Anyone who loves Britain’s televisual heritage will not have let the closure of BBC Television Centre go by without at least one sad thought of glorious days gone by, lamenting how the creative engine that kept the BBC going will now surely be lost, and how they will no longer find a home or see their friends and colleagues at the bar.
Forgive me for interrupting the nostalgia fest – and none of this is meant to dismiss the great work that went on there – but the two BBC chat’n'compilation programmes that look back at the great days of Television Centre have reminded me of one thing:
As a current BBC employee, there is no way I – or many people I know – would have even had a chance of a job there back in the 1970s. That’s not down to my skills or experience, but simply because my face would not have fit. The two programmes that looked back at Television Centre didn’t feature any non-white people on its various panels, and hardly any women compared to today’s television schedules. What, no room for Floella Benjamin or Lenny Henry on the comfy sofa?
To be fair, this in itself was symptomatic of 1960s/70s Britain, an era where any thought of diversity (by today’s definition) was a sci-fi dream as alien as anything from Doctor Who, but in the mass rose-tinted view of a simpler life where everyone was friends with everyone else, this seems to have been forgotten.
A similar delusion seems to have befallen some people as they realise our television heroes back then were as flawed as their British society counterparts. It’s apparently a shocking revelation in a new Doctor Who behind-the-scenes expose book (ironically written by the man who directed/produced one of the Television Centre tribute shows) that William Hartnell was racist, and senior members of the production team would sometimes use their oblique power of promise to extract sexual favours from fans.
Forgive me if I’m not shocked at the thought that a white British man in his 60s in the 1960s would not have been entirely comfortable with people from other races. Or that the casting couch phenomenon was alive and well in 1980s/90s Britain. As the Seventh Doctor once said in one of the spin-off novels: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
None of this is written to denigrate the creative genius that created moments of joy and laughter for millions of people (or indeed the distress of those on the wrong end of the power equation), but let’s not pretend it didn’t happen. And isn’t happening now.