I own an album by the late lamented bass player Jack Bruce, called ‘Things We Like'. He was up there alongside other greats of the bass such as Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorious – and if he wasn’t, then he was out in front and the greatest. The cover shows the great man with a huge plate of bangers and mash, surrounded by his dogs and, presumably, his very own fast car of the period. I love this record and I purchased it on vinyl when it came out in 1970. I wore it out and then re-purchased it on CD some years back.
I’m an ‘enthusiast’ and so, there are many other things I love too, and one of them is Radio Four. What do I love about Radio Four? This list is not definitive but - The Long View, Archive on 4, Something Understood, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, Analysis, The World Tonight, many of the plays, serials and short stories - and most of all, Mairead Devlin reading the late-night Shipping Bulletin – balm on wounds at the end of the day – especially if there are “gales in all areas”. You could almost ‘die’ when she says the word “Automatic”!
There are many other programmes too. In fact, there are so many things I love about Radio Four that it can have a lot of things I really dislike within its output and still come out on top! So, here are a few of my Radio Four negatives – Money Box Live, The Moral Maze, Counterpoint, Saturday Live [anyone remember Home Truths?], Loose Ends and some of the panel games – and, the worst offender in this last category has to be The News Quiz.
So, you’ll ask. What is so bad about The News Quiz? Well…
Firstly, I dislike the automatic assumption that all listeners are coming to the programme with a liberal-minded, left-of-centre viewpoint. Now I am - but I do not like the assumption. It is a presumption that is both arrogant and self-serving, given the known politics of some of its regular contributors. They then need, perhaps, less talent to be funny and humorous about the week’s events, simply because the humour/sarcasm can all be one-sided and from their own, and no doubt well-rehearsed, personal standpoint.
If this is true of Radio Four’s The News Quiz, then it is truer in spades about some of the television output. Here again, one of my least favourite programmes has to be Have I Got News for You. One of the programme’s mainstays is the endlessly annoying Ian Hislop. He is a plucky little man however, you have to give him that!
He famously clashed with someone of the stature of Tom Waits, when Hislop interviewed him on Channel 4’s Loose Talk programme back in the 1980s. He accused Waits of not talking loudly or clearly enough. As someone who is all-too loud and clear in our media, Hislop obviously considered anything less than haughty loud-mouthism [is that a word? – and if it isn’t then it is now!] to be a crime. I watched that programme and I could hear everything Waits said. As a contributor to a Tom Waits fan forum wittily said some thirty years later “Hislop, who is this? Insignificant broadcaster who lived in the Era of Tom Waits”. Quite good, I thought - and no, it wasn’t me.
Ian is a man who is truly blessed, however. He possesses that most treasured of gifts, 20/20 Hindsight. He can sit there reviewing all that has happened in the preceding week, and pass judgement upon those who were actually involved in whatever event about which he is choosing to pontificate. He and his co-panellists can do this in the confident knowledge that they will never be confronted with such a decision. A decision that might have to be made on a major incident in a very short space of time – and that, whatever is decided, those that do have to ‘make the call’ will be damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.
Of course, Ian and Co. can never be wrong. Only the “aren’t I a clever little dick?” smirks on their faces betray the fact that this is really nothing more than one huge ego-trip for all involved. The one thing the viewers at home, and the sycophantic audience in the studio, [cheering or clapping when someone holds up a fucking sign, no doubt], can both be sure of, is that, had it fallen to them, our panellists would have made the correct decision and all would be oh so much better with the world as a result. If you really believe this – then you will believe anything!
Then we get to the late-night Newspaper Reviews on BBC News 24 or Sky News. These, and the Sunday Paper Reviews on these channels are a real growth area. Here you can see the ‘real experts’ at work. In fact, they are soooooo much the experts, and so essential are these people’s insights, that the same faces can pop up on BBC and Sky within twenty four hours – as they ride their lucrative ‘gravy trains’. These people literally have all the answers.
Do they ever have the honestly to say “I’m sorry, but I do not know enough about that subject to give an informed opinion”? Oh no! – not for them any shades of grey – not even a darker shade. The most complex problems are rendered down [read dumbed down] for the audience into brilliant-white or full-on-black. People who have the misfortune to fall onto their radars are instantly judged. They are either right or wrong, good or bad, saintly or evil, honest or crooked.
Of course, we can rest assured that these opinions are brought to us by seasoned journalists, with a whole host of life-experience, can’t we? Ones who have truly suffered for their calling. Journalists who have spent many years pounding the streets in the most dangerous corners of the world - via the internet and the keyboards of their Apple Mac Pros. These, after all, are the people who would follow in the tradition of the true greats such as James Cameron, John Pilger, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, or the late-great and much-missed Sue Lloyd-Roberts aren’t they? Well, no actually – they are not.
Perish the thought that these so-called journalists might actually get out there, investigating corrupt or criminal activities, or into the remoter regions, on the scent of a story on illegal logging or mining, persecution of indigenous peoples, or habitat destruction. To actually research an event and find the truth that might lie hidden behind it. The real motives. The real crimes. Research that might actually put them in harm’s way.
No – these are 20/20 hindsight merchants, every bit as much as our Mr. Hislop. They are only interested in commenting on the news, not in investigating and exposing it. They seem by and large, only interested in ‘The Westminster Bubble’ - what our politicians are up to, as they in turn strut the stages of their very own fantasy worlds. In the words of the great Roy Harper – “the only time you leaders need us is when you feed your egos”.
This is all a perverted view of an alternative reality that parasitically feeds upon itself. Real people used to build ships or railway locomotives once. People who knew their trades. Navvies laid the foundations for the tracks we ride on today, whilst connected to wi-fi – so that now we can build instead, alternative and make-believe truths, to fit an artificial and make-believe world. One that we are all supposed to inhabit, and have curated and sanctioned for us by a load of ill-informed pundits from never-never land. Do not swallow the con!
So, let’s talk now about Mr. Jonathan Aitkin. Perhaps it might be of benefit if you first take a glance at his good old Wikipedia page. Here is the link -
Now like all of us, Mr. Aitken is much more of a fallen angel than a risen ape [to steal from William Calvin, Marshall Mcluhan and others]. Incidentally, I dislike direct comparisons between ourselves and our great ape relatives, as I feel these taint them by association with a species of libidinous, planet-wrecking scoundrels!
If you read the Wikipedia page for Mr. Aitken, you will see that there are many things in this man’s past with which a lot of us, myself included, would wish to take issue, or stand against, and I’ll be the first to admit that there are far more obvious choices for those who might illicit our sympathy!
It is worth noting his early career as a reporter however, particularly in the Biafran War. It does seem that here at least, he was a more noble practitioner of his profession than some of those referred to above. The ones who now pontificate on TV every night!
The things we might wish to take issue with in Mr. Aitken’s past have, alas, all but been overshadowed now by his “simple sword of truth” blarney and his perjury trial and subsequent prison sentence.
The point could be made, however, that he may be a better person today, as a result of his very public humiliation and imprisonment, than he was before. He claims it is so, and appears to show some contrition.
My point is that those on the left often state that prison should be about more than just punishment. That it should be about reform and redemption as well. But since these events, those same people have sometimes been a little less than generous in their attitudes towards Aitken. Including perhaps, his old sparring partner Mr. Hislop?
Anyway, it is important that not all of us are sanctimonious little shits – after all, there but for the grace of god/your god/no god, go I. And hindsight is, as stated above, always 20/20.
We all need a chance to do things differently, no matter how late in our lives. Perhaps this might include learning to be half-decent journalists? If the cap fits…