11 DECEMBER 1993, Page 30


Another great British idea so much envied that nobody bothers to copy it


The world must be an envious place if British television is the envy of the world. I am told this unlikely story about once a week, often by people who are not in the business, and more often when, as now, something is happening to shake that busi- ness up. It is seldom based on comparative study — on long exposure to television in Tokyo, or cries of jealousy from Couch Kartoffeln in Berlin. The same people say the same thing about the National Health Service and used to say it about Lloyd's of London. When we British arrange our affairs in our own idiosyncratic way, for- eigners are so dazzled with envy that nobody copies us. No wonder that broad- casting comes under the Department of the National Heritage. Now its stately Secre- tary, Peter Brooke, has expressed himself minded to let the television franchise hold- ers bid for one another — don't rush, chil- dren, only one each . . . Merchant bankers are rushing out offer documents, condition- al on Mr Brooke making up his mind and acting on it. Granada, which once fought off Rank by proclaiming that as a franchise holder it was bid-proof, is forcing its atten- tions on LWT, which has made so much money for its chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, and his management colleagues. Sixteen of them have become millionaires, though few have had much to contribute at either end of a camera. Now Sir Christo- pher must decide whether he could swallow a higher bid if it came. As for the network of franchises — the idea of a country dot- ted with television stations like local news- papers — it is left looking like a cartel, but then, it always did. Choice is the con- sumer's most basic guarantee and strongest bargaining counter against the producer, but it has never been a feature of our much-envied television.