The BBC isn’t try­ing to re­vive Civil­i­sa­tion – it’s de­stroy­ing it

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Comment - Peter Hitchens

THE BBC plans to ‘ques­tion the very con­cept of civil­i­sa­tion’ in a new and lav­ish TV se­ries. Well, at least they’re be­ing open about it this time. The prom­ise is made by one-time Blairite com­mis­sar James Pur­nell, now a se­nior BBC man­darin. The most in­ter­est­ing thing about Mr Pur­nell is that he once man­aged to ap­pear in a pho­to­graph of an event at which he had not been pre­sent.

Some other MPs, who were there, said they had left a space for him to be slot­ted in later, though he said he had no idea this was the plan. Be­lieve what you like. This is at least bet­ter than the old Stal­in­ist prac­tice of oblit­er­at­ing peo­ple from pictures in which they orig­i­nally fea­tured, but it is all too typ­i­cal of the mod­ern elite’s sketchy re­la­tion­ship with ideas of ab­so­lute truth or ab­so­lute good.

Alas, he is now all-too-pre­sent at the BBC. Mr Pur­nell, whose for­mer to­tal po­lit­i­cal par­tial­ity is of course no sort of prob­lem in the sup­pos­edly po­lit­i­cally neu­tral Cor­po­ra­tion, prom­ises view­ers: ‘We’ll turn to civil­i­sa­tion. Well, Civil­i­sa­tions – in­spired by Ken­neth Clark’s sem­i­nal doc­u­men­tary se­ries, but in many ways the op­po­site of the orig­i­nal. Rather than a sin­gle view of civil­i­sa­tion, we will have three pre­sen­ters.

‘Rather than look­ing at Western civil­i­sa­tion, we will look at many, and ques­tion the very con­cept of civil­i­sa­tion.’

That’s in­ter­est­ing. Does he think there would even be a BBC un­less there had been an agreed con­cept of civil­i­sa­tion in the now-for­got­ten, abol­ished Bri­tain which first cre­ated it?

LET him wan­der, some spring morn­ing, out of the dreary new plas­tic palace (al­ready show­ing its age) that the Cor­po­ra­tion has built for it­self in the cen­tre of Lon­don, and ex­am­ine its hand­some orig­i­nal head­quar­ters next door. There he will find an in­scrip­tion in Latin, in­tended to be the first thing seen by ev­ery­one en­ter­ing the build­ing.

I will trans­late the im­por­tant parts of it: ‘This tem­ple of the arts and muses is ded­i­cated to Almighty God by the first Gov­er­nors in the year of our Lord 1931… And they pray that good seed sown may bring forth good har­vest, and that all things foul or hos­tile to peace may be ban­ished thence, and that the peo­ple in­clin­ing their ear to what­so­ever things are lovely and hon­est, what­so­ever things are of good re­port, may tread the path of virtue and wis­dom.’

It leaves no doubt that the stated pur­pose of the build­ing and the or­gan­i­sa­tion were ex­plic­itly Chris­tian. Much of it is ac­tu­ally taken from the Bi­ble. And it pretty fiercely warns that those things which are ‘foul’ or ‘hos­tile to peace’ are to be ban­ished. But any­one who has many deal­ings with the BBC, and I have had lots, will know that its idea of what is vir­tu­ous, and its idea of what is foul (which some­times in­cludes me per­son­ally), have changed beyond recog­ni­tion since that in­scrip­tion was carved 86 years ago.

That is why it now re­jects the orig­i­nal idea of civil­i­sa­tion, fun­da­men­tally Euro­pean and even­tu­ally Chris­tian, which it still just about tol­er­ated in the 1960s when Ken­neth Clark’s fa­mous se­ries on the sub­ject was made.

But what does it favour in­stead? By of­fer­ing us three dif­fer­ing ideas, and invit­ing us to choose which we pre­fer, it is not, in my view, be­ing open-minded.

It is say­ing above all that it no longer en­dorses Lord Clark’s idea, or its own found­ing char­ter. Oddly enough, back in the 1960s, its then Di­rec­tor Gen­eral, Hugh Car­letonGreene, was the blaz­ing un­con­cealed spirit of the Bri­tish cul­tural revo­lu­tion. Like oth­ers in that era, he went too far, too fast, was too ob­vi­ous, and so was reined in. His suc­ces­sors, ever since, have been more cau­tious and more cun­ning. It looks as if they have done their job so well that they feel safe to come out into the open again. But what will they do with the old in­scrip­tion, now that it is ac­tu­ally a lie?

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