Foreigners too often still harbour certain misconceptions about the UK, in particular that the highest standards in broadcasting are always maintained. Perhaps this is an impression dating from the glory days of the BBC. This means new arrivals, as well as accidental visitors to British TV, are taken aback at the shallowness of proceedings, the cheerfully ignorant guests and the rudeness we saw exhibited by chief inquisitor Jeremy Paxman when interviewing Ed Miliband recently.
My Bulgarian wife was surprised that, the day after the horrific plane crash over the Alps, Sky News should be interviewing the likes of Kriss Akabusi (a regular guest) on its morning show and asking him for his views on the subject. I, half-heartedly, said he seems a charming fellow and that he had undoubtedly overcome many hurdles in his life. Yes but why, demanded my wife, was he invited to comment on the plane disaster? Why should people be interested in his take on the tragedy? This, you see, was her key point. Was he also an aviation expert? We turned back to Bulgarian TV where, sure enough, an insider was talking solemnly about the disaster, its possible cause and repercussions for the industry. This was, I hasten to add, before the public learned about the psychotic co-pilot.
Doubtless, in the UK, my wife would have been accused of so many “isms” by now that she would be marked as a serial offender and permanently muzzled. First, racism, of which, I should stress, she should be immediately acquitted because she did not object to Akabusi on colour grounds. Then elitism. Guilty as charged to the latter – both of us, I suppose.
I explained that British media now caters to the man in the street, that television producers prefer to parade people ordinary folk can relate to. I also explained that the views of distinguished people in their field are not really valued as much as the views of celebrities even though the reason for their fame may be unrelated to the subject on which they are invited to comment. My wife was perplexed. If she wanted the view of ordinary Brits, she would go into a pub. Was I not appalled? I replied that I was appalled a long time ago by many things but that “appalled ex-pat” no longer commanded much interest and even when I was in Britain that saying such things immediately led you to being classified as part of the battling brigadiers brigade or an old fuddy-duddy.
Many years ago, they used to have a programme called After Dark in which invited guests discussed some fascinating issues in an open-ended format. I always looked forward to it until one edition featured a ready-for-a-ruck type who described all police as “pigs”. Another edition featured a reformed football hooligan whose every pronouncement was regarded as remarkable insight. Sadly, this series is now remembered not for its intelligent debates but for a drunken Oliver Reed planting a kiss on the cheek of feminist Kate Millett. Significantly, re-visiting the excerpt in question on You Tube, I noticed that hardly anyone, who commented on the clip, rebuked Reed. Instead, the late actor was praised for debunking boring intellectual types. QED about British culture?
Twenty four years later, most people have to feign interest in what blokeish types have to say or at least resist the temptation to condemn them. So I guess I’m a battling brigadier. But I’m an expat and free to say what I think. Perhaps in the UK I’d have to second-guess reactions before I opened my