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Alvar Liddell assesses BBC presenter, Chris Evans

The BBC. Now available in ginger.

Today Chris Evans represents the British Broadcasting Corporation much as I did in the 1940s and 1950s. That is not his fault any more than it was mine.

Except for the BBC being our paymaster, there is little to connect Evans with me. Evans and I are worlds apart. In upbringing, personality, career, wealth and style there is a chasm between us. I won't comment on our respective looks, since that would seem either vain or an attempt to ghettoise people with red hair and glasses.

I cannot criticise Evans. To do so would be to deny that times and attitudes have changed beyond my understanding. I can express dislike of the frenetic pace of his delivery, the rude populism of his content and the poor modulation of his voice. That would be a predictable and justifiable viewpoint but not valid criticism.

Modern ego:

Christopher James  Evans

Prima ego:

Tord Alvar Quan Lidell  

Image attribution

Photo: Alvar Liddell, uk.ask.com

Photo: Evans, marketingweek.co.uk

Photo: BBC Board, bbc.co.uk  

Photo: BBC Director General, deadline.com

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The BBC Board in the 1930s

Egopendium logo Alvar Liddell, BBC announcer Chris Evans, BBC2 presenter BBC Board in the 1930s Mark Thompson, BBC Director General

Mark Thompson, current BBC Director General

The objections I have to Chris Evans are not about him as a man but as a symbol of a once-worthwhile institution.

I was proud to work for the BBC. In my early days there I was happy to abide by the rules of the then Director General, John Reith, that radio announcers should wear dinner jackets after 8pm and be completely anonymous.

I doubt that Reith would have allowed Evans into the BBC and I'm sure Evans could not have been told what to wear if he had been let in by Reith. Although both might have agreed on a Nazi uniform, one as a sign of respect and the other as a door to mischief.

It was only after Reith was long departed from the BBC that anyone in Britain knew my name. To an extent the cult of personality on which Chris feeds began with the words, “Here is the News, and this is Alvar Lidell reading it”.

This was not a sign of the BBC relaxing its prescriptive approach to 'improving' Britain. It was a response to the German propaganda machine which was filling the airwaves with bogus BBC news items describing how Britain was crumbling under the heroic onslaught of the Third Reich. My name, my voice, was the sign that this was the real BBC. This was the news you could trust.

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With hindsight, I have come to the sad conclusion that the decline of the BBC as an institution beyond censure began when I announced myself before the news. The BBC was no longer anonymous and irreproachable, no more a firm but loving 'Aunty'. It had ceded control of its reputation to the 'names' that fronted it. From Alvar Liddell through Kenny Everett to Chris Evans is a short journey in years but an epic one for the Corporation.

The most listened to voice on BBC radio today, engaging almost 10 million listeners, is that of a poorly educated, one-time Tarzanogram who first made his mark on the BBC with innuendo-laden features like 'Honk Your Horn' and 'In Bed With Your Girlfriend'.

Presumably, Chris's shows are consonant with the 'Public purpose' of the BBC, which is described in its most recent Charter as mainly to:

How does the dominance of a ridiculously rich business entrepreneur with a passion for Ferraris and an undisclosed BBC salary fulfil the commitment to those public purposes?

I hope you don't hear jealousy in my voice when all I feel is sadness.

A couple of years before my death, I rounded on my previous employer for the deteriorating standards of speech apparent in many of its broadcasters. I should have been dismissed as a pompous old fart. Instead the BBC took me seriously enough to set up an inquiry. What I had done was remind the Corporation of what it wanted to be, not what it was becoming, or indeed what it should be. Which is representative of nation's current values.

The BBC still sees itself as emblematic of an older, better Britain, alongside Big Ben and red buses. It is most comfortable in an empyrean realm of social, cultural and moral superiority, above the stresses of commercial and political give-and-take, providing uplift to the mass of citizens. 'Dammit,' the BBC bosses say, 'the Royal Charter means we're still the organ of the nation.’

If that's the case, it's my contention that the monkey not the organ grinder is calling the tunes.

Sorry, Chris, it's not personal.

Alvar Liddell’s opinion was interpreted by Will Coe, August 2011

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