Saturday, March 24, 2018

King-size duvets

You're in danger of being forgotten as a BBC manager if you're not re-imagining things. Cuddly Alan Davey, curvacious Controller of Radio 3, is the latest to have a go. A few schedule tweaks, some old programmes re-named, and voila !

At 10pm each evening, we’re reimagining our evening programming and offering listeners the opportunity to step into Radio 3 After Dark - a world of edgy free thought and mind-expanding ideas, of elegant and provoking essays, of poetry with The Verb, of radical mixes of music - Jazz Now on Mondays, Late Junction Tuesday to Thursday and Music Planet on Friday. 

Radio 3 After Dark is no ordinary place - it’s a zone of adventure and discovery. Light a candle and settle down with a cup of tea, or pull the blankets higher and experience a world of inspiring new thoughts and amazing sounds. Coming in April, Radio 3 After Dark will be looking, across its programmes, at the unexpected and counter-cultural side of Japanese music, art and literature. This special series, Night Blossoms, will be a voyage of discovery into this little explored side of Japanese culture. Beauty and darkness lie in wait there.

The helpful corporate twitter machine precedes the announcement with a line from the lyrics to a John Dowland song, without the writer's call for "hellish jarring sounds" to bring on early death.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Painting book

Book Number 2 (almost as difficult as the second album) is on the way from former BBC Deputy Director General, Mark Byford. It's called "The Annunciation: A pilgrim's quest", and will be published at the end of this month by Winchester University Press. (Disclosure: Mark is a Director of Winchester University, as well as a lay canon of Winchester Cathedral.)

The book was inspired by a chance viewing of Francois Lemoyne's 1727 oil painting of The Annunciation at the National Gallery, where it is currently on loan from Winchester College. Lemoyne was Court Painter to Louis XV. How such a Catholic image arrived at Winchester College Chapel back in the 18th Century is unclear; the painting was re-discovered in 2011, and sent to the National (who had no Lemoynes) after restoration.

The blurb makes no mentions of Mark's BBC days. "Award-winning journalist Mark Byford searches for the spiritual meaning of the biblical story of the Annunciation through intimate conversations with more than a hundred senior clerics, world-renowned theologians, historians and artists." Just £35 hardback.

Civil society

You can perhaps see why Channel 5 are shunting Mr and Mrs Eamonn Holmes around the schedule; last night's show, Do the Right Thing, at the old regular slot of 9pm, was watched by an average of 610,000 - picking up a share of 3.4%. Next week, the programme moves to 10pm, to make way for more of Can't Pay ? We'll Take It Away

Even Mary Beard, gazing mistily and entranced at religious art in Civilisations on BBC2, retained an average of 1.07m at 9pm (6% share).

It doesn't add up

As we await the unveiling of the BBC's first Podcast Commissioner, we also look forward to an understanding of the funding strategy behind this re-invention of radio.

In the old days, you could only make podcasts by cutting up bits of things that had been already broadcast. Then came the days of announcing a new podcast, and finding odd slots to broadcast them later - like Christmas holidays, or overnight on Radio 1. Now we seem to have BBC podcasts that exist only only to download - but on whose budget ?   Remember BBC Radio used to be run so close to the bone that it threatened to close 6Music; Radio 2 is so strapped it can't afford to be 'live' overnight. The old BBC Trust used to set 'service licences' with an agreed some of money against each network; has this latest re-invention been run past the new BBC Board ?

Clearly there's not much money in podcasting; one critically-acclaimed offering from the Radio 4 stable offers no fees to contributors, which surely isn't a stable way of moving forward. The Podcast Commissioner will apparently have "a budget for podcast innovation"; licence-fee payers should be told how much it is, and what's being cut from radio to raise the money.

Best value for money

Congratulations to the Builders of BBC Belfast; they seem to have reversed Auntie's property policy, securing a £77m investment over five years to re-shape and re-equip their existing headquarters on Ormeau Avenue. "Freehold" is the key word; all other BBC property moves of the past twenty years have involved lease-back deals, not unlike PFIs, of 30 years or so, with builder/developers/bondholders enjoying rents from the licence-fee. .

"Investing in its existing freehold site provides the best value for money, enabling it to transform the building to meet its audience needs and technology and staff requirements in the most cost-effective manner."

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Shifting a show around the schedules is usually not a sign of success. Tonight's "Do The Right Thing" on Channel 5 will be the last at 9pm; from next week it moves to 10pm.

The programme, a fairly shameless attempt to re-boot That's Life for a new generation, is hosted by Eamonn Holmes and his wife Ruth Langsford.

Restaurant guide closes

It's possible that Peter Johnston, BBC Director of Northern Ireland, has a new PA. I looked forward to the quarterly publication of his expenses to see where you can still get a decent evening meal for £16 - the subsistence allowed for those staying overnight away from home. Peter's claims would list them out - and indeed, for Quarter 1 of 2017/18, they're still there - Cinnamon, Soho; Thai Sq, SW1; Little India, SW7; Siam Central, W1; Mother India, Glasgow. 

But for Quarter 2, it's simply "Dinner with overnight" "£16".

That's all good, then

In yet another example of life mirroring art, I present this from from BBC News boss James Harding's Hugh Cudlipp lecture last night, with a reminder that the BBC series, W1A, was fictional...

"If we want to do valuable journalism, we need to do less, better.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

You will be deploying

Yep, just time for a quick BBC job ad before lunch. Here's one for a "Data Scientist - BBC News, Audience Engagement". The pitch from the employer has a certain sense of fun about it, if a shaky command of English.

"What is great about working at the BBC?

"Well... Whatever you do, it has a massive impact.

"BBC News is read or watched every day by 80% of the Brits. So deploying any data product, means deploying to an unprecedented scale.

"And you will be deploying.

"This team is all about applied science. We launched first personalised recommender system to 100% of BBC Mundo (one of world service sites) page within 7 months since data scientist number 1 joined.

"This is just a start. Check it out yourself on an example article.

"You will be working with new technologies in terms of digital product, experimentation, machine learning and data infrastructure. We need to stay relevant to all audiences and compete with Netflix. That is the core of the challenge.

"You will be encouraged innovation. I will let hackathons, collaboration with academia and Newslabs speak for themselves.

"You will be working for good. We are facilitating and leading the discussion about public service algorithm, actively designing our machines with reinvented cost function that cares about BBC values.

"Working in a flexible and diverse environment. We respect people, celebrate our diversity and do our best. Hours and place are not the key to our success, it is you and your wellbeing.

"And occasionally you might be asked by an embarrassingly popular journalist do a quick voice over or an interview to practice your inner performer!"


Look. BBC expenses are really being driven down. So it's harder to find conspicuous consumption. Still, it's sometimes worth looking through the latest disclosures - we now have two quarters released in one go.

Director of Radio and Education James Purnell managed a night in the four-star Abode Hotel in Manchester, at £175, and two nights in a unnamed hotel in an unnamed place back last April for £458. BBC guidelines of March 2016 set a limit of £138 for bed and breakfast, for all ranks.

We're not all as organised as each other. Mr Robert Shennan, Director of Radio & Music, had to claim £82.10 for a rail ticket a year ago. "Mislaid original ticket".

We're pleased to see Rhodri Talfan Davies, Director BBC Cymru Wales, continue his development with a two night trip to Silicon Valley.

Head of Newsgathering Jonathan Munro spent £755.88 on three nights in the four-star Lexington Hotel, New York.

In declarations of interest, we find that Donalda MacKinnon, Director of BBC Scotland, is UNPAID company secretary of hubby's Café Gandolfi Ltd and Gandolfi Fish Ltd

Other people who read this.......