The BBC is the Church of England of the media. Having to be all things to all people, beset on all sides by complaints of dumbing down (not High Church enough), being pompous (not Low Church enough), or out of touch, it bumbles on with its fair share of disasters and the occasional, increasingly less frequent, touch of original genius.
It attracts more than its fair share of nerds, obsessive collectors of Radio Times magazines and Doctor Who memorabilia. In this show, a husband-and-wife team of nerds proudly displays its BBC collectables and canters through the Beeb Story with a spray of facts in just under an hour.I’m no expert on the subject, but there was very little here that I didn’t know, or that you couldn’t find online. Only two things surprised me: Bruce Forsyth first appeared on TV in 1939, and the BBC wiped its coverage of the Armstrong Moon Landing. Beyond that the play just brought out my inner nerd, as I smugly ticked off the trivia I knew.
In one sense we are all Beeb nerds, since its output interweaves through all of our childhoods. I was slightly outraged that there was no mention of The Goons, Desert Island Discs, The Magic Roundabout or Hancock’s Half Hour as these are the soundtrack of my youth.
Having decided on such a subject, they have done little to render an inherently static lecture dramatic. A suburbanite bickering is not very funny, and a major opportunity is lost in not using more excerpts from actual BBC output. One of the show’s highlights is a sound sample of Dr Charles Hill, the radio doctor: ‘Some people refuse to heed the whispering message of their lower bowels’; along with a couple of similar instances, such moments bring much needed energy and variety to the show.
Although there is a good show to be got out of the subject matter, this is not it. It has little dramatic shape and needs to be more selective, concentrating on the characters like the pi Lord Reith and the incomprehensible management gobble-di-gook of John Burt to name but a couple, both Directors General of great comic potential. This is a show that can’t see the wood for the trees.
If you are the sort of person whose heart beats faster for knowing that Choral Evensong, first broadcast in 1926, is the longest-running broadcast programme in the world, then this show is for you. Otherwise, I can’t really see who it is aimed at.