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Malcolm Barker: Disappearing TV diary that gave us a charming picture

AS the BBC sank into mire of its own making, Yorkshire Television put out a charming edition of The Dales Diary. Luke Casey, the presenter, introduced a father-and-son team of furniture makers at Ruswarp, near Whitby, and a leading breeder of Clydesdale horses from the Border country whose animals shared a field with Rugby Union posts.

A third guest was a harpist from Oxenhope, Keighley, Fiona-Katie Roberts, a lovely, lively woman whose face lit up with enthusiasm as she talked about the instruments arrayed in her sitting room. Not solely dedicated to the classics is Fiona-Katie. After she had joined them in a gig in Boston, USA, she might have toured the States with Led Zeppelin if only she could have found a baby-sitter.

This was a fairly typical Dales Diary. The production team has a proven knack of winkling out interesting characters and fascinating stories from the Broad Acres and immediately beyond. The introductory sight of Luke Casey striding out across the uplands with his stout walking staff is a guarantee of a pleasurable half hour to follow.

His four decades in broadcasting, underpinned by sound training as a newspaper reporter, have given him assurance and the ability to put those unaccustomed to the spotlight at their ease.

Yet the current series will be the last of The Dales Diary unless there is a change of mind. It seems YTV can no longer afford this modest programme that affords pleasure to so many.

There is something sadly out of kilter here, surely?

Our public broadcaster, funded by our money at the rate of 139.50 a year from each licence payer, is awash with cash, yet produces nothing to compare with The Dales Diary. Instead it lavishes 6m a year (roughly five annual licence fees every hour) on the wretched Jonathan Ross, whose idea of a sensible question for David Cameron was to ask if he had masturbated over Margaret Thatcher.

The man is now notorious for his and Russell Brand's baiting of the elderly actor Andrew Sachs over the telephone. This was utterly vile, as anyone who has heard the recording will know. To provide one example: Ross and Brand tell Mr Sachs that most people have photographs of their grandchildren sitting on swings. They then point out that Brand has "enjoyed" his (Mr Sachs') granddaughter while she was sitting on a swing.

This filth was pre-recorded. which gave the BBC the opportunity to bin it straight away, But no, out it went on Radio 2, presumably in the name of "pushing back the boundaries of entertainment".

The Ross/Brand affair is not exceptional. On television, a programme was put out on BBC2 called Mock the Week in which the Queen and her Christmas broadcast were mocked in a fashion so offensive that an experienced commentator like Charles Moore considers it unrepeatable in a newspaper. This did not just slip through, either. It was a repeat.

On the television channel, BBC3 the "comedy" in a programme called Coming of Age centred on a young bride defecating in her parents-in-law's bed.

It is time the decent majority of broadcasters got hold of the BBC by the scruff of the neck and restored order and decency. Men of the experience and calibre of Sir Terry Wogan and Jeremy Vine have made plain their distress at the damage Ross and Brand have done to Radio 2, and it would be reassuring to believe their concerns were shared at the very top.

But while Brand is sacked and Ross is suspended, and the Controller of Radio 2 has gone, the director-general Mark Thompson continues drawing his 816,000 a year. Admittedly he has a difficult task, for we

are told the BBC is experimenting with comedy in the hope of drawing young audiences.

However, a man in his position and on his lavish salary should be able to influence the entire output of the Corporation despite the fact that there are many more outlets than there were in the days of Lord Reith.

No wonder The Dales Diary is being mourned, for it shines like a beacon amid much of the dross that occupies our screens.

It could be rescued, of course. The BBC could take it on for a fraction of the money saved by suspending Ross. It would do nicely for BBC Look North, which has nothing to compare, and we could then look forward to Luke Casey continuing his perambulations of the lesser known corners of Yorkshire, and meeting the county's more interesting people.

Malcolm Barker is a former editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post.

 
 
 

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