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Another life for Dr Who: BBC show revitalised

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1986-09-22 Canberra Times.jpg


IT WAS early last year when Australians heard the shattering news: Dr Who, who had fought and won countless wars against Daleks, Cybermen and other nasties, was to be exterminated by his producer, the BBC. The show was to be axed for 18 months, reportedly because of production costs.

The 18-month time warp is almost up and, according to director-general of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Mr Alasdair Milne, the Doctor, is due to return to British television this (southern) spring. We can only assume the good Doctor will, in time, return to the ABC.

Mr Milne was in Australia recently on a fact-finding and information tour. He spent a few days in Perth and Sydney before flying to New Zealand.

As director-general, or "chief executive" of the BBC, he was responsible for "everything". Everything covers an annual budget of two billion dollars, control of two television and four radio networks, 30 local radio stations and external services broadcasting in 36 languages to about 120 million regular listeners.

He joined the BBC in 1954 and, apart from a two year freelancing stint, has been with the corporation since. In 1973 he succeeded David Attenborough as director of programmes, television, a post he retained till he took up duties as managing director, television, in 1977.

He was appointed deputy director-general, in addition to his managing director duties, in 1981, and succeeded Sir Ian Trethowan as director-general of the BBC in 1982.

Mr Milne was a member of Sir Harold Wilson's film industry working party 1975-76 and of the subsequent interim committee on the film industry 1977-80.

During his visit to Australia he spoke frankly about the BBC and its sometimes not too glamorous past.

He said there never had been an intention to kill Dr Who, merely rewrite and reshape the series which had been in need of a break. But in the past two years the Tardis trauma has perhaps been the least of his worries. The BBC has been under fire from all quarters for a variety of reasons vetting of staff by British security services, cuts in funding, and the famed documentary on political extremism in Ulster.

How does the BBC fight what seems to be continual battles and emerge each time relatively un scathed? According to its director general it is a "pretty resilient" body. The BBC was a very powerful institution which, "in the eyes of politicians, was sometimes so, much to their irritation."

But the news has not been all bad. A committee of inquiry set up by the Thatcher Government to look into long-term funding of broadcasting ruled out the introduction of commercial advertising on the BBC.

The release of the Peacock report (the committee was headed by Alan Peacock, professor of finance at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University) ended a year of investigation. ("We are always under investigation," said Milne). Pundits said that

when setting up the inquiry, the government hoped it would recommend that the BBC take advertising to become self-supporting. The BBC is currently funded by the public, through a compulsory licence fee approximately $A116 paid annually by every home taking colour television.

Mr Milne said the BBC had argued that there was not enough advertising in the country for it to take even a small amount without doing damage to others in the industry. The Pcacock committee agreed.

The report had a lot of interesting findings and recommendations which he would not dismiss as readily as some people, but he could not see any major changes to the country's broadcasting industry being implemented before the next general election, which must be held by 1988.

One of the recommendations was for subscription-financed television whereby Britons would pay as they viewed. Mr Milne did not consider this an option. It would be more expensive than the licencing system and its proponents envisaged the arrival of the required technology long before he did.

For the time being, it looks like the BBC's income will remain intact. Mr Milne said the corporation was not in a funding crises, though cost-cutting had to be implemented when the Thatcher government rejected a submission in 1984 to set the licence fee at around $A 130. The licence fee was set on a three-year term which suited the BBC. It was interested in the possibility of having the fee indexed, but this depended on the baseline and index factor.

The BBC had a close relationships with the ABC selling about $3 million worth of programs annually to the Australian corporation. The two are often thought of as sister organisations, both wearing the 'Aunty' nametage. But the BBC undoubtedly has a greater share of its country's viewing and listening audience than does the ABC.

Mr Milne said about 75 per cent of Britain's radio audience listened to the BBC. In March BBC programs swept the board in the British Film and Television awards. Why does the BBC command such ratings when the ABC does not fare so favourably against Australia's commercial stations? "The ABC has to compete against aggressive commercial channels," Mr Milne said. In Britain the commercial stations were not so aggressive because the industry was more heavily regulated by the Independent Broadcasting Authority.

The BBC produced more than 80 per cent of the shows it transmitted, and traditionally these appealed across-the-board. Its success was partly due to taking risks, employing new writers and trying new things. "Takings risks is what public broadcasting is about," he said. Commercial broadcasting was being safe and comfortable.

The BBC was an institution. Britons had a great affection with the corporation, often taking the "opportunity to remind us of our duties."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Hobson, Karen (1986-09-22). Another life for Dr Who: BBC show revitalised. The Canberra Times p. 7.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Hobson, Karen. "Another life for Dr Who: BBC show revitalised." The Canberra Times [add city] 1986-09-22, 7. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Hobson, Karen. "Another life for Dr Who: BBC show revitalised." The Canberra Times, edition, sec., 1986-09-22
  • Turabian: Hobson, Karen. "Another life for Dr Who: BBC show revitalised." The Canberra Times, 1986-09-22, section, 7 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Another life for Dr Who: BBC show revitalised | url= | work=The Canberra Times | pages=7 | date=1986-09-22 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=4 December 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Another life for Dr Who: BBC show revitalised | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=4 December 2023}}</ref>