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Today I am privileged to bring you an extract from an explosive BBC fly-on-the-wall documentary called “ The Beeb” which goes into the very heart of the BBC and shows the hilarious yet tragic things going on at the top. The programme was made inside the bunker of John Birt, the current Director General of the BBC, with his full knowledge. Here we go....

Birt: We have recently come under a lot of criticism for faking documentaries. Does anyone have anything to say to that?

Man with glasses: Is this the thing about the Learner Driver?

Birt: Yes.

Man with glasses: Oh, that. I can explain that.

Birt: Go ahead. Explain.

Man with glasses: We found it would be cheaper to recreate certain scenes, sir, rather than film them at source. We got the subject to tell us what had happened, and then we restaged it and filmed it in a faked version. But it was cheaper, sir. That’s what you’ve always said. Make it cheap.

Birt: I haven’t said anything of the sort. What I have always said is, Let’s have a leaner, more efficient, more cost-conscious Corporation!

2nd Man with Glasses: Same thing, John. It’s just that you clothe it in business PR language. Half the time we don’t know what you’re talking about.

Man Without Glasses: (very softly) And the rest of the time we don’t care.

Birt: What was that, Will?

Man Without Glasses: Nothing, sir. I was just wondering if there was a glass of water...

Birt: Should have brought your own. BBC isn’t made of money, you know. Where were we?

Man with Glasses: Cheating in these fly-on-the wall documentaries, sir...

Birt: Right. Has anyone got anything to say on these?

Man With Itch In Right Ear Which He Keeps Scratching: Yes, sir.

Birt: Good. Fire away, then, Ken.

Man with Itch: It’s Brian, sir.

Birt: What’s Brian?

Man with Itch: My name. Not Ken. Brian.

Birt: Fine. Carry on.

Man with Itch: Well, it strikes me that it’s a load of hoo-ha about whether fly-on-the-wall documentaries are genuine or not, recreated or not. Take an example. When we have finished this meeting, a summary of the minutes will go out as a record of it. It will be, if you like, a recreation of this meeting. It will be dreadfully inaccurate. It will be weighted to reflect John Birt’s views. It will discard all the argument and feeling. But it will come to be accepted as authentic, even by those who were there, even though it’s deeply flawed.

Man with Glasses: That’s brilliant.

Man with Itch: Similarly, a lot of TV is faked. The news itself is a rather vapid reconstruction of the real thing. A wide screen film showing on the small screen is a vapid recreation of the cinema experience. I should think a lot of “You’ve Been Framed” is faked, even though it’s on film. A lot of those stunts must be staged by amateurs just to get Beadle’s shilling. Indeed, there was a case the other day of two drunk young men who tried to stage a video clip for Beadle when there was an almighty storm hitting the sea wall of their seaside town. One took the camcorder while the other walked along the sea wall. He was taken by a huge wave and drowned, while his mate was filming the whole thing. This was an attempted stunt which went wrong - and became real!

Man with Glasses: That’s brilliant!

Man without Glasses: Did they use the clip on Beadle?

Man with Itch: No. Partly because it wasn’t funny, of course. But also because it was genuine. If it had been an accident, you could have used it. But because it was a genuine death on film, it couldn’t be shown.

Birt: What are you trying to say?

Man with Itch: I’m trying to say that in fact the recreated, the faked, the rehearsed, the reconstruction all make BETTER television than the real and actual. Television is all the worse when it is not recreated. Father Ted tells you more about the Church and Ireland than a live relayed mass from Dublin would. On TV, the real is less genuine than the fake!

Man with Glasses: God, that’s terrific stuff!

Man with Pen: (pausing and turning to Birt ) What do you think, sir ?

Birt: I haven’t the faintest idea. I didn’t see what he was driving at. If it’s not in pseudo-managerial language, I can’t understand it.
Man with Itch: My God, I never thought of that. We can’t understand the Director-General, because of the way he talks - and he can’t understand us!

         APOLOGY  I have now learnt that some of the above fly-on-the-wall, if not all of it, was in fact recreated using actors, and hack writers. Those responsible will be fired.

The Independent Wednesday Mar 11 1998


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© Caroline Kington