Imagine you’ve been wronged by a TV show. Some inaccuracy, or omission, or annoyance has caused the irksome weevil of discontent to crawl through your television and burrow underneath your skin. You can’t rid of it. After days of muttering under your breath and scribbling beards and fangs all over the Radio Times, it’s still there. Nothing will soothe you. You’re left with only one choice.
It’s time to lodge a complaint.
If that complaint relates to anything other than Editorial Standards, it may be passed up to the BBC Trust’s Complaints and Appeals Board (CAB), the final arbiter on general grievances since 2011. And thanks to BBC transparency, such complaints are available, anonymously, to see online.
A trawl through the last five years of reports reveals some recurring topics. The downfall of correct grammar and diction is at the top of BBC audience concerns, just above volume inconsistency, schedule shuffling, there being simultaneously too much and too little sports coverage, and the ‘incorrect’ balance of regional accents on Breakfast.
That’s just a sample. The range of matters about which BBC viewers feel moved to complain about is impressively broad. The Eggheads aren’t clever enough. Albert Square isn’t tidy enough. They really don’t like that presenter. They really do like this presenter and if she isn’t given a permanent spot on The One Show, they’ll stage a boycott. Not to forget the chip-on-shoulder complainants who didn’t get on Dragon’s Den, whose music wasn’t played on BBC Radio, or who, despite several years of trying, have yet to be cast in EastEnders.
Sometimes banal, sometimes bizarre (I urge you to read in full the details of “Removal from filming session, 28 January 2012” for its tale of an oversexed Count Arthur Strong-alike being ejected from a filmed performance of Celtic music. There are nine pages of it, each one a gem), here’s a selection of odd moans referred to the BBC Complaints and Appeals Board in the last five years…
Richard Bacon, pay my licence fee
Talking up an interview he’d done with Sir David Attenborough on BBC Radio Five Live in February 2013, presenter Richard Bacon told listeners to the Shelagh Fogarty Show that if any of them didn’t enjoy said interview, he would personally reimburse the cost of their licence fee.
Lo and behold, one cheeky listener emailed the show to say that he had not enjoyed the Attenborough interview and expected Richard Bacon to “make good on his promise”. Despite receiving a reply assuring him that Bacon’s comment was intended as a joke (“He simply stated this because he thought the interview was very good and it should be enjoyed by everyone”), the complainant was dissatisfied and renewed his complaint once again demanding that the “clear and unambiguous” offer be honoured. The ‘debate’ as to whether Bacon had been joking went back and forth but ultimately, the complainant was unsuccessful and Richard Bacon did not reimburse the cost of anyone’s licence fee. You can’t blame him for trying.
Sinister seating arrangements
Have you ever noticed that on Breakfast, the male presenter tends to sit on the left with the female presenter on the right? This complainant has.
The observations disturbed them to the extent that they queried it with the BBC, suggesting that “the left side, according to ancient belief, was thought to be sinister and associated with evil, and that the practice of seating women to the left of men is a consequence of this belief. The complainant felt that this arrangement on Breakfast was therefore inappropriate and placed women in an outdated stereotypical role” before going on to question the BBC’s commitment to equal opportunities.
Not Eggheady enough?
In June 2013, the BBC was contacted by a complainant regarding quiz show Eggheads. “He believed one of the Eggheads team was an inappropriate contributor”, making several points including: “the contributor was not clever enough to be on the show” and “the contributor did not appear to care about winning”. He urged the BBC to “conduct an examination of the contributor’s ‘win/lose’ ratio” in order to quantify the above. Following an exchange on the subject, the BBC decided not to respond further.
Metric measurements, Formula 1 and treason
Five separate complaints over the space of two years were received from this chap about the BBC’s use of metric measurements in its coverage of Formula 1 racing. Eight whole pages of the February 2014 CAB report are given over to documenting his correspondence with the BBC on the matter, which culminated in the accusation that the BBC was not only breaking the law by using metric measurements, but also committing treason.
