Anne Hailes: You may as well watch Netflix as watch the BBC, unless you're interested in cooking, baking or dressmaking

Dublin-born BBC war correspondent Audrey Russell, a pioneering journalist who also commentated on the queen's coronation in 1953

I WAS very young when I met the BBC's first woman news reporter and war correspondent Audrey Russell. She was in Belfast giving a live commentary on a visit by the Queen Mother when I told her I wanted to be a reporter, an ambition since I was four and first broadcast on the BBC Home Service.

I remember sitting at a round table covered in green baize and when the green light came on I said my piece, a message to my father who was returning home after serving in India, and I told him proudly that Father Christmas had brought me a dolls house "with real electric lights".

Miss Russell was impressed. However, she explained that although I heard her on the wireless, she relied on men to build the platform where she stood to see what was going on, engineers to transmit her voice to a control room in London where more skilled people would send her report to the home receiver.

"I hope you achieve your dream but always remember, you will be a small cog in a very big wheel." Wise words I've remembered all my broadcasting life.

The BBC is 100 years old this year and they plan to spend £50 million to find out what viewers like. You'd think they'd know by now. Radio is still remarkable, television less so. If you're not interested in cooking, baking, dressmaking or pointless celebratory programmes you might as well turn to Netflix.

I guess hundreds of people will be employed to do this research, with their wages coming out of our pockets. The results will be interesting and I hope they get the message that it's unacceptable to deny over-75s free access to programmes.

Quality has dipped in recent times with some very dubious television programming on all channels. Take Channel 4's Naked Attraction, for instance. Most viewers watch for titillation and a chance to view naked people choosing a dating partner based purely by focusing on their body parts, as does the camera. I wonder what sort of person wants to appear on such a show. It's been called salacious, a cultural jewel and funny, with one viewer claiming it was a health programme. Whatever floats your boat.


Spring cleaning the desk, I turned up the BBC 'Green Book' giving guidelines for light entertainment over 80 years ago. It highlights what was "politically and socially correct in Britain" - times have certainly changed and the relics of 'oul decency' no longer observed.

Vulgarity, for instance: "Programmes must at all costs be kept free of crudities, coarseness and innuendo. Humour must be clean and untainted directly or by association with vulgarity and suggestiveness. There can be no compromise with doubtful material. It must be cut."

Please note, Jimmy Carr.

There was an absolute ban on jokes about lavatories, effeminacy in men, immorality of any kind, suggestive references to honeymoon couples, chambermaids and fig leaves.


General guidance from a directive issued on July 2 1948: "We are not prepared in deference to protests from one party or another to deny ourselves legitimate topical references to political figures and affairs, which traditionally have been a source of comedians' material. We therefore reserve the right for variety programmes in moderation to take a crack at the Government of the day and the Opposition so long as they do so sensibly without undue acidity and above all funnily."

It adds: "We must bar altogether anything that can be construed as personal abuse of ministers, party leaders or MPs, malicious references to them or references in bad taste."

Well, that guidance has gone out the window well and truly.

"Generally speaking, the use of expletives and forceful language on the air have no place at all in light entertainment and all such words as God, Good God, My God, Blast, Hell, Damn, Bloody, Gorblimey, Ruddy etc. should be deleted from scripts and innocuous expressions substituted."


The paragraph headed 'British and English' makes interesting reading. "The misuse of the word English where British is correct causes much needless offence to Scottish, Ulster and Welsh listeners. It is a common error but one which is easily avoided by proper care on the part of the writers and producers."

Finally a note on alcohol. Imagine - the remark "one for the road" was inadmissible on road safety grounds. Although when you think about it, not a bad piece of advice. And so it goes on.

More recent is the magazine format advice I was given when broadcasting on BBC Radio Ulster. "Topics: should be varied, stretch imagination, off beat. Interviews: extract information, planning, what is the point, colour and experiences. News: accuracy, check details. Style: simple, direct, straightforward, short words, no fussiness, don't indulge yourself or try to impress, don't butt in. More on topics: Head each topic with a label - sports, fashion, Northern Ireland. This is important especially in sports headlines when an announcer will just go straight into a result without telling the listener which sport it refers too."

Broadcasting is talking to people who can't say 'What?' and so in my opinion back-referencing an interviewee is important. If you join an item halfway through it's irritating not to know who you are listening to.

The Green Book is long gone, although when you see or listen to some programmes today you might well wish some of those strict guidelines were still in force.

Happy birthday BBC - wouldn't want to be without you.

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