What has happened to the BBC News? And I don’t mean the usual bias thing for all the Twitter trolls out there. This is worse. I mean, once upon a (revisionist) time, TV news featured the head and shoulders of a posh white bloke, often without hair*, sternly intoning headlines with the occasional photo in the top left background.
If the photo were of a union leader, he’d have his mouth open and be jabbing a finger to emphasise a point. If it were a politician, it’d be the same photo but with their finger pointing skywards for reasons which escape me. Boxers, amusingly, were always shown stripped to the waist, bare fists posed in the manner dictated by the Marquess of Queensbury.
About as diverse as a Klan meeting, with the odd Scotsman thrown in on Bank Holidays.
I’m not saying it was better, but that was how it was.
Cut to the present day and, in order to make sense of the post-industrial, information age and a world in the midst of a climate crisis we now need to see the presenter’s legs. The opening titles involve harrowing images and an office in the background which could comfortably house the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party but where everyone seems to have gone home.
The dramatic background music (why does information need a soundtrack?) features unsettling chords and someone learning paradiddles on an electronic drum kit.
So what, Boomer?
Well, for start, the world is unsettling enough without cranking up the foley effects like it’s a Michael Bay movie. Plus, many of the newsreaders, (and yes, it seems to be the blokes), appear to believe they’re in showbiz and have started to behave oddly.
Chief offender is Huw Edwards. Already in possession of an ego which regularly features in Private Eye, (according to which he grumpily lobbied for years to snag the hushed-and-reverent-bluster gig on royal occasions), he now appears to be making a pitch to Tom Cruise for the next Mission Impossible movie.
At the point where he hands over to the regions he will dramatically spin to his right and then charge like a stampeding mastodon towards the camera. He will then lean threateningly towards us like a bloke whose pint you’ve just spilt and tell us it’s time “for the news wherever you are” with such emphasis that there isn’t enough diazepam in the world to reassure me I’m not in imminent danger.
It’s a relief to get back to doomscrolling when it’s finished, especially if Tomasz Schafernaker’s changed his image again.
Then there’s Ben Brown. Clearly worried about his jowl development, he’s taken to sitting and moving constantly at an angle of 40 degrees to the camera. Is it just me? I can’t concentrate on all the competing means of impending disaster for worrying about his posture. Maybe he’s over-compensating after being caught yawning on camera in December 2020. He maintains this skewed posture as he lurches towards the virtual wall of regional reporters who’ve drawn the short straw for the late-night summary in a manner reminiscent of John Wayne.
The dignity of restraint
No such problems with George Alagiah, (battling for the last few years with bowel cancer), or Clive Myrie, both of whom seem to manage the required gravitas without Nicholas Cage-esque stage business. Neither does the affliction appear to affect the female staff, with Mishal Hussain and Reeta Chakrabarti occupying the same space more calmly, rather in the manner of the deputy head who never gets the final promotion but has actually run the school for years.
Clearly, in the recent years where all the BBC News high-ups either came from Rupert Murdoch or the guest-list from David Cameron’s wedding, they’ve dragged in too many managers who cut their teeth on the celeb gossip pages of The Sun. The emphasis is on glamour (females) or machismo (males).
Where’s Owain Wyn Evans when you need him?
The weather forecasters and sports presenters express their Weltschmerz chiefly via hairstyle and fast fashion. Schafernaker’s wilderness years started during lockdown, going through both a 90s boyband and a Nu-Metal period before more recently settling down to life as a Don Johnson tribute.
The female weather forecasters seem to have enjoyed the chance to splash out of a few frocks and jazzy trousers as they describe the world’s deteriorating climate.
A welcome distraction
I could go on, as my wife would attest. There’s a perky weekend sports presenter with hair that owes more to big pharma than nature about whom I expressed my jaundiced prejudice that she “probably plays a lot of hockey”. Having been rightly condemned for such an obvious stereotype, it was dispiriting to find out that Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes HAS indeed represented England at mixed hockey.
Indulged further with the oxygen of attention, I might go local and delve into Amanda Harper (Look North) and her apparent Joan Crawford obsession, or speculate wildly as to whether local TV news has a more limited clothing budget than London or if they all just get it out of one of those skips in car parks.
Shallow it might be. Unfair and immature it certainly is.
However, anything’s better than actually paying attention to the grim content of the bulletins themselves.
*In the 1970s, the Sunday People ran a story about a hair-restorer scam where, in the age of the unruly comb-over, a fraudster had induced balding men to hand over cash for snake-oil remedies, apparently, used and endorsed by several household names. One such was BBC newsreader Richard Baker.
I can’t recall what he said when issuing his denial about any involvement with the affair, but I can remember, verbatim, the phrase “Richard Baker, whose fine head of hair is admired by millions nightly on TV”.
When I go gaga, I know that phrase will be one of the few that escapes my lips as people make their weekly visit.