Page last updated at 09:42 GMT, Thursday, 8 May 2008 10:42 UK

Fry: BBC cuts would be 'tragic'

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry reckons the BBC iPlayer is being abused by viewers

Actor Stephen Fry has defended the BBC, saying it would be a "tragedy" to live in a country that "emasculates" it.

The 50-year-old was giving a speech in London about media regulator Ofcom's proposals to make the organisation give up part of the licence fee.

"The BBC enriches the country in ways we will only discover when it has gone and it is too late to build it back up again," the writer and comedian said.

He added: "We actually can afford the BBC, because we can't afford not to."

'Nurtured and fostered'

The actor, who has written and starred in several BBC productions such as comedy Blackadder, said: "By asking me to contribute my thoughts, the BBC hoped, I suspect - but in no way insisted - that I would fight their corner against cuts against the slicing of the licence fee.

I genuinely cannot see that the nation would benefit from a diminution of any part of the BBC's great whole
Stephen Fry
"At the very least they expected I might make a case for the public service aspects of comedy and for its importance and for the need for it to be nurtured and fostered.

"I am happy to do that, not out of eternal loyalty and belief in an institution that has as much as any school or college made me who I am, but because I genuinely cannot see that the nation would benefit from a diminution of any part of the BBC's great whole.

"It should be as closely scrutinised as possible of course, value for money, due humility and all that, but to reduce its economies of scale, its artistic social and national reach for misbegotten reasons of ideology or thrift would be a tragedy," he added.

The star, best known for writing and performing with comic partner Hugh Laurie, believes "slicing" the licence fee and introducing "radical plans" would not affect his TV career.

Stephen Fry and Rowan Atkinson
Fry (l) played General Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth

"In fact I would probably profit from the change. It is simply that I don't want to live in a country that emasculates the BBC," he said.

Despite defending the BBC's work Fry did criticise the iPlayer which allows the audience to download and watch programmes 30 days after it was broadcast on TV.

The star claims viewers are abusing the facility by illegally making copies of the shows and sharing them with their friends.

He claims putting out content which was thought to only be streamed showed "incredible naivety about how the internet and digital devices work".

Fry said: "A digital copy is a perfect copy. At the moment it's relying on the fact that you have to be slightly dorky to record from the iPlayer, but believe me that will change.

"It will soon be the work of a moment for my mother to get an iPlayer programme off her computer and onto her iPod, iPhone, or whatever device she chooses."

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