The Guardian

I’ve shown my BBC licence fee the red card

Illustration by

On Monday, like some Tunbridge Wells Daily Telegraph Tory who puts his foot through the television in a fury and sends Lenny Henry and Clare Balding the bill, I went online and cancelled my television licence. Why should I subsidise the rotting corpse of the BBC? It was once an idealistic public institution, but the Gary Lineker saga reveals it as a cowed Conservative propaganda outlet with no objectivity or autonomy. What’s that, Fiona Bruce, ambassador for Refuge and spouse of Tory donor Nigel Sharrocks? Boris Johnson’s knighthood-pending father has broken his wife’s nose? That’ll do nicely, sir, and would you like to “continue hitting me, many times, over many years”? Nation shall speak peace unto nation, or at least whatever a BBC board stuffed with Tory placemen decides it should speak. Carve that noble phrase into the flaccid penis of Eric Gill’s Ariel and hang it above the door of Broadcasting House for passersby to admire. Inform! Educate! And crush the tofu-munching wokerati!

As my licence fee evaporated into cyberspace, I felt the same woke sense of relief I did when I finally gave all my Morrissey albums to the charity shop, hopefully making the day of a fan better adjusted to gloss over far-right drift. In cancelling my licence fee, I knew I had done the right thing, morally, despite my historical loyalty to the BBC, despite how it had shaped my world. I was made what I am by the 1980s alternative comedy of The Young Ones, Boom Boom… Out Go the Lights and Threads; by late-night 1980s Radio 1 music sessions from Tools You Can Trust, Xmal Deutschland and Roderick’s Integrated Semen; and by the imagination-inspiring fantasy wonder worlds of Clangers, Blake’s 7 and Triangle. I was informed, educated and thoroughly entertained. And who can forget Angela Rippon’s legs on Morecambe and Wise, back when everyone assumed newsreaders were just severed torsos mounted on bloody spikes?

But now I’m no longer coughing up for the Conservatives’ cathode-ray mind-control project, it’s abundantly clear to me that the Tories have scores of billionaire donors and client newspaper editors to push their selfish agenda down the public’s throats anyway, so they don’t need my licence fee too. Let them come for me with their detector vans and their legal threats. To fight them off, I have a rolled-up copy of Nick Robinson’s Oxford University Conservative Association presidency certificate.

We north London tofu-munching wokerati have defended the BBC for decades, and what for? Between series two and three of my multiple Bafta and British comedy award-winning BBC series Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, I stayed at a BBC that would not make clear any commitment to me, despite a better financial offer for essentially the same show from Sky. To me, 10 long years ago in 2013, it seemed more moral to work for the public broadcaster than for Rupert Murdoch. How naive that now seems when, despite her embarrassing attempts to patronise Mick Lynch, even Sky’s Kay Burley is obviously a more trusted news sluice than the BBC’s dancing Downing Street disinformation puppet Laura Kuenssberg; or Ben Brown, who, in attempting last week to mouth a false equivalence concerning the belatedly useful Alastair Campbell’s work for Lineker’s production company, had his arse handed to him so comprehensively that he now wears a special pair of mittens with the phrase “My Arse Here” embroidered on to them.

LWe north London tofumunching wokerati have defended the BBC for decades, and what for?

ike many a north London liberal, I tangled myself into cognitive contortions trying to rationalise the corporation’s dismissal of the top pinko comedian Nish Kumar, but now the footballer revolutionaries have revealed the BBC’s director general, Tim Davie, as an invertebrate Conservative collaborator with no fists, every decision the public broadcaster makes seems suspect and untrustworthy; from the sidelining of David Attenborough’s climate crisis truth bombs to the decision to commission the 2018 sitcom Hold the Sunset by Spectator contributing editor and anti-woke GB News comedian John Cleese. Lineker has shown us all that we must make a stand for truth and justice, that we can make a difference, that we must not let the BBC be bullied into advocating the punishment of the world’s most vulnerable people in the name of stoking a votewinning culture war. It’s Walkers crisp sandwiches for me now, for ever. And goodbye licence fee!

But hang on? If I personally defund the BBC, isn’t that just what the Conservatives want? Indeed, the recently appointed BBC chairman, Richard Sharp, who helped Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility and gave a £400,000 donation to the Tory party, is a former director of a Tufton Street thinktank, the Centre for Policy Studies, which maintains that the BBC is biased and campaigns for the actual abolition of the licence fee. Garygate is a win-win situation for the Tories. If Stokeon-Trent North MP Jonathan Gullis, whose brain is made of the offal sausage manufacturers reject as unfit for human consumption, can convince the hapless “red wall” hope-buckets that Lineker thinks they’re Nazis, then they will hate the BBC, which is a win. And if tofulickers such as me are already refusing to pay up because Garygate exposed the corporation’s enslavement by the Tories, then it’s also a win. Doh!

In the meantime, do the Tories even need BBC news? There’s an Ofcom regulation stating: “No politician may be used as a newsreader, interviewer or reporter in any news programmes unless, exceptionally, it is editorially justified.” But last weekend Tory MPs Esther McVey and Philip Davies interviewed Tory chancellor Jeremy Hunt about his brilliant budget on their own GB News show, heavily trailed on social media by HM Revenue and Customs itself, bypassing the usual trusted news brokers. It’s bent.

My relationship with the licence fee isn’t over. But we’re “taking a break”. Start by getting rid of Sharp. Then maybe we can meet for a drink in that pub we used to like.

The Observer