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The BBC again

Posted by Helen Wednesday, July 13, 2005

There will come a time when I shall be able to write something positive about the BBC but that time is not yet.

I understand that Radio 4 (something I have not listened to for some time) has decided not to broadcast part 2 of Greenmantle, as it would be “insensitive” after Thursday’s bombings (oh what the heck, let the PC brigade arrest me: terrorist bombings).

Insensitive to whom, precisely? As I recall the novel, it is all about a dastardly German plot to use Islamic fundamentalism in a fight against the allies in the First World War. The plot is masterminded by Hilda von Einem and is eventually foiled by Richard Hannay and his various colleagues, including and especially, Sandy Arbuthnot.

Interestingly enough, our heroes express great admiration for most of their enemy, including the Arab fighters who swarm in battles, dressed in green, and for Hilda von Einem. There is one German officer Hannay tangles with, whom he finds repulsive. He is a brutal thug with a rather effeminate aspect to his personality.

How is this venerable but excellent thriller insensitive? Who is about to get upset by it? Is the BBC not going to dramatize or broadcast any work of literature in which there is any kind of a conflict between members of different nationalities, religions, races or ethnic groups?

Are they going to eschew any novel in which there is a villain of some particular national, religious, ethnic or racial group? If so, their choice of books will be limited.

Several of Buchan’s books have villains who are not British (though most of the heroes are not precisely British either and certainly not English). What are we to do about “Oliver Twist”? Or “The Way We Live Now”?

There are Arab slave traders in various adventure stories by Jules Verne and G. A. Henty. There are baddies of different description in novels by Alistair McLean, Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie (though her murderers are usually of impeccable English middle class background).

And, of course, there are sinister Hungarians swarming through world fiction.

Clearly, anything by Dostoyevsky and quite a lot by Joseph Conrad will have to be banned.

I could go on but I shall not. The point I am trying to make here may not be entirely relevant to the general theme of the blog but there is a connection. A knowledge and understanding of the past is necessary to appreciate the present and the future. It is also essential to prevent a wallowing in some sort of utopian vision of the past. And we are sadly apt to fall into one difficulty or another.

Let me quote one of the greatest of the twentieth century poets, an American immigrant who settled in Britain and made his home, T. S. Eliot:

Time present and time past
And both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.