American Culture

Yet another great and wonderful thing about the BBC

There’s lots to like about the BBC. They piss off the Conservatives now as much as they pissed off New Labour not too long ago. The still take seriously their mission to provide as broad a range of news, features, and entertainment to the entire country—and, through the World Service, much of the world. Their television and radio broadcasting are gold standard. They don’t produce everything that’s great about British television, but they do most of it. And the world of British radio is amazing—the BBC has lord knows how many radio stations, all serving different constituencies. It’s another great thing about being able to live in London. But, of course, the BBC is pretty much anywhere and everywhere in Britain. It comes to you. And anywhere in the world, it comes to you, in fact, through the miracle of the intertubes.

And then there’s BBC iPlayer. Which is simply the link on the BBC website, right along the bar at the top, that takes you here. And here we have a whole world. It’s everything the BBC has broadcast on its gazillion of television and radio stations this past week, often longer. And sometimes they bring stuff back. So this afternoon I watched a great half hour show on the Hereford Mappa Mundi—the oldest wall map in the world—that was originally broadcast last April. And right now I’m watching Songwriters’ Circle, broadcast the other night, with Richard Thompson, Suzanne Vega and Loudon Wainwright in concert a couple of months ago. What’s next? What do I want? Well, there’s that great series on the history of English churches, all five installments, which are all still up. A science show on The Death of the Oceans. That will cheer me up. The Ralph Vaughan Williams bio that I watched the other night—it was so good, maybe I’ll watch it again. How about those shows of Jimi Hendrix playing in the BBC studios way back when? Hey, day four of the Ryder Cup. That was so good I’d watch that again too.

Then there’s radio. Jeez, look at this. The Archers, of course. Hey, how about Jac Holzman talking about the early days of Elektra Records? The P.G. Wodehouse stories? That looks good. Borges. That too. Maybe they’ll bring back that great two-parter with Julian Barnes and Hermione Lee talking about Ford Maddox Ford and Provence. The biography of Wagner is still going on. Hmmm, Mahler and Nature, that could be good. Lordy, look at all this Celtic music. The multi-part interviews with Joni Mitchell. A whole boatload of Indian and Pakistani stuff. Hey, look, they even have radio science fiction serials.

And the best part? It’s all there on the intertubes. I gather from friends and relatives in the US that the only stuff that’s not available in the US is stuff the BBC is trying to sell there. Well, that’s ok. You can just log on and pretty much destroy the rest of your day any old time. Try it. You’ll like it. It’s the BBC.

Hey, wait, what day is this—Wednesday? Ah, American TV night in the Wufnik household—Leverage, Burn Notice and Castle. None of which, sadly, are shown on BBC channels, or else I could watch them lying on the couch with the laptop on my lap, where it belongs, along with the rest of this wonderful stuff.

6 replies »

  1. Sometime I really do have to sit down and figure out what I mean by a “public good,” and why I think this qualifies. At the moment I’m too busy catching up on the church series.

  2. Thank goodness for some sense at last. I am heartily cheesed off with BBC bashers. The Beeb provides an absolutely amazing service. I can’t believe how much you get for your money. A few pence a day and all the output of this service is yours. Tens of TV channels, gazillions of radio stations and a web site that shines as a bright example of “how to do web”. Ochestras, free concerts, education services, consumer advice, he list goes on and on.
    Has anyone ever calculated exactly what you get for a Sky subscription with a few premium channels? A friend realized he was paying the best part of a thousand pounds before he cut that particular ball and chain. He told me he misses a bit of the sport but now spends a small fraction of what he was paying to Sky in going to the pub to watch the big matches.

    Besides all the above, I take great exception in **paying** to watch commercials on Sky et al.

  3. Bill Jones–I like Pilger, and he’s spot on about Andrew Marr. Much of the rest of the BBC wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic about that whole time, it should be noted. But that’s a fair point. On the other hand, he’s missing the point on Murdoch–Murdoch already has control. Getting 100% of Sky would just give him more dividend income than he has now–he’s already got management control. So that’s a Red Herring, sorry. And even the point on Marr doesn’t affect what I was talking about, which is the sheer range of what they provide, unmatched by anyone in the US–or elsewhere, I suspect. We have different realities, apparently.

  4. Oh, how I love the BBC! Let me count the ways!

    Currently I am watching, via Hulu, a sitcom made in 2003 for BBC4 (TV) called The Book Group. It contains actual adult situations! OMG!

    My very favorite show that I used to listen to on BBC radio is Old Harry’s Game, written and directed and starring Andy Hamilton, a very funny comedy series about Satan.

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