Greg Dyke, a former BBC Director-General, famously described the BBC as ‘hideously white’*. This associated the BBC’s recruitment policy with ‘institutional racism’**. His analysis is crassly simplistic, identifying ‘diversity’ only with skin colour. Differences associated with colour are readily identifiable and understandable, hence the powerful concept institutional racism. Differences between people based on social class, regional background and critically, education, are more powerful determinants in BBC careers. The least intellectual TV programme is probably the quiz show and so that is where the analysis begins.
Quiz shows are cheap and cheerful. The BBC uses three shows to straddle the late afternoon and the early evening – 5:15 to 7 p.m. Each is broadcast five times a week. They are an important feature in the BBC’s schedules. A pleasing personality and a jolly encouraging manner are crucial for a successful ‘host’. Intellectual abilities are a disadvantage given the repetitious and trivial nature of the shows. Quiz shows used to be the home ground of comedians past their best. The classic example being Bob Monkhouse with the first of his many shows being The Golden Shot (1967-72).
The three BBC shows currently running*** in the key early evening timeslot are hosted by intellectuals, all of whom went to elite universities****. The daily shows are-
Pointless 5:15- 6 p.m. Hosted by Alexander Armstrong (45) educated at Cambridge
Two Tribes 6-6:30 p.m. Hosted by Richard Osman (44) Cambridge
Eggheads 6:30-7 p.m. Hosted by Jeremy Vine (50) Durham University
So what? That elite members of our education system desire jobs which are intentionally lightweight seems odd, but these jobs are very well paid. Possibly these hosts are ‘past their intellectual best’ and this is an action replay of the previous generation of comedians. Or they could be recipients of ‘networking’ where talent is entirely secondary to their connexions from university (or relatives?).
QI, Only Connect, and University Challenge all have graduates from Cambridge or Oxford hosting them (Stephen Fry (57); Victoria Coren Mitchell (42); Jeremy Paxman (65)). Six quiz shows on BBC TV all have intellectual hosts. They are all white and middle-aged. It’s as if the BBC believes that being jolly and personable is exclusively a characteristic of people who are white, middle-aged with an elite education at a world-class university. Identifying ‘diversity’ issues with colour or physical disability is missing the point as can be readily seen from these examples.
Counter examples are few and far. Dara O’Briain (43) went to the equivalent of Cambridge in Ireland; Rhod Gilbert (46) went to provincial Exeter and uniquely John Humphreys (71) left school at 15 but has had a stellar career as a BBC journalist. (Maybe Mastermind is his ‘nice little earner’ boosting his pension plan: effortless routine without strain). Once again they are all white, middle-aged (except Humphreys) doing a job more-or-less anyone could do. Victoria Coren Mitchell (Oxford, middle-aged) is from the same template apart from being female.
Dyke was more correct than he knew. That the hosts of trivial quiz shows are ‘hideously white’ is unsurprising; that they also went to elite universities is curious. These hosts demonstrate exclusivity. Dyke’s observation made a few headlines before drowning in the BBC’s bureaucracy. Diversity issues in the BBC are a huge problem, as the BBC doesn’t reflect the British population even with entry-level entertainment programmes.
*BBC News 6th Jan 2001
** ‘Institutional racism’ is a concept explaining British police attitudes towards ethnic groups and their disproportionately (negative) treatment.
***W/b 3rd August 2015
****‘Ivy League’ universities in the USA
Lord Hall (Oxford) BBC Director-General
Danny Cohen (Oxford) Head of BBC-One (when these shows were commissioned)
Kim Skillinglaw (Oxford) Head of BBC-Two