Politics and Government
1990.011 The BBC and
bucking the trend
from Francis Bennion to Marmaduke Hussey, Chairman,
British Broadcasting Corporation, 4 July 1990
I see you were born
in 1923, the same year as me. I don’t know
about you, but I now feel left out. The values I
was taught to respect as a child, the BBC tends
to ignore or deride.
I was brought up to
believe in the British Empire and the British Constitution.
Armistice Day was the high point of the year. After
that, Empire Day. Few people thought there was anything
wrong in fur trapping or tree felling. Patriotism
was encouraged and admired.
It was right to have
class distinctions. Jack was not as good as his
master. There was such a thing as the ruling class,
fed by the public schools. Thank God for it.
One was taught manners.
It was bad form to bleat and squeal about one’s
lot. Men were expected to fend for themselves, and
stand on their own feet. We had to look after the
ladies, God bless ‘em. They in return didn’t
want to pinch our jobs. We obeyed the law, and respected
the police. We were God fearing. England was England,
not a branch of the United Nations.
All these bright young
chaps and gals today reject that as a lot of rot,
but where does that leave our generation? The fate
of Any Questions gives the answer. Where
today are the characters like A. G. Street and Ralph
Wightman? It is all boring politicians, and no one
dare step over the opinion line.
In my youth I worked
for the British Empire and know the great good it
achieved, though obviously there were exceptions.
I worked in many different countries, including
several years in West Africa, so I know what I am
talking about. Just to take one example: the British
were implored to take over what became the Gold
Coast colony by the Africans themselves (against
the wishes of the Foreign Office). I know this because
I researched it for my 1962 book THE CONSTITUTIONAL
LAW OF GHANA. The Ga people implored the British
to enter in order to rescue them from the Ashantis,
and they very reluctantly did so.
On slavery, you may be interested in the following
letter I had published in the Sunday Times for
26 January 1992-
Chief M Abiola of Lagos
(Letter, last week) writes as though Europeans invented
African slavery. In truth it was a feature of life
there long before European traders arrived. From
early times slaves were sent from Africa to Turkey,
Arabia, Iran and elsewhere. African custom recognised
slavery as a feature of tribal life. When Lagos
was annexed by the British in 1861 it was for the
purpose of suppressing slave smuggling. The first
ordinances of the Gold Coast colony when it was
established by Britain freed those treated as slaves
by Africans themselves under their own customary
law (Gold Coast Emancipation Ordinance 1874).
In any case I do not
think it is appropriate for the present generation
to ‘apologise’ for things their ancestors
did. We need to remember that pregnant saying of
L P Hartley’s in The Go-Between: ‘The
past is a foreign country: they do things differently
there’. There is something patronising - even
absurd - about such presumptuous ‘apologies’ of
one generation for another. No one living today
has any responsibility for what was done before
they were born.
Comment on this
letter from Kim Atrosh of Manatee County, Florida:
reading your letter to Marmaduke Hussey, I wanted
you to know that even though I am a 42 year old
American, I understand what you are saying and I
agree with you. We have the same kind of things
going on here in the States. What a shame that life
can't be the way it used to be. I think the whole
world has lost out. I wish I could have been a part
of that special time, when things made sense."
10 Jan 2006