By IAN JAMES
Catholic Herald Television Critic
IT IS TIME that one or two things were made clear about the "word" incident on the BBC. The first matter that should be settled is that of responsibility.
The corporation has had to take the blame for what happened, but as I see it, it should be the head of Mr. Kenneth Tynan and not that of Sir Hugh Greene on the chopping block. We must be fair about this.
The programme was "live" which means that it was not recorded and was not scripted. The interviewer was talking to a presumably responsible person — one accustomed to communicating with the public — and the producers of the programme had every reason to expect that Mr. Tynan would exhibit the same good taste which he had always shown in his writings.
He did not do so. He used a word which many people consider to be offensive: which, let us be honest, Mr. Tynan must very well have known to be offensive (would he have used it in front of his mother. one wonders?). But he did not tell anyone he was going to use it.
it came out—and in a fraction of a second it was heard in millions of homes. Nothing would be gained by throwing the switches at that point—the damage was done.
I cannot see, therefore. why the BBC should be blamed • . . at least so far as the narrow issues of this incident are concerned.
But there is a broader aspect to consider. It is significant, 1 think, that while Mr. Tynan would use the word on the BBC, I doubt if he would have used it in any article he had been asked to write for, say, The Times , or the Daily Telegraph.
I avoid using the Observer as an example because the word has appeared in their columns—albeit under somewhat different circumstances.
The fact that he presumably thought he could get away with it on the BBC seems to suggest that Mr. Tynan considered the BBC was a fairly "with it" (if that is the phrase) organisation. Which brings me to the point that perhaps the BBC has been a little careless recently about its image.
I have constantly defended the corporation against the attacks of such groups as the Clean-up-TV campaigners because I have felt that they were demanding a type of puritanism that was outdated, unrealistic and positively harmful to the interests of television.
An "omogenised" whiterthan-white television would be a bore. Television has a duty to deal with controversial matters in just the same way as does the theatre (and the fact that it comes directly into the home does not detract from this responsibility — rather it adds to it).
But on the other hand I am beginning to wonder if the little freedom which I would want the BBC to have is not becoming a dangerous thing. The controversial, the off-beat, the way-out is threatening to become a way of life for too many of the corporation's planners.
Sex. for example, is acceptable in its place. But it is doubtful whether its place is—as one instance— in every single Step:0e episode.
I do not seek to take any of the blame for the "word" incident away from Mr. Tynan's shoulders. But I suggest that if, as I suspect, Mr. Tynan thought the BBC was the sort of place where he could use fourletter words with impunity, then the BBC had better indulge in a little housecleaning.
If it does not do so, Mrs. Whitehouse and her campaigners will be getting more and more support, mine included.