Update : It’s improving! Personalities are starting to return – maybe, now the BBC has got used to being relentlessly bashed over EVERYTHING, a sense of ‘may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb’ is setting in.
There used to be a BBC Common – either a cheerful Cockney forever on the verge of a Tommy Steele impression even when required to look sad and/or peeved by burning issues typical of his lot like drugs or abortion; or a dewy, lovely stage school ‘gel’ doing her Cockney, who would soon move on to a corset role in the millionth adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’.
There was also a BBC Ethnic. In comedies he (in all genres it was mostly a he unless an arranged marriage was in the offing – although nowadays girls are essential for the wearing of headscarves) was silly in line with the clichés of his ethnic origin, or simply stood there silently his skin colour being the punchline. In dramas they would get angry and anguished about racism (God knows they weren’t going to discuss anything Mr and Mrs Average Briton hadn’t heard of) or they would mug a pensioner before dealing drugs to his grandson. These actors had to perfect the highly tricky skill of entirely eviscerating any signs of an internal life while maintaining intense eye-contact. Much like all modern T.V. acting.
The BBC Gay had the same comedy/drama divide. The comedy version was sardonic and camp and sneaked in from the pier end of the Music Halls. The drama version was a repressed, almost fully human, Establishment figure, his wife was a fragrant semi-shrew who didn’t understand him and would go nuclear when she found out (probably played by Jane Asher) and the torment of his life was a monosyllabic piece of rough trade who dressed like one of the twins from the 80s band ‘Bros’.
There was BBC Regional : och aye, eee bye gum, ooh arr, it’s grim up North, it’s warm and funny up North, the peasants will burn you in a giant Wicker Man if you don’t repeal the Corn Laws… Up North.
And while actresses everywhere in British culture tend to be Dames, Totty, Char ladies or Totty Char ladies, or Totty Dames, or Dame Char ladies, recently the BBC has given us a new – and unexpected – female type, the BBC Bimbo.
She’s a presenter. She probably went to University or trained extensively in Z-list public appearances. She sits or stands next to a grumpy male presenter (or Bruce Forsyth) reacting to his every witticism. She has almost no thoughts, interests or opinions of her own. Sometimes her voice gets so shrill you can’t even hear the inane comment she’s tried to interject and it makes no difference to the show. She’s anything from 20 to 50 but the strain of trying to look young (even while young) leaves all of them with the same crow’s-feet covered up by the same light-reflecting foundations. They have sleek or spiky hairdos sprayed on like Helmets and their clothes are expensive versions of the polyester darted bedazzled monstrosities Human Resource Managers buy from Next.
No amount of sparkle can hide the anxiety in their eyes. They’re interchangeable and disposable and they know it.
The question is why?
Drama is a complex thing to produce. Clichés and stereotypes become landmarks in potentially hostile unexplored territory. But presenting should be a matter of charisma, intelligence and sensitivity. Qualities female presenters managed to possess in all past eras. So what terrors are stalking the backrooms of the BBC leading to this near extinction of smart – ageing – women? Because even 70s Totty had more depth than the blank spaces they’ve gazelled onto the ‘The One Show’ sofa.