The best books on the BBC and why it is under threat

Who am I?

John Mair is a former BBC Current Affairs Producer. He is the editor of 42 ‘hackademic’ books (mixing hacks and academics). Six of them are on the BBC. He frequently broadcasts on the topic. He is currently working on an updated collection on the privatisation of Channel Four, a tourist guide to The Inspector Morse Franchise and Oxford. My book titles are apocalyptic by design but that reflects the true state of possible existential crisis I perceive the BBC to be about to experience. I am gloomy but do not think I am wrong. Good reads if I say so myself. All are brimful of informed comments.


I wrote...

The BBC at 100: Will It Survive?

By John Mair (editor),

Book cover of The BBC at 100: Will It Survive?

What is my book about?

The storm clouds gathering over the new Broadcasting House have got darker. The attacks on the Corporation grow from all sides day by day. One of our great British cultural inventions may be in existential danger. It needs an ‘NHS moment; the Johnson government bears it ill. The question is will the BBC survive? Will the new Director-General, Tim Davie, be able to save the Corporation?

This book attempts to answer these and other questions about the BBC at 100 from a wide range of perspectives.It doesn’t duck the serious scandals that have engulfed the BBC, not least the Dianagate affair and the treatment of Cliff Richard, but it also looks at the strengths and other weaknesses of the BBC today.

The Books I Picked & Why

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The War Against the BBC

By Patrick Barwise, Peter York,

Book cover of The War Against the BBC: How an Unprecedented Combination of Hostile Forces Is Destroying Britain’s Greatest Cultural Institution... And Why You Should Care

Why this book?

The pairing of a kosher London Business School professor with a rock-solid broadcasting analysis track record and a style commentator with none. Nearly half the book is made up of footnotes and references. They build a powerful case against the right-wing (and not so right-wing) rag, tag, and bobtail who expend their intellectual effort on undermining the BBC, trying to destroy it or worse ‘defund it’. The trouble is that post-Brexit rational discussion in the UK is stilted and limited. The BBC has acquired an army of unexpected enemies. The usual suspects of friends are proving somewhat muted on this front in the Culture Wars. A hard but good read.

Much of the writing on the BBC is ill-formed opinion. Few facts. This book is partial but very solid academically. It should, but will not, put some arguments to bed. Will it ‘save’ the BBC. Watch this space.


Getting Out Alive

By Roger Mosey,

Book cover of Getting Out Alive: News, Sport and Politics at the BBC

Why this book?

Life as a BBC Executive is like being a frog on a pond of lilies. You start off on a small lily leaf then you hop onto another get bigger ad infinitum until you either drown or become a prince. Mark Thompson is the latter. His last job was President of the New York Times, Roger Mosey is the former. He eventually ran out of BBC lilies to grace and is now head of a Cambridge College; firmly outside the tent ‘looking ‘in. His progress before had been large hops IRN Pennine Radio to BBC local radio to Network editing the World at One and Today. Then to the glamour bit TV-Editor of TV news then Head of Sport and the cherry on the cake-supremo of the 2012 London Olympics. That fortnight was the BBC at its’ supreme best. Roger was the pinnacle. From there the whole pond should have been his oyster. Not to be given a titular job as Editorial Director for the whole BBC. The frog was off the pond to the new rivers of Cambridge. This book is a good read. It was published some six years ago, Roger’s tongue has loosened since and he has become the go-to man for some of the press enemies of the BBC.

Roger provides a racy read as befits a Corporation frog. He learned the Corporation inside out by living on the pond. A friend of the BBC but a critical one.


The Fun Factory

By Will Wyatt,

Book cover of The Fun Factory: A Life In The BBC

Why this book?

Will is the Kosygin of the BBC. He survived many changes of regime ending up close to the Britain Himalayan summit as Managing Director Television. Along the way, he made some good programmes and developed some innovations like using a small presentation studio to make the likes of The Old Grey Whistle Test. Later, his documentary features department in Kensington House was huge and productive. Will may have been the ace BBC politician but he was and still is very charming. I know he accosted me in the Waitrose oxford car park many years after I had left the BBC and that has led to a friendship of sorts. He is Oxford/Town Boy -through and through. A local lad whose headmaster in his Walton Manor primary school ‘helped’ him by hinting and more through the 11plus. It was up hills and career mountains from there. Will is ‘Old BBC’ I use him in my books when I want to celebrate the core values of the Corporation.

Will is a journalist at heart turned corporate politician. His book on growing up in Oxford is a cracking read.


This New Noise

By Charlotte Higgins,

Book cover of This New Noise

Why this book?

Charlotte is a Guardian arts/feature writer whom Alan Rusbridger at the Guardian set off on a social anthropological expedition to New Broadcasting House in 2015. She was openly embraced by the then Director-General Tony Hall. It shows. What emerges is a bit too hagiographic for my liking. A Radio four listener’s view of the Corporation.

It is a snapshot of the upper reaches of the BBC with some history thrown in. Not sure she got close to the shop floor though.


1984

By George Orwell,

Book cover of 1984

Why this book?

Think of the book 1984, think of Room 101, and that gives you the measure of Orwell’s view of his two years on the payroll of the Corporation. Not entirely positive yet the BBC has put a statue of him outside New Broadcasting House.


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