Tag Archives: lord reith

The paedophile sculptor and the image on the front of BBC Broadcasting House

(L-R) Edward Taylor, John Lloyd, Richard Edis, Jon Glover last night

(L-R) Edward Taylor, John Lloyd, Richard Edis, Jon Glover

Last night, the highly-esteemed Sohemian Society held a celebration of British radio comedy, featuring producers John Lloyd (The News Quiz, Spitting Image, Have I Got News For You, Q.I.), Edward Taylor (Does The Team Think, The Navy Lark, The Men From The Ministry) and Richard Edis (Brain of Britain, My Music).

They had many interesting anecdotes about the production of comedy programmes, which I won’t steal from them, but one presumably widely-known story which I myself had never heard was told by performer Jon Glover about John Reith, the dour, Scottish, first Director General of the BBC.

Jon Glover told the assembled throng:

Eric Gill’s carving of Prospero and naked, child-like Ariel on front of Broadcasting House, London (Photo by David Castor)

Eric Gill’s carving of Prospero and naked, child-like Ariel on front of Broadcasting House, London (Photo by David Castor)

“Lord Reith wasn’t that keen on comedy, but there was a sort of anarchy going on in the building of Broadcasting House in that, if you look at the facade of old Broadcasting House you’ll see some Eric Gill sculptures on the front.

“Eric Gill not only slept with his children but sculpted directly onto the Portland stone outside Broadcasting House in mid-winter, wearing a smock and no knickers and BBC secretaries were commanded not to look up as they went into the building.

“And he did a very famous statue of Prospero and Ariel and he gave Ariel an extremely large ‘protuberance’ and Lord Reith is reported to have one night tried to climb the scaffolding and chip away at it.”

I find the story almost impossible to believe – the vision of John Reith climbing up his own scaffolding to chip away at a work of art he presumably commissioned. But it is a good story – and bizarrely satisfyingly neat in the idea (given recent stories) that a paedophile carved above the main entrance to the BBC’s headquarters a man holding the naked figure of a child.

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An anti-Semitic and possibly sexist story – unless it’s true, in which case it’s just very quirky

When I was working at Granada TV in Manchester in the 1980s, there was a story I was told by more than one person which was supposedly true, though who knows if it was?

It could well have been true.

Relevant to this story is the fact that the owner/boss at Granada was Sidney Bernstein, who was Jewish and who, though very liberal in his political and social outlook, could also sometimes be slightly strait-laced morally.

Granada, like all TV companies, had people working through the night in various parts of the building, doing all sorts of things. ‘Mr Sidney’ had an apartment on the roof of the Granada building in Manchester and it was not unknown for him to wander round the office building at night in his slippers.

But, on the night in question, it was a security man who was wandering amiably about the building, making sure that everything which should be locked was locked and that everything was generally safe and secure.

This particular night, in one office, the security man found a couple having sex over a desk.

He was duty bound to report it, which he did the following morning.

Discussions were had about what to do because, clearly, this was not behaviour to be encouraged; for one thing, the couple should have been working, not making the beast with two backs.

But what to do about it?

The decision went all the way up to Sidney Bernstein – literally “up”, as he lived on the roof.

“Sack the man!” Sidney said. “We can’t have this sort of thing going on!”

However, it was then explained to him that the man was a key member of staff in a very complicated on-going production and he could not easily be replaced. If he were sacked, it would stall the production process and it would cost a fortune.

“So, if we can’t sack him, sack the girl!” Sidney countered.

But it was pointed out to him that this might be seen as sexist.

“Well, sell the desk!” said Sidney.

And they did.

Granada sold the desk.

At a profit.

It was told to me as true by more than one person.

You’re right.

It can’t be true, can it?

Sometimes I’m just too innocent for my own good.

In the early years of Granada TV, every office had one – and only one – picture on the wall. It was of P.T.Barnum, to remind everyone employed by the company that – even if they were working on a serious programme – they were in showbusiness.

That is true.

Granada nourished myths.

_________________________

POSTSCRIPT

Blog reader Mike Taylor tells me:

“I’ve often heard a similar story about Lord Reith at the BBC, however in that story it was a high profile presenter they couldn’t sack. In this story though Lord Reith had the desk burnt.”

_________________________

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“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was then…. now “It Is Rocket Science!”

It may be comedy sacrilege, but I never thought the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was quite as good as its reputation. It was good and Douglas Adams, whom I once interviewed for a magazine, was very likeable. But the original Hitchhiker never quite lived up to its later reputation. Perhaps nothing could.

The BBC’s first Director General, Lord Reith, must nowadays spend most of his time turning in his grave. His most famous original directive was that the Beeb should “educate, inform and entertain”. It is very rare nowadays that anyone succeeds in simultaneously achieving all three. But I suppose it was always very rare.

Last night, though, Helen Keen and her writing partner Miriam Underhill achieved it.

I went to a recording at BBC Broadcasting House of their four-part Radio 4 series It Is Rocket Science! which had to be very extensively (and has been very successfullly) re-written for radio because the original 2008 and 2010 stage versions were so visual.

The It Is Rocket Science! series will be transmitted on BBC Radio 4 early in the new year and I suspect it will get a lot of coverage because it manages to be intelligent, intriguing and funny – and it is as accessibly informative as it is funny.

Off-hand, I can’t think of anything similar that I’ve ever heard on radio.

It could be a classic in the making.

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More Third Reich than Lord Reith

This morning was the first time I’d been inside the new and/or still-being-rebuilt BBC Broadcasting House in London. It appears to have an interior colour scheme of red, black and white. Very clean and trendy, though those three colours feel unsettlingly more Third Reich than Lord Reith. It was also slightly unsettling to see a notice at the entrance of the Radio Theatre declaring:

PLEASE NOTE. Strobe lighting and smoke effects are used in this theatre.

I know I’m knocking on a bit and the various media are allegedly rapidly converging, but this seemed going a little far for BBC Radio, even by the surreal standards of the late Director Fuhrer John Birt. Strobe lighting and smoke effects?

I was at the the BBC Radio Theatre to see the recording of a debate entitled on the info sheet I Love…? but listed on the BBC website as The Greatest City on Earth. Basically a set-to on whether London, New York, Mumbai or Istanbul is the best city. No mention of Edinburgh, then?

Professor Laurie Taylor chaired a surprisingly feisty debate which included Jake Arnott, writer of the superb semi-fiction crime books The Long Firm (filmed by the BBC) and He Kills Coppers (filmed by ITV)… and the always surprising American comedian Lewis Schaffer of whom more in the weeks to come.

Watching Lewis is often a rollercoaster ride. He’s more self-destructive than a shower of lemmings and many are the comedy cliffs I have seen him plunge over. He is Bill Bryson with attitude or Woody Allen on acid. But always charming and I am always surprised by his ability to ad-lib well-thought-out punchlines. A natural for factual-based TV and radio shows. Let’s just hope he figures out what his Edinburgh Fringe show is going to be about before August. He has been doing try-outs for it twice weekly in Soho since (I think) last November. He is a potentially great comedian who is already worth the price of admission. Certainly worth tuning in to hear The Greatest City on Earth – Radio 4 next Monday morning, 12th July, at 09.00, with a shortened version broadcast on Radio 4 at 21.30 that same evening.

As far as I am aware, there will be no strobe lighting and no smoke effects during the broadcasts.

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