A report appeared on August 22 that BBC director general Mark Thompson rejected a proposed statue of George Orwell for BBC HQ as "too left-wing."
According to the Labour peer Joan Bakewell, the BBC's director general Mark Thompson turned down the scheme to erect the statue at the BBC's new Broadcasting House "flat", because "apparently George Orwell would be perceived as too left-wing a figure for the BBC to honour". The statue was proposed by the George Orwell Memorial Trust, run by former Labour politician Ben Whitaker, and backed by names including Rowan Atkinson, Melvyn Bragg, John Humphrys, James Naughtie and Orwell's son Richard Blair. More than £60,000 has been raised to have Martin Jennings, the sculptor of the bronze of John Betjeman at St Pancras and of Philip Larkin in Hull, create it.
Thompson's reaction has understandably ignited negative reaction.
By claiming that erecting a statue of George Orwell in front of the building of the BBC in Oxford Circus in central London is "too left-wing" an idea, Mark Thompson, general-director of the British Broadcasting Corporation, is effectively saying that the fight against censorship, the fight for honesty and clarity, and Orwell's "sworn, downright detestation/Of every despotism in every nation," (fine, Lord Byron's words, but they still apply here) are effectively "left-wing" ideals.
If that is the case, then we would all do very well to become a bit more "left-wing" ourselves.
It's possible that Mark Thompson is just this silly. But a man does not rise to head a major organization like the BBC without some sense and bureaucratic skill. A closer look reveals a plot straight out of "Yes, Minister."
A BBC spokesperson said: "We cannot put the statue immediately outside New Broadcasting House as the BBC piazza already has artwork by Mark Pimlott built into the pavement which would be obscured."
Here's an image of the piece, called "World." As the art consultants for the piece describe it,
World is a fragment of the globe, a portion of a huge sphere, its surface inset with lines indicating latitude and longitude, and engraved with names of places that evoke whole worlds in themselves. There are lights in the surface that can be imagined as stars or cities; there will also be a very discreet sound element in the languages of the places or cities inscribed, carefully programmed, linked to World Service output. World is a place to meet, listen to music, see radio personalities, witness and be part of the life of the building, on a casual day-to-day basis.
As a piece of public art, "World" is perfect for the modern bureaucratic sensibility: simultaneously global and uncontroversial, appropriately abstract yet also safely non-confrontational (you don't have to look at it - you can even walk on it!), and above all: very, very large, befitting the importance of the BBC itself. The idea of placing atop this perfect thing a big granite planith surmounted by a representational bronze ... ugh. It would be like hanging a poster of Raphael's angels inside the entry of a modernist house. Tacky, tacky, tacky.
But a BBC director general can hardly accuse a Labour peer of being tacky! So what to say, what to say? He needs a sure-fire unexceptional excuse. "We have enough images of white men?" No, no, the Daily Mail will go wild. "Orwell is too controversial?" That will rouse the right-wing intellectuals. Wait - genius - "Orwell is too left-wing." As a demurral, it's a thing of beauty. The left does not in fact much care for Orwell, never did, and the media will spill millions of pixels lambasting the self-evident idiocy of an excuse so unconvincing that it will offend nobody.
Some compromise will be worked out whereby the bronze is shoved far away from view. Taste will have been upheld at minor blow to Mark Thompson's reputation for political acumen. But Thompson will have the inward satisfaction that a more acute answer would have been vastly less politic.
Cue the Sir Humphrey Appleby triumphant smile ....