Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website,

Sunday 24 April 2011

An Open Letter to the BBC

Dear Auntie,

Hi, how's it going ? I recently got myself a big ol' TV, and imagine my delight to find I can watch quite a lot of BBC programs on it despite being 4,000 miles from Britain. Since you have so helpfully blocked BBC iPlayer based on IP address, I'm not in any danger of accidentally downloading an episode of Strictly Come Antiques Roadshow on Ice, which might completely bring down the entire corporation due to copyright laws. No, everything I do hear is nice and legal, as far as I know.

I'm talking about, of course, about BBC America - and also programs you co-produce / sell to other networks, but be patient and we'll get to that in a minute. Firstly, I'd like to thank you for BBC World News, with its global weather forecasts done in 2 minutes or less. I'm not certain who these are aimed at, but I find them thoroughly entertaining, so thank you. However, I'd like to point out that this service was much easier to find via Google search than the Beeb's own website, so I thought you might want to look into that.

I would also like to mention that BBC America is a misnomer, since many of the shows are not made by the BBC at all. Primeval certainly wasn't (it was made by ITV), a fact that does your institution credit, and you should not sully your good name by featuring it on your channel. Nor was Battlestar Galactica, but I'll let that one go because it was good and makes up for Primeval. Unfortunately, Outcasts was a genuine BBC show, and it saddens me that the reputation of Great Britain will suffer as a result of showcasing this televisual excrement to the rest of the unfortunate world.

But I digress. For there is one area in which the global supremacy of the BBC reigns uncontested. While you may from time to time accidentally produce a quality drama, in terms of natural history documentaries good old Auntie can truly look down upon all other networks, confident in her God-given prowess that is nothing short of magisterial. Except, that is, outside of the British Isles themselves.

For it seems that dark and baffling forces are at work whenever you decide to export a show. To my everlasting horror did I learn that the American "version", if I might condescend to call it that, of Planet Earth was originally narrated not by one of the greatest living Britons, but by Sigourney Weaver. Now, this good lady may be a fine actress and even a capable narrator, with a rich and distinctive voice, but to suggest that she could possibly compete with a Knight of the Realm who has been presenting to the good British people for over 50 years truly beggars belief. I am afraid that "Get away from that whale you BITCH !" is simply not going to work, unless perhaps Greenpeace are involved.

However, I have learned of even worse atrocities so horrific that they would make Hitler quake in his boots if he was ever a fan of wildlife documentaries, which he probably wasn't. It seems that the equally well-made successor series, Life, was narrated not by Sir David but none other than Oprah Winfrey. This is so utterly shocking to me that I cannot quite comprehend it. I think my brain has a natural self-defence mechanism that prevents acts of supreme stupidity from registering correctly. All I can think is that you just couldn't afford Jerry Springer.

Unfortunately there is yet another disaster which my brain is forcing me to confront as I witnessed it myself this very evening. In the once excellent series Human Planet, you have chosen to replace none other than John Hurt with some utterly bland American. This I cannot tolerate. I'm going to make this very clear : IT'S JOHN HURT. A man famous for his distinctive voice that lends itself as naturally to narration as is humanly possible.

You have not shot yourselves in the foot on this one - you have had both feet carefully and surgically amputated and had them replaced with facsimiles made of soft rubbery cheese. For my part I cannot see how anyone can be capable of deciding to replace John Hurt, a phrase which should be an oxymoron on a par with replace David Attenborough but never mind, and yet still have sufficient mental capacity as to allow, for instance, breathing.

I am thinking whether I should submit this letter to Points of View, where someone might actually read it - even Graham Norton would do - but I'm hoping it is possible to nominate you instead for an Ig Nobel prize for communications.

Yours in a distant land,


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