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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 December 2005, 03:31 GMT
The fear of 'hippies' at the BBC
By Ollie Stone-Lee
BBC News reporter at The National Archives in Kew

Rolf Saxon and Sally Phillips in Protesting Hippies
The government was concerned about "hippie influences"
Prime Minister Harold Wilson discussed whether there were too many "hippies" in the BBC in 1975 in talks with the corporation's chairman, it has emerged.

BBC chairman Sir Michael Swann discussed "hippie influences" when he met Wilson at a dinner party.

He said he would not say the BBC was clear of such problems but it was a "picnic" compared to his time as head of Edinburgh University.

Swann was worried young BBC producers were too hostile in their journalism.

His comments, which include bad language, show that the criticisms now levelled by some commentators against BBC figures such as Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys are nothing new.

Swann said "he thought that too many young producers approached every programme they did from the starting point of an attitude about the subject which could be summed up as: 'you are a shit.'"

This attitude was "deplored" by senior figures such as Huw Wheldon, controller of BBC Television, he said.

ITV comparison

At the same dinner party, Wilson complained to Swann that the BBC was "needlessly lavish", citing the large number of tickets taken by the corporation for Labour's annual conference.

Swann agreed the number looked large but presenting news programmes had to be done on the spot - unlike newspaper journalism, which he doubted would show up much better if sub-editors and printers accompanied journalists to the conference.

Wilson also revealed he preferred radio news to television news and thought the presentation was better on ITV than BBC Television.

Swann agreed, saying the BBC would have to do something about it.

The newly released files also show how dinner parties played a key part in Swann getting a pay rise.

He was promised a salary of 10,000 a year when he joined the BBC in 1973 but two years later it still had not materialised.

It was only secured after his wife lobbied Prime Minister's Harold Wilson's private secretary, Robert Armstrong, at a dinner party.

The top civil servant, who later served as Cabinet secretary to Margaret Thatcher, said Lady Swann spoke to him about the issue "at considerable length and with much feeling".

"I am not sure if she realised how embarrassing I found this conversation; I hope not," wrote Armstrong.

Swann was chairman of the BBC from 1973 to 1980 and died in 1990.

Personal sacrifice

Lady Swann's "barrage" stemmed from the fact that her husband had given up his 13,000-a-year post as vice-chancellor of Edinburgh University on the understanding he would be paid 10,000 for the part-time BBC chairmanship.

His salary was increased from 6,000 to 8,200 in July 1973.

But the Civil Service Department argued it would be "extremely embarrassing" if the chairmen of the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority were treated differently from the heads of other public bodies.

Gridlock continued until Armstrong went to the dinner party with the Swanns.

While Sir Michael mentioned his salary only in passing, his wife talked about the personal difficulties they faced and complained that the state had no business to ask people to undertake public service at so high a cost.

The issue was raised briefly by Sir Michael at another dinner party at Lord Aldington's home the following week, when both Armstrong and Wilson were present.

Afterwards Wilson said something really must be done about the salary and suggested that as the BBC chairman was working almost full time, formally increasing his workload could be the way to get around the problem.

The solution was eventually agreed and Swann got his promised 10,000.




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