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Transitional Times: Change at the BBC 1987 to 1996

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Part of the DUV : Sozialwissenschaft book series (DUVSW)

Abstract

Chapters 1 to 4 have illuminated and examined the BBC’s environment as well as external factors that had an influence on developments at the BBC. Chapter 5 now portrays how the running and organising of the Corporation has been transformed from the late 1980s until early 1996. Almost all the changes and reforms were intended to
  • accommodate external pressures and developments in the BBC’s environment;

  • secure Charter renewal;

  • comply with a changed understanding of the BBC as a publicly funded institution.

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References

  1. 1.
    The BBC Governors who legally are the BBC should only set the broad framework but not interfere with management decisions. This has not always been the case, in particular during Marmaduke Hussey’s terms as chairman of the Board of Governors. (See also chapters 5.3.6 and 6.9 where issues of BBC governance, including possible alternatives, are discussed in greater detail.)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Milne’s dismissal followed the clashes between government and Corporation during the mid-1980s (see also chapter 3.4.4) and was executed only months after Marmaduke Hussey had been appointed chairman of the Board of Governors in October 1986. In many observers’ opinion Hussey was appointed ‘to sort out the BBC.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Checkland had his application for the job of Director-General prepared very carefully. He presented the Board of Governors with a blueprint for the restructuring of the BBC, preparing the Corporation for the new broadcasting environment. See Horrie and Clarke (1994), p. 74.Google Scholar
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    Checkland became Deputy Director-General in 1985. Previously, he had been director of Television Resources.Google Scholar
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    Barnett and Curry (1994), p. 26. See also pp. 54–55.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    O’Malley(1994),p. 154.Google Scholar
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    Madge (1989), p. 150. According to Madge, this was highly necessary because of the BBC’s opaque bureaucratic structures which, in his opinion, had led to an unhealthy civil service mentality among a great number of staff.Google Scholar
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    This resulted in redundancy payments amounting to £70 million during the financial year 1991/92, compared with £36.3 million the previous year. See O’Malley and Treharne (1993), p. 14.Google Scholar
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    AA Barnett and AA Curry (1994), p. 72. The aim was to have 500 hours of television output included in the schedules by the end of 1989.Google Scholar
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    Michael Checkland quoted in Barnett and Curry (1994), p. 68. It was precisely this announcement that led Channel 4’s Michael Grade to speak of the BBC abandoning its heritage (see chapter 4.4). Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Under Milne, the Black Spot Spending Review Committee, to which Checkland had belonged, had had a similar aim: to identify areas where savings could be made. The financial system in operation at the BBC before Checkland took over (and why it had to be modified) is examined by Barnett and Curry (1994), pp. 102–105.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Funding the Future was instigated to release resources to fund a more competitive pay structure. Of its recommendations, the Board of Governors and BBC Management accepted proposals worth £75 million per annum to be achieved by 1993/94. See Touche Ross Report for the Department of National Heritage (1993), p. 6. Cost reductions included the sales of BBC property and issuing new staff with short-term contracts. By 1991, one in six employees worked for the BBC on a temporary basis. See also Checkland, Michael (1991): Transcript of Director General’s Speech at the RTS Cambridge Convention. [Unpublished manuscript] London: BBC, p. 3.Google Scholar
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  18. 18.
    Birt had started his career in television at Granada Television in 1966. Five years later, in 1971, he joined L WT. There he was head of Current Affairs and head of Features before he became head of Programmes in 1982.Google Scholar
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    Goodwin, Peter(1993): The Future of the BBC. In: Media, Culture and Society (London, Sage), Vol. 15 (1993), p. 501. Publication of the Producers’ Guidelines confirms this (see also chapter 3.5.2). Google Scholar
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    Birt, John(1993d): The BBC. The Royal Television Society Fleming Memorial Lecture. [Unpublished manuscript] London: BBC, (no pages).Google Scholar
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    The post was not publicly advertised which prevented other possible candidates like John Tusa from challenging Birt for the job. This resulted in the BBC’s reputation being dented further and reinforced the beliefs of those who saw a politically motivated conspiracy. Asked about the decision not to invite any applications for the post, John Tusa replied that “[...] it was very unwise to do so.” John Tusa interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek on 6.3.1996.Google Scholar
