MUSIC AND THE B.B.C.
By W. J. TURNER
THAT there is widespread dissatisfaction with the B.B.C.'s musical programmes correspondence in The Spectator shows, but war-time imposes certain restrictions on broadcasting which, in one form or another, are inevitable. One, which may be mentioned without giving away information, is the Government requirement that there shall be broadcasting daily from 7 a.m. to midnight. No pause or interval is allowed, and this causes a not inconsiderable strain on the engineering as well as on the programme staff. It is a practice open to the gravest objection, and should be discontinued as soon as possible. The reasons may•not be obtrious, but they are so fundamental that it should be enough to state them and pass on:
(t) Every activity requires for its daily proper functioning and enjoyment periods of rest.
(2) It is impossible,, even if it were desirable, to time'every broadcast-programme to the minute.
(3) Quantity-production kills quality-production.
On the last point there 'may be a reservation that by means of shifts and staggering of staff the demand for output might not adversely affect its quality ; but in practice the tendency is for the producing-staff to be grossly overworked, and it is doubtful whether it is yet possible to get a Director-General and a Board of Governors so enlightened that they fully understand how much leisure for reflection and experiment the production of good 'work demands. And this brings me to the crucial point. Do those who direct the B.B.C. fully realise their social responsibilities and the extent of their influence on public taste?
When Parliament gave the B.B.C. its licence under the Postmaster-General to enjoy a monopoly of broadcasting in this country, it showed wisdom and foresight in thus guarding the people from mere private and competitive exploitation. For- tunately, we have not to argue any longer on the necessity in society of both restraint and freedom and their continuous nice readjustment. The B.B.C. has to consider the opinions and feel- ings of the majority, and this it is at great pains to do. There is an elaborate system of obtaining cross-sections of public opinion, and tables are kept showing the percentage of listening-in to all' types of programme These reveal, among other things, the deplorable fact that the public taste had so sunk (largely owink to social conditions and general loss of direction) before the war that the cinema-organ was apparently more popular than good light orchestral music, and that " crooning " found more favour than the comic or sentimental songs of Sullivan, Strauss, Offen- bach and other gifted composers of opera or music-hall. But has the Director-General or his colleagues the right attitude towards such depressing revelations? Or do they think that, there is no such thing as real talent ; that there are no gifted composers or singers, but that everybody can compose and sing (which is more or less true), and that there is no difference in quality and, shall I say, enjoyability (which is quite untrue) between any of them?
I have a very strong impression that in such matters the heads f the B.B.C. have no real opinions of their own ; that the vector just shrugs his shoulders and, at the most, says " not my taste, but—" when anyone refers to the popularity of the cinema- rgan, and leaves it .at that. But it should not be left there. It 3 the duty of the B.B.C., 'by giving first-rate performances of every kind of excellence, to show that these differences are real or everybody and are not merely "4iigh-brow " differences. aturally, there must be differences of taste and of enjoyment ; but there is a possible excellence and badness in every kind of tisk- or drama, talk or discussion, and whatever the subject- ancr. For instance, there is nothing to be said in favour of modern cinema-organ. Listening to it is a depraved taste, the taste for drinking methylated spirits. That, in my mind, s a certainty, and those who lead others (as we all need to be ed in some sphere or other, not being omniscient) must have
these certainties and must act on them. Herein is one of the differences between the real and the sham leader. It is one of the prime virtues of the democratic system that it demands such leadership or it will simply go to pieces and end in chaos.
The lack of any real leadership in the control of the B.B.C. has been becoming more and more evident for years. In this it has reflected the general lowering of standards, even a lack of any belief in standards, which has been one of the most striking and significant signs of our times. The vast increase in detailed knowledge, the multiplication of specialists, the persistent critical sapping of the bases of opinion and tradition, have combined with the activity of the anti-social to reduce most ordinary men and women to a state of hopeless confusion. Their instinct, luckily, is not at fault, and craves for the beautiful, the good, the strong and the true ; but vision is needed to see where these reside and to disentangle the gold from the dross. Nothing, can absolve leaders from a lack of vision or a lack of character to withstand unpopularity.
The first duty of the B.B.C. is not to pander to the lowest tastes of the public, but to supply the best (popular or unpopular) in all fields. Only after having satisfied the best judgement and taste of our people (and this means providing what the Director- General and the Governors themselves would most enjoy—other- wise they are not the right 'people for their task) can they afford to say to themselves: " Well, there is a residue, unfortunately very large, of unamusables, so dull that they are only capable of getting pleasure from the cinema-organ, therefore we must give them a little cinema-organ music." For just as a minimum subsistence-wage should be given by the State to all unemploy, ables, so no section of the community should be left uncatered for by the B.B.C., however intellectually and emotionally un- developed it may be. For we must remember that it is not always people's own fault that they are incapable of good work or incapable of good listening. They are often the product of past generations of neglect. The B.B.C. is in danger of behaving even worse than the most unenlightened governments of the past, for it is now neglecting the best of its audiences for the sake of the worst.