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Wednesday, 21 August, 2002, 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK
Slanging match over BBC output
Auf Wiedersehen Pet
Auf Wiedersehen Pet: Held up in response to criticism

It has been another week for bashing the BBC. Nothing new there.

With the corporation currently firing on all cylinders and the commercial world having a tough time, the BBC's rivals have been queuing up to air their grievances.

What is notable has been the robustness of its response.

The first attack came from an unexpected source - the director of the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC).

Paul Bolt told the Financial Times that too many BBC programmes were "humdrum, over-familiar and formulaic", singling out for criticism the popular dramas Mersey Beat and Holby City.

"One begins to wonder what really is the point of the BBC bringing this to us. Let's have something a bit different.

"If the BBC isn't at the cutting edge, if the BBC isn't being original, trying to find new faces, new ideas, constantly refreshing itself with new things, then people will tire of it.


"People will say: 'Why am I paying my licence fee if this is what they're doing?'"

Before joining the BSC, Mr Bolt was a senior civil servant at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, helping set the government's broadcasting policy.

David Liddiment
Critic David Liddiment: Speaking at Edinburgh TV Festival
His current job will disappear when the BSC is merged into the new single regulator Ofcom and his remarks were widely seen as an attempt to strengthen his chances of a top position in the new set-up.

The BBC fired back with two barrels. Mal Young, head of drama series, told the Guardian: "This department was built on Z Cars, Juliet Bravo, and All Creatures Great and Small.

"Popular drama has always been singled out for criticism, but people are increasingly voting with their on-buttons."

And in a letter for publication, head of drama Jane Tranter questioned whether Bolt's "patronising" remarks were in keeping with his role as an "objective and unbiased regulator".

Personal attack

"His examples are also highly selective. Over the past 12 months the BBC has launched 17 brand new dramas on BBC One alone and our output has ranged from the Bafta award-winning The Way We Live Now via Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and Spooks to the more challenging Crime and Punishment."

Those responses were mild compared with the reply to Monday's attack on Greg Dyke by ITV's departing head of programmes.

David Liddiment told the Guardian Dyke did not understand the BBC's purpose and by concentrating on ratings and "not a lot else" he was "providing a terrible disservice to range and quality and cultural values in Britain".

Asked if Dyke was the right person to lead the BBC, Liddiment said "I don't think so" - a line the paper interpreted as "saying he is unfit to hold the position".

The BBC's response was just as personal. "We're disappointed that David Liddiment is going, given his effect on ITV's performance. We feel rather sorry for him.

"Having presided over the most disastrous period in ITV's history, he's desperate to blame anyone but himself for the channel's failures."

Ouch. Liddiment will be returning fire at this weekend's Edinburgh Television Festival. And no doubt the BBC's top TV executives will be firing back.

Nick Higham is on holiday.

See also:

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