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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 17:07 GMT
BBC chairman denies class attack
Gavyn Davies
Davies attacked "southern, educated" critics
BBC chairman Gavyn Davies has said he is very sorry comments he made about the corporation's critics were interpreted as an attack on the middle class in southern England.

Mr Davies said on Tuesday that allegations of "dumbing down" came largely from "southern, white, middle-class, middle-aged and well educated" people.

Such people already consumed a disproportionate amount of BBC services and appeared to be trying to "hijack" more, he said.

Writer Sir John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, was one commentator who dismissed Mr Davies's comments.

John Mortimer
Mortimer was a barrister like his character Rumpole

He said the remarks were "incomprehensible, illiterate and absurd".

He asked: "Does he mean these white, middle-class people don't count?"

Mr Davies countered that he had not intended to attack middle-class people.

But he did not back down from his argument that BBC services were skewed too far towards their interests.

He told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme he had written to Mr Mortimer, and had not meant to say that the middle class audience did not matter.

"What I mean", he said, "is that they count as much as everybody else - and that is a very different thing".

He pointed out that he himself fitted his description of the BBC's critics.

'Dumbing down'

Mr Davies said: "I am not trying to attack these people at all, and I am very sorry that it has appeared like that in some of the press.

"The only point I am making is that we all pay the licence fee, whoever we are and wherever we come from.

"When we look at the evidence, some people get really good value for money out of it - better, in fact, than others."

Those people, he said, tended to be southern and very well educated.

Mr Davies agreed that the BBC had to remain "extraordinarily alert" to the danger of dumbing down.

The perception of dumbing down was so widespread that he sometimes worried there might be some truth in it, he said.

But he warned that such fears did not mean BBC services should be skewed more towards a minority of licence fee-payers.

"We have to serve everybody," he said.

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