It gets worse. I arrived at our hotel-cum-1950s-boarding house at 9pm last night, after finally worming my way onto a connection from Stansted, only to be met by a message asking me to ring Lucinda immediately. With a sinking feeling I did just that and learned that my business/dance partner will not be coming to the ball, having suffered a frozen shoulder while reclining on her sofa watching the lunatics in the Ultimate Big Brother asylum.
The first thing I did on receiving the news was to ring H and ask her to get me an upgrade, reasoning that if I was going to suffer this ghastly farrago alone, then at least I should do so with a measure of comfort. By midnight, miracle of miracles, I was safely ensconced in an executive double in The Glasshouse and was feeling more reconciled to my lot. But this morning, as I munched my way through a traditional Scottish breakfast, a shadow fell across my table and I looked up, mouth full of potato scone, to find Roy Ackerman asking to join my table (in an otherwise deserted restaurant). It was a full quarter hour before I could extricate myself, a very long 15-minutes indeed in which Roy name-dropped Channel 4’s new haircut (or DA as he calls him) even times and Saint Jamie a round dozen. Eventually I simply got up, while Roy was mid-sentence, and, citing an urgent call of nature, walked away.
Having taxi-ed over to the conference centre to register early, and avoid running into any more ‘Roys’, I am now back at my hotel, writing this and leafing through the festival brochure. It is only now that the difficulty of negotiating the weekend without Lucinda to support me is starting to sink in. Tonight I’ll have to enter the McEwan Hall naked and alone for The Bishop’s MacTaggart Lecture, running the gauntlet of nudges, stares and whispers. In normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be seen dead amongst the back-stabbers and smiling assassins, but Natasha from Newsnight has already rung to confirm my availability this evening and if I blow her out there is no way that Luce will swallow my significantly enlarged hotel bill. I could try and wangle a copy of the speech from the festival press office, but the thought of sticking my head in that bear pit makes my blood run cold. There is nothing for it, but to go and listen to The Bishop preach first hand.
And boy will he preach. No doubt he has been squirreled away in the Bodleian for most of August, dusting down his best Matthew Arnold quotes and working up an elaborate central metaphor, comparing the BBC to some pillar of Athenian democracy (and managing to obliquely equate Cash in the Attic to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in the process). There will be copious mentions of Attenborough and The Proms and the more donnish elements of BBC4’s output and no acknowledgement whatsover of all the Holby-style guff and Canny D’s tit docs.
Whisper it ever so quietly, but I have a soft spot for the DG, despite the cant and the arrogance. He courted me pretty assiduously during the fall-out to the Queengate affair, when it looked like Jana Mouskouri might have to be locked in a Broadcasting House edit suite with a Glock pistol and a stiff measure of scotch (it was only the BBC's inability to match my terms that saved her bacon). And there is something I find endearing about his creative insecurity (according to Thommo, he is responsible in part or in full for just about every half decent programme idea to come out of the corporation since the 1980s and most of Channel 4’s BAFTA winners from the noughties,
But even I am forced to wonder whether he is cut out to be leading the Beeb at this crucial juncture. The forces conspiring to fatally weaken the dear old girl are stronger than at any time in her history and it will require an inspired general to defeat them. But like the Highlanders in Braveheart refusing to face down the English cavalry under the command of the Scottish nobility, the BBC's foot soldiers are rebelling against their commander.
Thommo has reached the top of the BBC's labyrinthine bureaucracy thanks to the sort of sinuous, serpentine management skills that would have blossomed in The Vatican under Cesare Borgia, but I fear the time has passed when the corporation is well served by intriguing and politicking, obfuscation and the endless protection of self interest. What is needed is a fundamental and above all honest reappraisal of its size and creative purpose in a fully digital world. But honesty is the last qualtiy we can expect from the man who swore blind he had no interest in becoming Director General a mere matter of weeks before he did so and, to make matters worse, blamed Sonia Gandhi's 'inner voice' when confronted with his lie.