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    One of the most regularly voiced criticisms — of which there are countless ones — is that Birt put reforms above anything else and did not put much consideration into aspects concerning the BBC’s history, tradition and ethos. It is, in particular, the question of BBC ethos, founded on over 70 years of broadcasting tradition, that plays a vital role for the running and working of the Corporation and its staff. Geoff Mülgan, for example, is of the opinion that the reforms of John Birt have partly neglected this vital issue. He argues that the “[...] problem of ethos is in fact one of the obvious inconsistencies at the heart of ‘Birtianism’, which simultaneously proclaims a professional ethic, on the one hand, and structural reforms which erode it on the other, in a programme of reform that seems likely to give more power to the bureaucrats rather than the ethocrats.” Mulgan (1993b), p. 79 (author’s own emphasis). Sue Griffin outlines the problems Birt was faced with at the BBC: “The commercial logic [of recent changes] is sound, but there is a creative risk that in foisting corporate-speak and a plethora of guidelines on an institution which has thrived on the osmosis which critical mass and flexibility permit, the very people the BBC should nurture will be alienated in the process.” Griffin (1993), p. 102. Since there has been so much criticism of John Birt’s radical reform programme, related aspects will be discussed separately in chapter 5.5. Google Scholar
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    Even though some aspects have already been discussed in earlier chapters (see in particular chapter 3.5), it has been decided to return to these issues and analyse them in greater detail in order to stress their significance for the reform process at the BBC.Google Scholar
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    The document centres around issues such as distinctiveness, high quality, efficiency, value for money and accountability. Its contents will be discussed in later chapters. For more information see also Winston (1994). Apart from examining the contents of both Extending Choice and the 1992 Green Paper, Winston outlines what possible strategies lay behind the formulations used.Google Scholar
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    Winston (1994), p. 23. Another question Extending Choice failed to answer was how all the proposals for programmes were to be paid for.Google Scholar
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    Later in 1993 the BBC published Responding to the Green Paper, which “[...] represents the BBC’s considered response to the Government’s Green Paper [...]. [It seeks] to address directly the key issues and questions raised by the Green Paper — and in doing so, to explain our vision of the BBC in the 1990s and beyond.” BBC (1993d): Responding to the Green Paper. London: BBC, p. 2. The document is based on research, public debates and written responses.Google Scholar
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    John Birt quoted in Parston (1993), p. 3.Google Scholar
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    Some Conservatives found that the BBC’s reforms did not go far enough and the 1994 White Paper should have taken a tougher line. See Prynn, Jonathan: Brooke didn’t go far enough, say hardline Tories. In: The Times, 7.7.1994, p. 11.Google Scholar
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    In November 1995, the Department of National Heritage announced that the BBC must sell its 1,400 transmitters, but will be allowed to keep 70–80 per cent of the proceeds for reinvestment. See Broadcasting Bill 1995, clause 90 and Lewis, John: Transmitter sale may net £100m. In: Broadcast, 1.12.1995, p. 6.Google Scholar
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    Judging by the Director-General’s annual performance reviews, a significant amount of arbitrariness seems to be involved in the process of quality evaluation (see also chapter 6.4.1). Google Scholar
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    See Extending Choice (1992), p. 53. Some consequences of Producer Choice have been a significant reduction of the workforce; selling off BBC property; and the reduction of studios, stages and outside broadcasting units. Extending Choice moreover claims that Producer Choice is the Corporation’s main tool for delivering ‘outstanding value for money’. See Extending Choice (1992), pp. 52–55.Google Scholar
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    A very detailed account of what led to the introduction of Producer Choice and the stages of its implementation, including underlying strategies, is given by Cloot, Peter (1994): BBC Producer Choice: A Case Study. Oxford: Major Projects Association. Since the author was given access to internal documents and also talked to some of the individuals involved in the project, his account provides an extremely illuminating view of how this particular element of reform was planned and carried out subsequently. Cloot also demonstrates how programmes were produced before Producer Choice was introduced. For more information see also Paterson, Richard (1993): New Model BBC In: Mülgan, Geoff and Paterson, Richard (eds.) (1993): Reinventing the Organisation. London: British Film Institute, pp. 24–25, who also outlines what was undertaken before Producer Choice was finally implemented in April 1993. Another very detailed description of Producer Choice and the initiatives leading up to its introduction is given by Barnett and Curry (1994), pp. 180–196.Google Scholar
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