BELLS AND WHISTLES ARE BREAKING THE NEWS
HNewsworthy visitor: behind the broadcasting anchors, staff gather to take pictures of the Queen as she visits the BBC’s news studio at Broadcasting House in central London ow much news do you want? And how do you want it delivered? Clearly news that you can read has the advantage over news that you have to watch, in that it can be picked up and put down at will, tailored to fit your day, whether it be delivered by a whistling schoolboy or a small screen that barely hums. But the thought struck me when I saw the pictures of the Queen visiting the BBC earlier this month – standing behind the obligatory duo of newsreaders as they delivered their tidings to the nation – that there are so many things that irritate me about television news. The pairing of a man and a woman for instance. Why? Is there too much for one person to read? Will they get tired? A bulletin is only half an hour long and those nice ladies Sophie Raworth and Fiona Bruce manage it without running out of breath, so why, in other bulletins, is the task shared? Perhaps they think we’ll get weary of one face and one voice. It can’t be so arranged in order that the two of them can have a conversation, since they never do, except when their microphones are switched off at the end of the bulletin and we try to lip-read their conversation. I suspect it is seldom more elevating than “Fancy a swift one in the bar before you go home?” On a more serious note, there is the danger of conjecture. This is a scenario that has been exacerbated by “rolling news” – the erroneous assumption that the viewing public want to see people on screen talking about the day’s so-called “news” 24/7. First thing in the morning, early and late evening will suit most of us nicely, thank you, coupled with the morning paper over breakfast and brief bulletins on the hour on radio. Rolling news is there for one reason only – to keep those in the news department busy and to make them feel more important. My mother’s old maxim that “a trouble shared is a trouble dragged out until bedtime” is nowhere more proved than in rolling news. And when facts are thin on the ground, someone who knew someone who knew the uncle of the victim is bound to be persuaded to give their two-pennyworth. Tell us the facts and move on, please; hearsay is best passed on over the garden fence – or by those who wear black at the Groucho Club. Then there is the belief that reporters need to be where the action is. Except that often it isn’t. “Nick Robinson, our political editor, is in Downing Street.” Why? No one else is. The Prime Minister is in Parliament, or else he went off to Chequers for the weekend hours ago; all that’s left in Downing Street is the No 10 cat, a policeman and Nick Robinson. Why does he have to be there? He’s bored and frozen. We know where the Prime Minister lives, so if we must hear from Nick Robinson, for goodness sake get him in the warm. Lazy graphics are another bête noire. If house prices are going up or down, you know that behind the newsreader will be a picture of a street containing For Sale signs. If petrol prices fluctuate, there will be a shot of a hand on a pump. But even these are better than the current BBC background, which is of an office in which journalists mill about, or not, depending on the time of day. Now I don’t mind journalists milling about – it’s how they gather stories. The proviso is that they should be in the distance and not too distracting. But a few days ago I noticed two of them meeting almost directly behind Fiona Bruce. I could see their features clearly. You can bet that some designer has managed to persuade production that such an arrangement is “edgy” and “the way forward”. No it’s not; it’s just distracting. Give us back the painted flat of Westminster or the Thames; failing that, a view of Salford. You may assume that I have little time for news. Not a bit of it; I have a lot of time for news, but little for the unnecessary trappings that seem to go with it and the promotion of the newsroom over the news itself. It was Dame Margot Fonteyn who said: “To take your job seriously is imperative; to take yourself seriously is disastrous.” In television news, the tail seems all too often to wag the dog. A friend visited my garden recently and remarked: “What a wonderful escape from reality.” I explained that this is reality. Nothing is more real than the trees, the flowers and the wildlife. Regardless of economic downturns and civil unrest in farflung corners of the globe, nature will carry on, even if spring is later, the summer is wetter and winter unseasonably mild. The stuff of television news that depresses us daily is but a man-made overlay on reality, and purveyed in a quantity with which the average human brain is ill-equipped to deal. To pile on every individual’s shoulders, 24 hours a day, the worries of the world – from Syria to Afghanistan, Europe to the United States – is as unreasonable as the weight of the world upon Atlas’s shoulders. And once you have come to terms with today’s crises, there will be new ones tomorrow. And that Nick Robinson will still be standing in a deserted Downing Street. The declaration in a recent survey that couples who meet online are more likely to have lasting relationships than those who meet via other means did little to alter my feelings about the uselessness of such surveys. Internet dating began in 1995. That’s 18 years ago. As someone who has been married for 38 years this summer, should I believe that if Mrs T and I had met via an internet dating site the prospect of a longer time together would have been more assured? As a septuagenarian friend remarked to me recently, on the occasion of his golden wedding: “I think it’s long enough, don’t you?” I was taken to task by a reader who noted that in my column about poultry-keeping a few weeks ago I did not mention that I fed my chickens grit or oyster shell mixed with their corn. That’s because I don’t. I know it is retailed in textbooks that such provision should be made, but my hens produce eggs with decent shells on all the same, since they have a decent-sized run with plenty of dust baths. But if you have a small run, and no dust, by all means give ’em grit or oyster shell as well as grain. Not that they’ll thank you for it. Chickens are funny like that.