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BBC vandalizes literary classics with woke rewriting supposed to make it more ‘yoof’ friendly as it faces licence-funding crisis

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
BBC vandalizes literary classics with woke rewriting supposed to make it more ‘yoof’ friendly as it faces licence-funding crisis
Desperately seeking audience share, the state-funded BBC’s attempts at rewriting classics for TV are part of a deliberate woke strategy that messes with masterpieces believing they, not the Beeb, need to change to be relevant.

Only at the BBC would some self-important executive have the nerve to say out loud that his organization – a liberals-ridden, state-funded broadcaster facing an existential crisis – should be put in charge of rewriting classic works of English literature to make them “more relevant.” 

Despite the fact that English literature is studied and revered around the world, Piers Wenger, controller of BBC drama commissioning, told an audience that the classics needed to be made more relevant to contemporary society.

The idea, it would seem, is that viewers of Beeb output actually lack any sort of imagination, which is kinda central to enjoying reading, and that because of this they might struggle to understand why, in the time before mass travel and immigration, the local population of London might be predominantly white.

Forget about the way Charles Dickens saw things when he looked out his study window, or how this influenced the values informing his entire body of work, BBC viewers needed a non-white central character in the timeless classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ or they would fail to appreciate the story of tight-fisted Scrooge and the Cratchit family.

Then there’s HG Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’ which was considered to be lacking a feminine feel so a minor female character found her role inexplicably enhanced. And Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’? Well, the main guy needed to be bisexual and there had to be more black characters in the TV series, even though none of these appeared in the novel. Modern, innit?

What patronizing guff.

It’s the richness of times past that enhances a story. The different styles, characters and attitudes that inform a story are what make it so interesting; that they could all come from the imagination of one person blossoming into a tale exactly as they meant it.

These stories, while re-purposed for consumption on television, don’t need hashtags, helplines and companion websites. So just tell the story as it was originally devised and let the audience be the judge of whether or not it is any good. Not everyone is a simpleton unable to recognize that things were different ‘in the olden days.’

But there you have it. Deliberate literary vandalism from an organization facing an existential crisis as it exploits every means possible to increase the number of people watching its TV stations. 

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What next in this cultural onslaught? Let’s install bright cladding on the raw concrete facades of London’s famous brutalist buildings to make them look a bit more cosy. Then we can retouch Francis Bacon’s ‘Screaming Pope’ so he appears less angst-y. And maybe re-master the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’ so it doesn’t seem so, I dunno, shouty?

The patronizing, woke-ness on display in public from one individual executive here is fundamental to the mess the BBC finds itself in. Heaven knows what nonsense they suggest in the broadcaster’s boardrooms but no-one dares shout, “That’s rubbish” because they’re all so terrified of becoming casualties in the next round of job cuts, brought on in part by paying out millions of pounds to settle gender pay gap grievances.

The state-funded broadcaster is out of touch. And that is basically why the recent leak from Downing Street that it might insist the Beeb scrap the TV licence fee altogether is such a welcome initiative.

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Because while one of the BBC’s most popular and long-lived programmes, Dr Who, is based all around time travel, the organization is in its own battle between the past and the future.

Can it really be all things to everyone in the UK as it once was – back then with its two TV channels and handful of radio stations – or is it over-reaching and culturally under-equipped for that ambition in the modern world of Netflix, Amazon and Sky broadcasting?

While the BBC struggles to redefine itself and its role in Britain, one thing is certain. Dumbing down the classics and rewriting masterpieces with all the subtlety of a face tattoo in a relentless drive for audience share is not the solution.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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