauer but without the humour. Chuck in a few inappropriate f-bombs and Bob’s your Cratchit.

Again, this was no improvement on the original. Dickens was a social reformer, after all, and A Christmas Carol is explicit about the horrors of poverty, greed and relationships built only on the cash nexus. Hence the contemporary and yet timeless plea that we be kind to each other.

You could say that we are all used to versions of classics that deviate from the original narratives, or others that are simply based on characters drawn from them, so what is the problem? I would argue that if the writers (and the BBC) had presented their versions as what they really are — ideological rewritings or re-imaginings — and titled them differently then there would be no problem. Retaining the original titles and presenting them as if they were, in the proper sense, adaptations that bore more than an infrequent resemblance to the texts, strikes me as dishonest. It’s a type of passing off.

But that means nothing to Wenger and his colleagues, for, as he said, “equality, fair representation and portrayal are all things that matter hugely to the BBC and it would be a dereliction of our duty if we didn’t own those particular initiatives.” High mindedness has replaced high culture. Woke ideology determines creativity. Obsessed with the fantasm of social justice the BBC have no qualms about distorting and desecrating things of great worth which in the past they would accord some respect. Now they don’t care.

They have given themselves permission to lie. And that’s what the licence fee has become — a permission to lie. And who likes being compelled to pay to be lied to?

suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet and writer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire. A Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Lincoln University (2005 – 2008), his poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent book is Albion Days (perennisperegrinator press). Sucks to Your Revolution is a collection of his Fortnightly columns.

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