EastEnders = rubbish
Having had it up to here with EastEnders, which he thought had repetitive storylines and boring characters, this man lodged a formal complaint against the show. It took up too much time, was a waste of money, and wasn’t life-like “because people spent too much time in pubs and cafés”, which they wouldn’t do in real life “because it would cost too much.” A correspondence ensued which BBC Audience Services attempted to conclude by noting they had nothing more to say on the matter, to which he replied citing a scene set in a restaurant kitchen which showed characters not wearing hairnets, which “encouraged bad behaviour”.
Along similar lines, this complainant took against the depiction of cigarette butts being casually disposed of in the BBC soap, urging the Beeb to set a positive example. Despite receiving a reply explaining that “drama must be allowed to reflect various aspects of real life, good and bad, and that by merely featuring a particular activity does not mean the BBC is endorsing or condoning it”, the complaint continued, asking why, if you drop a cigarette butt on the floor in real life, are you liable to receive a fixed penalty notice, but if a character does it in EastEnders, no such consequences are incurred?
BBC weather reporting is “often unduly depressing”, wrote one complainant, arguing, “people planned their activities around weather reports and would decide not to do something if there was a poor weather outlook.” “Undue pessimism” on the part of BBC weather presenters was also partly to blame for child obesity, he continued, “because people chose not to go outside as a result.” A case of don’t-shoot-the-messenger?
Bay City Rollers prejudice
There are four typed pages outlining the correspondence between this complainant and the BBC on the matter of the absence of Bay City Rollers songs on Johnnie Walker’s Sounds Of The 70s show on BBC Radio 2.
Over the course of 305 shows, the complainant writes, Johnnie Walker had never played any songs by The Bay City Rollers. He “understood that Johnnie Walker did not like the band but the complainant felt that licence fee payers were entitled to hear what they wanted rather than what Johnnie Walker always wanted.” It was a matter of unreasonable bias against The Bay City Rollers, he conjectured, that “if the presenter had shown bias against another group instead of a Scots group, the matter would have been dealt with immediately”.
Strictly bad behaviour
BBC One’s hugely popular Strictly Come Dancing seems to really get up a few people’s noses, as a number of complaints passed up to the CAB in recent years illustrate.
One complainant took issue with the programme’s title, specifically a single part of it. In a lengthy exchange of correspondence, he argued that “the word ‘strictly’ was not an accurate description of the dancing on the programme” and therefore should be removed from or replaced in the show’s title. Alas, his wish was not granted.
Neither was the complaint upheld from this chap, who wanted the BBC to give him both payment and a programme credit for having invented the original idea for the show His evidence? “The complainant said that he had put forward an idea for a programme where contestants learned to play musical instruments and that on his website he had mentioned that ballroom dancing was good exercise.” The BBC disputed the notion that Strictly Come Dancing “or any other programme had resulted from, or been developed by reference to the complainant’s website.”
Another failed Strictly moan came from this complainant, who wanted to take the programme to task for breaching the Equality Act 2010. His problem with the show? “The complainant argued that in the UK there were more female dancers than male and that meant the selection of dancers must have been on the basis of a dancer’s sex, rather than dancing ability.” The complaint was duly quashed.
As was this person’s complaint about the behaviour of the Strictly audience during a performance by singer Alfie Boe. Said audience “was allowed to scream, whistle and clap” during the song, “in the same way they had done during Andrea Bocelli’s performance the previous month.” It was “off-putting and unnecessary”, said the complainant, who was reminded that Strictly is filmed in a live environment and audience reaction is an integral part of the show.
The winning Strictly-related complaint though, has to go to this one, which observed that “the audience would clap rhythmically along with the music – but were often out of time.” The complainant “queried whether it was possible to have a version of the programme available on Red Button that was free of clapping”. It was not.
Due to an awkwardly phrased question, the decision was taken not to show episode sixty of quiz show Pointless during a repeat of its seventh series, in which a jackpot was paid out.
