When presenter John Humphrys retired from BBC Four’s Today programme after 32 years, he slammed the station for its apparently obsessive coverage of fashionable progressive political and social issues…
He said: “It is not the BBC’s job to transform society in ways that will meet the approval of certain pressure groups.”
Last year, former Today editor Rod Liddle accused the BBC generally of being “too woke” and “shoe-horning” pet subjects onto air, adding: “It has an agenda which has no relevance beyond NW3 [Hampstead, north London].”
But are they right? To get to the bottom of their accusations, uncancelled monitored the station’s weekday output for an entire week last month.
While it did cover issues and news items that arguably could be described as ‘woke’, and ticked boxes of identity politics around ethnicity and gender as well as fashionable issues like veganism, many of these topics are important and should be discussed in this day and age.
Below are some of the programmes that aired that week. Too woke or absolutely spot on? Are they of interest to everyone or will they drive away some of the station’s key demographic? What do you think?
9am: Start the Week – Andrew Marr-hosted arts show looks at the legendary artist Francis Bacon, featuring a prolonged and colourful exploration of his escapades as a sexually active gay man in Berlin, Paris and London, often drunk and on drugs. Features some edgy material about his bohemian lifestyle of the kind not normally associated with Monday mornings, including repeated mentions of the ‘queer’ scene and discussion of the painting ‘Two Buggers’.
2pm: Because I’m a Mother – Jessica Hynes plays a lesbian artist grappling with issues around parenthood after having a baby with her female partner.
3.30pm: The Food Programme – Sheila Dillon uses ‘Veganuary’ as a launching point for a deeper dive into plant-based diets, or what it describes as ‘what you should eat to save the planet’. Dillon explores ‘low carbon food’ talking to a pulse entrepreneur and the CEO of a plant-based meat manufacturer.
8.30pm: Shipwreck – a harrowing documentary on the sinking of a boat in the Mediterranean in 2015 in which hundreds of migrants drowned
10am: Woman’s Hour – covers the problem of reluctance among BAME and other minority communities to have Covid vaccines, touching on how previous medical trials haven’t won trust by including them.
11.30am: Not Enough Pride for Charley Price – A documentary asks ‘why don’t we know more about Afro-American country music singer Charlie Pride?’ Presented by contemporary black music culture journalist Jacqueline Springer, who looks at the issues of a black artist working in a strongly white medium and his experiences of racism – including unbleeped use of the ‘N’ word by Pride in an interview before his death last year.
1pm: Great Lives – Actor Caroline Catz praises composer Delia Derbyshire who wrote the famous Dr Who theme tune. She’s billed as a ‘post feminist before feminism was even invented’ and the show asks if she would have been given more credit for her achievements if she were a man?
5.50pm: PM – The afternoon current affairs show features an item on ‘class privilege’ in which working class guests are invited to discuss the appropriation of working class culture by the middle classes and people who exaggerate their working class credentials.
6.30pm: Beta Female – An autobiographical sitcom by Amna Saleem, starring Kiran Sonia Sawar, looking at the experience of a young woman from a BAME background in modern Britain, probing issues such as what your accent can say about you.
10.30am: Woman’s Hour – To discuss the US Presidential Inauguration the guest is American journalist Joan Walsh, introduced as the author of the book What’s the Matter With White People? She discusses abortion law and whether there will ever be a female president.
10.40am: Woman’s Hour – A piece in praise of pioneering female African fashion designers from the fifties and sixties, billed as ‘fashion inspired by slavery’.
11am: How the Irish Shaped Britain – Fergal Keane looks at how the great famine of the 19th century prompted mass migration of Irish people to England and at the resulting social tensions including the bigotry of the English in ‘no blacks no Irish’ days.
7pm: Front Row – Novelist Olivia Sudjic talks to presenter Samira Ahmed about her new novel Asylum Road. The book is said to explore what it means to be British from the perspective of a refugee from Sarajevo during Bosnian War. Ms Sudjic reads a scene from the book in which a native Briton asks her refugee character about ethnicity and describes how she feels judged by her country’s war.
8pm: The Spark – Journalist Helen Lewis talks to economist Linda Scot about her book The Double-X Economy and her view that cultural assumptions are holding back women’s economic potential. The Oxford professor looks at women’s professional exclusion and the financial prejudices they face. By changing this, she says, we could make the world not just more peaceful but prosperous, using an analogy of chimpanzee’s male dominant and violent group politics in which female apes are bullied and intimidated. Discusses her radical journey including encounters with the Black Panthers.
12.28pm: You and Yours – features a look at how rates of vegetarianism have been declining throughout lockdown, moving on to a discussion on veganism and plant based food.
2.15pm: Domino – The afternoon play is the story of three generations of one troubled family whose patriarchal figure is haunted by his experiences as “a black man in England” (a recurring phrase) having migrated from the Caribbean, taking in issues of schizophrenia, suicide and dementia.
3.30pm: Open Book – New presenter Elizabeth Day interviews debut US novelist Raven Leilani, who comes hailed as by leading British BAME authors Zadie Smith and Candice Carty-Williams. Her book, Luster, explores the relationship between a young black office worker and her affair with a white colleague and, more widely explores ‘sex, race, money and identity.‘
4.30pm: Inside Science – The lead item is a prolonged examination into the issue of vaccine hesitancy amongst BAME communities.
8.50am: Today – Host Mishal Husain repeatedly probes guest statistician Professor Sir Ian Diamond on whether it is appropriate for this year’s Census to ask people about their biological rather than self-identified sex, pointing out – twice – that some say this should only be done in medical context.
10.30am: Woman’s Hour – Finance blogger Iona Bain tells the show that women generally and BAME women in particular have suffered disproportionately financially during Covid, saying she finds the world of finance is geared towards ‘blokes’ while women are excluded. Fellow guest Selina Flavius, the author Black Girl Finance, agrees. Ms Flavius describes how her Caribbean heritage informs her experiences in personal finance, and further discusses the ‘gender and ethnicity pay gap’, saying most finance books previously were “written by white men” and lacked a black female perspective.
11am: Three Pounds In My Pocket – Presenter Kavita Puri looks at the experiences of Britons with South Asian heritage. The programme takes its name from the amount of money many of those arriving from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had on arrival in Briton. It details their fight for equality after finding themselves suffering prejudice because of the colour of their skin – and their subsequent struggle for representation in politics and culture.
8pm: Any Questions – The politics discussion programme asks its panelists, among other things, “is Joe Biden woke?”