The BBC is always coming in for criticism, be it from Tory MPs, the Daily Mail, and quite regularly even members of its own staff. And it’s true it can often be a ridiculous and frustrating institution. But we can be a ridiculous and frustrating nation. And we wouldn’t quite be British without it.
1. The very idea of a state-funded broadcaster is unique and pioneering.
The British Broadcasting Company was founded by the General Post Office and six telecommunications companies. But it was the visionary work of Lord Reith that the country should administer broadcasting with an organization independent of both the government and corporations, and a license fee was introduced, the BBC as we know it established under a royal charter in 1927. This was a radical move. The new body bore a coat of arms with the slogan, “Nation shall speak peace unto Nation.”
2. And so its principles can pretty much be boiled down to “be excellent to each other”.
3. It didn’t have an office, it had a dream factory.
TV Centre in White City was more than a building, it was national treasure. Visitors and new staff would report getting lost for hours amid the neverending corridors of ‘the donut’. Progress and economy made it make sense for the corporation to sell it off. But it didn’t stop BBC Four, on the building’s final night in action, broadcasting an entire night of programming basically lamenting what a terrible decision they’d made.
4. The BBC has given the world just so many classic comedies.
From The Office to Fawlty Towers to Only Fools And Horses, the warmest-hearted sitcom ever conceived. And let’s not forget the BBC also commissions leftfield, cult fare like The Mighty Boosh.
5. Doctor Who.
The sort of thing that could only have happened at a place like the BBC. From Steven Moffat’s foreword in new book Doctor Who: The Vault: “How does one tell the story of Doctor Who, this show of impossible contradictions? The cult TV show that is also a massive mainstream hit. The strictly British TV show, with an international audience of 77 million, most of whom don’t even live here. The show you don’t even have to watch, to be watching.”
6. That time an elephant ran amok on Blue Peter, obviously.
And the unflappable way Valerie Singleton deals with the whole episode.
7. The fact that Helena Bonham Carter played Elizabeth Taylor.
In the bio-drama Burton And Taylor. In decades to come we will still look back and marvel that this actually happened. Unfortunately though, it was also the last of BBC Four’s excellent drama productions, the series axed due to budget cuts.
8. A news service free from commercial pressures.
Because that’s important in a democracy.
9. An unwavering commitment to accuracy.
It is written that any major global event did not actually happen until it has been verified by the BBC. And on election night, they will usually be lagging a bit behind everyone else with their results. This is because they are making doubly sure they are definitely correct.
10. And yet it’s completely normal for a newsreader to mistake a ream of photocopier paper for his iPad.
11. Where else could you hear the Shipping Forecast?
It’s been a poetic and reassuring part of British life since 1911. It actually serves very little purpose now — ship captains have the internet these days — but the BBC could never ditch it. Just imagine the protests.
12. The organisation is intensely self-critical (maybe even to a fault).
The Savile business was inexcusable of course, but how many other organisations would run a primetime broadcast delving deep into their own shortcomings? And on a much lighter note, they’ve made the guy who spotted this take the picture down and apologise. To apologise is just good manners.
13. Everything David Attenborough has ever done.
Especially the one with the gorillas.
14. A British home for those awesome Scandi-crime dramas.
Hardly anyone’s going to watch them. It doesn’t matter, it’s BBC Four.
And yes she might do Channel 4 Racing as well and that was where she started but whatever. The Beeb knows a good egg when it sees one.
16. Being everything during the Olympics.
And yes, Channel 4 did the Paralympics just as well, but whatever.
17. It invented Top of the Pops.
And yes, a weekly live music show based around the vagaries of the pop charts would probably be unsustainable in “the current climate”, but we’re still poorer as a nation without it.
18. It gave the world Patsy Stone.
19. It would be remiss at this point not to mention Sherlock.
20. The greatest science programme in the universe.
Currently, Wonders Of Life with Professor Brian Cox.
21. The rare genius of Andrew Neil.
This Week is the single funniest politics programme ever to exist, where getting people like Katie Price and Denise Welch in to talk about Westminster affairs makes total sense. Nightcap at Annabelle’s anyone?
Seriously, it’s not like any other politics show. Remember that time they all had a rave to Underworld?
22. Light entertainment on the BBC is just that bit classier.
As much as the Tom Daley diving show on ITV has its own special merits, it doesn’t have Bruce Forsyth doing a forward roll.
23. Being able to watch stuff online free and legally.
The BBC iPlayer was the first of its kind, after the corporation’s pioneering investment in digital. The iPlayer now even links out to rival broadcasters’ content because they’re just jolly well decent like that.
24. The website in general.
Where you can find out absolutely everything you might ever want to know, from the day’s events at Westminster to pictures of squirrels being adorable.
25. The saving of 6 Music.
Or Twitter FM as it might otherwise be known, but whatever. Threaten an underperforming niche broadcaster with closure and British people will mobilise. The BBC, adorably, paid attention to the hashtags and gave it a reprieve. And now some people actually listen to it.
26. In fact, the fact the Beeb constantly survives routine Conservative attacks proves that we are, at heart, a liberal nation.
27. Which means this guy absolutely hates it.
28. So let’s hear it for the BBC.
It’s the envy of the world, and we should be proud.