By HAROLD NICOLSON
THE appointment of Sir Alexander Cadogan as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the B.B.C. has, I observe, induced our leader-writers and commentators to express many varied and interesting opinions. All of them are agreed in paying tribute to Sir Alexander's eminent public services, to the breadth and depth of his experience, and to the personal authority he exercises with such effortless calm. All of them are conscious of the fact -that, with the introduction of Governors representing Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, with the appointment of a new Director-General to succeed Sir William Haley, and with the impending introduction of sponsored television, Sir Alexander will be faced with prob- lems greater than any previous Chairman has had to meet. Some of them suggest however that Sir Alexander will be at some disadvantage in that his experience, formidable though it be, has been derived from diplomatic encounters and has thus been esoteric. It has been suggested even that a man who will have to control and guide the tycoons of Broadcasting House, to maintain amicable relations with such jealous and assertive bodies as the T.U.C. and the 1922 Committee, and to preside for all we -know at the intrusion of commercial advertisers into the sacred grove of television, ought to possess more direct knowledge of the mysteries of the B.B.C. organisation, of parliamentary and party susceptibilities, and of the tastes and prejudices of the ordinary housewife. It may be true that Sir Alexander has a more expert acquaintance with the lobbies of Geneva and Lake Success than with those of the House of Commons; it may be true that he has never yet had to cope with the driving force of our powerful advertising magnates, and it is certainly true that he knows almost as little about the soul of the ordinary British housewife as I know about vectors or quaternions. But that is not the point. * * * * The function of the Chairman and Governors of the B.B.C. is to maintain truth and virtue; it is not to ascertain whether the housewives of Leeds or Godalming enjoy the Third Pro- gramme or whether they do not. Within the B.B.C. there are some ten thousand ardent men and women who spend all their days and most of their nights pondering on what the British housewife likes. There exists within the many mansions of the huge palaces and country houses tenanted by the Corporation an intricate, mechanical and abominably efficient instrument entitled " Listener Research." It is, I suppose, the duty of those gifted people who devise and produce the programmes to study these weekly quotations of popular response; but such is not the duty of the Governing Body. The duty of the Govern- ing Body is to see to it that the monopoly is executed without fear, prejudice or favour; that it is protected against pressure from politicians, industrialists or trades union leaders; that it remains immune to the temptations both of corruption and of undue sensitiveness to press -attacks; and ' that not for one moment does it weaken in its 'consciousness of the responsi- bility implicit in the vast privilege with which it is endowed. The administrative and executive staff of the B.B.C. are, I well know, deeply imbued with this consciousness; perhaps the greatest of the many services rendered to the Corporation by Sir William Haley is that he has succeeded, by his pervasive and persuasive example, in imposing upon his enormous staff the habit•of these high standards; but there will always remain the danger that the exhaustion engendered by an unremitting time- table, the discouragement caused by constant public criticism, the nagging tyranny of Listener Research, may tempt the B.B.C. to seek ease and safety by giving the public only what they think they want.
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The Chairman of the B.B.C. ought not to be a man with technical qualifications; it is not his business to know about frequency modulation. The Board is not supposed to initiate programmes, or even to discuss them in any detail; on the rare occasions when it ventures to do so, an expression of pained if deferential embarrassment descends upon the firm features of the officials, as if some indelicacy had been committed. The business of the Board is to maintain the standards established by Lord Reith and Sir William Haley; they are there, as con- stitutional monarchs, to " advise, to encourage and to warn." It is their business also to protect the Corporation against illegiti- mate encroachments and to see that the Charter is scrupulously observed. They must be imperturbable, judicious, impassive and they must possess such repute, authority and experience as will enable them to inform Cabinet Ministers where, if I may use the expression, they get off. It must be realised that the vast incessant task imposed upon the B.B.C. is one that frays the nerves. The slightest miscalculation, the smallest slip, the tiniest deviation from the norm, arouse immediate and passionate protests; the telephone in the Duty Room shrills immediately with angry voices calling from afar. People for- get the strain of these operations and fail to realise how wear- ing it is for the nervous system to have to execute an unremit- ting task when the inadvertence of a single second can arouse the rage of twenty million listeners. I am not suggesting that the B.B.C. is staffed by ten thousand neurotics; I am suggesting only that the captain and officers on the bridge must be men of iron nerves. The main quality required of the Chairman is imperturbability; Sir Alexander Cadogan is the calmest man I know.
It is possible, it is even probable, that within a few years television will have rendered the old sightless programmes as out of date as the soundless film. It was this prospect that rendered so many people suspicious of the introduction of sponsored programmes into television, since in twenty years from now that little flickering screen may have swamped the whole of broadcasting. The popularity of television may, as the Americans are now discovering, produce effects of the greatest social significance. It may be that the childien of future generations will derive from television all their enter- tainment and instruction and that, instead of acquiring the habit of listening or reading or playing, their little tired eyes will remain affixed in half-darkened rooms to the shapes gesticulating across that illuminated rectangle. Unless great precautions are taken and great wisdom applied, that may mean the end of all true education, which is based on difficulties sur- mounted and not on information effortlessly acquired. Con- versely, the fact that events and personalities are projected into the living rooms of private individuals may change the whole atmosphere of political expression and even alter the theory of representative institutions. Already, as Alistair Cooke informs us, the great white soul of the United States has been seared by the spectacle of the Chicago Conventions. Hitherto the Ameridan elector had taken almost for granted the antics of the party managers and cheer-leaders; but when he actually saw these movements and manoeuvres upon the screen, the vulgar falsity of the whole carnival shocked him profoundly. It may well be that television has killed the whole undignified method by which the two parties in the United States would select their candidates for the most important post in all the world. Which is to the good. * * * *
I regard broadcasting in all its forms as of such importance to the human race that I rejoice as a citizen that our own system should be the most honourable of all. It would indeed be lamentable if, for commercial or other reasons, we were to cheapen the great instrument that Lord Reith forged. I rejoice therefore that the new Chairman and the members of the new Board should be men of the world, distinguished for their wisdom and integrity. They will be obliged to deal with this new and fearful medium of television, a medium more influential, as Horace foresaw, than any sound broadcasting :— "Segnius irritant anintos demissa per aurem, Quam quae suns oculis subiecta fidelibus. .