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Convincing and quietly terrifying: Sophie Okonedo (left) in the BBC's "Mayday"

In the current issue of the TV trade magazine Broadcast, Jay Hunt, the Chief Creative Officer of Channel 4, responds to producers who complained that micro-managing bureaucrats had furred the arteries of British television. "We back people who have a vision and the ability to deliver," she protests, and goes on to list examples of innovative work Channel 4 had commissioned.

She seemed to have a point, until she said, "Once a week, all of the genre heads has [sic] a breakfast meeting to discuss the best ideas in play. We talk about our successes and our failures. The sessions are robust and self-critical."

Her terrible use of English — "genre heads," "in play" — gave her away. The decline of British television — a medium, let us not forget, which relies on clarity — is matched by the rise of a tortuous managerial patois. Since John Birt's reign at the BBC in the 1990s, executives have produced a thought-denying and life-denying bureaucratic code that only initiates can understand. As with Latin in the medieval church, its effect is to justify the status and salaries of a priesthood while excluding everyone who loves English and therefore everyone who can write a half-decent script.

I doubt that breakfast meetings of "genre heads" engage in robust self-criticism. You don't get to be a "genre head" unless you are also a "ditto head", who goes along with everyone else and pretends that television is marvellous. Look at the Edinburgh Television Festival. It never debates why Britain once exported quality dramas and imported game shows, and now gets its best dramas from abroad while pumping out lightweight and formulaic programmes. The executives who take the stage are as complacent and as self-congratulatory as bankers before the crash. The otherwise excellent Mark Lawson will never devote an edition of a Radio 4 arts programme to asking why Nicholas Hytner, the director of the National Theatre, can produce shows the world wants to see when Ben Stephenson, the BBC's Commissioner of Drama, cannot.

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March 29th, 2013
1:03 PM
"Sophie Okonedo was as good as I have ever seen her as the wife of the police officer who killed the girl. The look of hard determination on her face as she decided to save her family by framing an innocent if repellent man..." But didn't the "innocent if repellent man" rape her in an earlier encounter? And that's why she had no problem in planting the evidence - the hair of the teenager her husband had murdered, that she'd found after her husband had stored it in the loft of their house, in the rucksack of her rapist?

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