Archive | February, 2022

Joining us in the studio …

15 Feb

It’s strange when the BBC does it, and now that ITV seems to be doing it too, it’s equally strange:

Like the BBC’s, the articles on the ITV News website are unbylined, and, like the BBC’s, ITV’s correspondents are sometimes quoted in them almost as though they were a source – an outside expert whose views have been sought – rather than a colleague of the person writing the article.

The rhetorical effect of this can be peculiar and, when it first came to the blog’s notice six years ago, it was hard to work out why it was happening. Such is the BBC’s mania for impartiality, the quoting of its own employees in the third person made it seem as though it wanted to be distanced from them, as it might from a contentious politician. A disclaimer like the one that accompanies links to Twitter – “the BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites” – seemed to hover over the quoted correspondents too.

For instance, in 2015, the anonymous author of a BBC article about a lawsuit by Rihanna wrote:

“The BBC’s legal correspondent Clive Coleman said this was the first reported English case of a celebrity claimant successfully relying on passing off to claim compensation for the unauthorised use of their personal image.”

Right: but was it or wasn’t it the first? Is there some doubt about this assertion? If one’s own legal correspondent says so, shouldn’t that be enough to report it ex cathedra? Passages like these have the effect of turning the spotlight away from the brand-name reporter and on to the mysterious online author. If Coleman is not entirely to be trusted, as this distancing suggests, who is actually speaking for the BBC? Is it the person writing the article?

However, in the ITV piece, the effect is slightly different. When this author says:

“Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana, who has spoken to sources in Whitehall, has the following explanation of what is happening with Ms Gray’s report”

the tone is not cautionary or distancing, but something rather more familiar: it’s introductory, the sound of one person handing over to another. In other words, it’s the sound of TV news.

The whole format of television current affairs is predicated on journalists asking other journalists what’s going on. “Alex is one of the few reporters still in Kandahar, and she joins us on on the line now. Alex, what can you tell us?” This, perhaps, is why this phenomenon is common on broadcasters’ news sites, but never seen elsewhere.

Newspaper hacks have their byline at the top of their work, but TV news correspondents have always needed someone else to introduce them. So the voice of the unbylined author that can seem so baffling to newspaper readers may not be the incorporeal conscience of the BBC: perhaps it’s just the voice of a facilitator in the middle, or a ringmaster introducing the acts. Perhaps It’s really the voice of a newsreader, but translated from the studio to the page?


’Orrible murder! Readallabahtit!

1 Feb

Drugged, disoriented and with something horrific in his jacket pocket, Sir George Fenwick rolls out of bed in a cheap boarding house and stumbles to the window, where a man with a slightly orotund Cockney accent is selling papers on the street below. “Mornin’ paper! All abaht the murder! ‘Orrible murder! Mornin’ paper!”

Fenwick, ashen, gathers his hat and flees the scene, but the next thing that appears on screen, of course, is this:

The scene is from The Woman In Green, one of the classic Sherlock Holmes movies of the 1930s and 40s that starred Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Although the series moved the characters forwards in history to contemporary (ie wartime) Britain, they were made 5,000 miles away in Hollywood, usually to a budget, with the result that London seemed to be populated by an unusual number of left-hand-drive cars and mid-Atlantic accents.

However, authenticity doesn’t seem to be a problem here for the “London Daily C…” (“Chronicle”, perhaps?). The headlines fit well and read well, unlike those in most movie newspapers. There is a story about football (Blackburn and Derby), and one about Oxford’s travails before the Boat Race. There’s even some proper copy for the fictional lead story.

Only one thing really jars: the headline about Puerto Rico. Would news from a US-administered territory really make the top of page 1 in a “Great Daily of the Empire”, and would “Beverley” (presumably James R Beverley, former governor) be a name well-known in Marylebone?*

Well, only that and the other thing, of course. Edgeware? With three E’s? “the Edgeware Road”? Gor blimey, guv, anyone could tell yer not from rahnd ‘ere.

*Also, if it is James R Beverley, he did indeed preside over rescue efforts after a devastating hurricane – but in 1932. He ceased to govern Puerto Rico in 1933, which would make that story several years old in wartime London. Furthermore, online research suggests that the controversy over using “swivels” (swivelling rather than fixed mounts for the oars) was already raging in Oxford rowing circles by the mid-1930s. That raises some interesting questions about how the props department put this edition of the Chronicle together for the screen.