Sunday, 28 August 2011

Saving BBC4

Like many other people over the previous two weeks I have been concerned about the future of my favourite BBC channel, BBC4. I love music, European crime drama, historical documentaries and even the odd scientific one too - especially if the lovely Jim Al-Khalili is presenting it. I laughed and nearly cried at Jo Brand's BAFTA winning nurse Kim in 'Getting On'. It is the channel I am most likely to watch.

Drastic cuts are being contemplated for this channel. It is expected that innovative drama and comedy made for BBC4 will be the first to face the axe. I hope that there will be funds available for the purchase of future foreign language drama series such as The Killing, Engrenages (Spiral) and the quirky Montalbano series (which now runs to 22 episodes, only 3 of which have ever been aired on British TV). But the future does not look bright for BBC4.

I understand the BBC has commissioned Ernst & Young to review BBC4 with a view to suggesting where savings can be made. This report will not come cheap and I can only assume that E&Y must have a particularly strong Media specialist division if they have been selected for this exercise. Now, I have no media background so I am unqualified to advise anyone but, as I am giving this suggestion away for free, I hope that maybe someone will listen.

First of all, I'm not sure why BBC4 is being considered in isolation here. The channel developed out of the older BBC Knowledge channel which was set up at the beginning of the 2000s with the introduction of digital Freeview channels. It was seen as being a digital extension to the quality programming that was then being shown on the analogue channel BBC2. Since then digital TV has become the norm rather than the exception for most TV viewers and over the next decade the analogue signals themselves will be phased out in the UK. There will only be digital channels available to watch. Why then is the digital only channel, BBC4, being considered in isolation when it shares so much common ground with the best of BBC2 broadcasting?

Surely it would all make more sense to look at BBC2 and BBC4 together. If the proposed budgets of the two channels were amalgamated they could be divided up between both. One channel could perhaps take on the programming for music, news and sport (including Top Gear) while the other specialised in drama (innovative and bought from overseas broadcasters) and documentaries. This is just a suggestion - there are probably many ways in which the sort of programmes assigned to the two channels could be allocated.

I would be a pity if the future of the excellent BBC4 were at risk merely because of lack of longer-term strategic thinking in the BBC as a whole.

(The petition to Save BBC4 can be found on

Friday, 3 June 2011

Sheringham Park in the Sunshine.

Today has been a beautiful day. Blue skies with light fluffy clouds and warm but not burning sunshine. It was the perfect day to catch the last of the blossoming rhododendron bushes for which Sheringham Park in North Norfolk is famous. It was designed in the early 19th Century by Sir Humphry Repton, who those Janites amongst you may recognise as being mentioned in 'Mansfield Park' as the garden designer of the day.
Anyhow, I thought I would post a few pics of the place as I have never before been there on a better day.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Lost Art of Gratitude (with thanks to Alexander McCall Smith for coining this phrase)

Many of you who follow me on Twitter will be aware that I have had 'sewage problems' of late. My next door neighbour and I were unamused to discover on Tuesday night that, only a month since the main sewage pipe into which our respective 'foul drains' discharge had been cleared, a further blockage seemed to be causing problems.

My poor neighbour had reached the stage where she was no longer able to flush her toilets. I was slightly better off and could still flush mine as my foul pipes have a longer stretch from the house to the sewer and so I had less build up of sewage to my house.

My neighbour and I are used to having to sort out building related problems for ourselves as we both have husbands who spend much time working away from home. However, in this instance, we gave a collective heave as we pulled off the heavy man-hole covers of our inspection chambers and stood, in the pitch darkness, shining my torch in to check on the extent of the problems therein.

Help was, however, at hand. The next morning I rang up Anglian Water to report a problem. The 'phone was answered after not too long a wait by an efficient lady who took the details, could see a plan of the sewage system I was referring to on her monitor, and informed me that, as my neighbour was unable to flush her toilet, someone would be out to us within 12 hours.

By late afternoon the man from Anglian Water arrived - a knight in a white van (if not on a white charger). With only rods at his disposal, he was unable to do more than move the problem down a bit so that my neighbour could at least use her toilet and have a shower that evening. But he arranged for a colleague to come the next day (today) and use a jetting hose to clear the blockage and move it on to the wider sewer on the road.

Mission was accomplished late this morning and I was very grateful that two extremely pleasant and efficient men had turned up, well within the time frames promised, and sorted out a distasteful problem.

So, I decided that I should get in touch with Anglian Water to express my gratitude to the two engineers they had sent out and my overall satisfaction with the service I had received from the organisation. This was when I encountered a problem. Nowhere on Anglian Water's website is there anywhere to leave a message of thanks. Nor is there any contact e-mail address given that I could have used. All I was able to find was an on-line query form which, judging by its wording, envisaged it would be used for bill queries and complaints. Indeed before I was allowed to send this form I had to find an old bill so I could quote my customer number (in the first field of the form). I just hope that the comments I made about the two gentlemen get seen by those they report to.

Is this what it has come to? Are we such an ungrateful nation of moaners and complainers that organisations such as Anglian Water assume the only reason we would want to contact them is to report a problem, query a bill or make a complaint? Is actually saying 'thank you' to people such a rare thing these days that no one who designed that website thought anyone would wish to do so through it?

Let me also, while I am on the subject, express my gratitude to Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891, pictured above) the man who founded modern sewerage systems without which, I now believe, true civilization would not have been possible.