Woe betide the person who took that decision. The BBC received multiple complaints on the subject, attracting accusations of dishonesty and theft by one correspondent, who claimed that “nothing would convince him that the BBC paid out the jackpot to a contestant”. “One complainant said he would never watch Pointless again as he felt so let down.”
Bad news bugbear
Whatever depressing depths are plumbed by ‘quality’ TV drama, none of them will ever be more dispiriting than the Ten O Clock News. Most of us acknowledge this with a shrug and turn away, trying hard not to think about war, death and famine while we tuck in to tea. Not so for a few brave souls out there, who are trying to fix it—not by solving the problems of war, death and famine, we should say, but by making the news happier.
Take this complainant, who took the BBC to task for skewering news reports to bad news and failing to report on “news of the good humankind is capable of.” He wanted an end to “voyeuristic” news stories and good news to “be 50% of every broadcast”. By good news, he didn’t mean “token fluffy light gestures” but updates on the latest inventions, science, health innovations, space exploration, creative endeavour and people’s achievements.” Largely considered an editorial matter, the complaint did not qualify for consideration by the BBC Trust, but hooray for that man all the same.
Other honourable mentions
– The Voice should not have been recommissioned for series four because “the purpose of the show was to ‘showcase possible star quality’ and where none had been found, it should be considered a failure”, wrote one man.
– A Creationist complained that the BBC, and the programmes of Sir David Attenborough in particular, gave too much prominence to the theory of evolution. “He stated the BBC programme Winter Watch was proof of his views: he said that millions of years of natural random chance processes would never have produced a programme of such quality, and this was only a fraction of the complexity observed in the natural world.” Water-tight, that one.
– A fan of sometime TV presenter Helen Fospero threatened to boycott The One Show if she was not made a regular presenter amid a general complaint about Fospero being given too little airtime by the BBC.
– An advert for another BBC programme, featuring modern music, was played in the “non-stop oldies” section of a Steve Wright radio show, meaning that the segment was, by definition, not “non-stop oldies”.
– One fellow complained that characters in BBC comedies Mountain Goats and Burnistoun were based on him, “giving several details of the similarities he perceived between the characters and himself.”
– The One Show “frequently started about two minutes early” meaning one complainant was unable to record the complete programme.
– On Match Of The Day, Gary Lineker didn’t say the “c-word”, but alluded to its existence when reading out a list of names including Jack Hunt, which, Lineker noted, is a name you “have to be very careful with”.
– A complainant contacted the BBC in October 2013 about the song playing over the end credits of an episode of Doctors being dipped for 10 seconds while the continuity announcer spoke over it.
– Nicky Campbell’s The Big Questions debated “Are unwanted advances just part of life?” in March 2013. “The complainant considered programme makers had sought female participants who were feminists and who were skilled in debate. He considered the principal male speaker was not an effective counterbalance to the female voices and considered the programme makers should have sought male interviewees “in the Men’s Rights fraternity which is well represented on the net”.
– There are too many people involved in making Antiques Road Trip, complained one man, who requested detailed job descriptions for all staff involved in the show. The BBC politely declined to meet his request.
– A complaint from Howard Moon of The Mighty Boosh (we assume) who wrote to the BBC complaining that about the lack of Jazz played on BBC Radio 3 and forwarding a brief he’d written on the BBC’s attitude to Jazz programming to the Director-General himself.
– A BBC Radio 2 traffic presenter used the word “shut” to mean “closed” to describe a road closure. The complainant judged this “absurd and inappropriate”.
– In 2008, Matthew Parris, BBC Radio 4 Great Lives presenter joked that cyclists should be decapitated, a comment which caused offence and has stayed with the complainant “until this day”.
– When he deemed unsatisfactory a reply received from Countryfile regarding his request for more information about buying a bee box featured on an episode of the programme, this complainant took it all the way to the top by referring the matter to the Director-General of the BBC. We really hope he has his bee box by now.