Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ambridge riots: Liberal England from 2005

Inspired by this blog's recent 10th birthday, I have been looking through the archives.

Here is post from February 2005. It makes too much of a report in the Guardian, but I obviously enjoyed writing it.

Ambridge riots

Sometimes it is hard to escape the conclusion that some people working in the public sector would be happiest living in a totalitarian state.

Take this report in today's Observer about reactions to Brian Aldridge outburst at Alice's intention to leave her fee-paying school and do her A levels at a further education College. (We're talking about the BBC Radio 4 soap opera The Archers, stoopid.)

The paper quotes him as follows:
"Borchester College?" exploded Brian. "Has she been on the horse pills? It's sheer madness. The college is full of Neanderthals ... Have you driven past it lately? Half of the students don't appear to have opposable thumbs." He then claimed the only facilities it had was to teach 'advanced hairdressing and media studies'.
Well, I imagine that is pretty much what a bone-headed Tory farmer like Aldridge would say in such circumstances. But good drama has no place if you are a certain kind of public sector professional.

Listen to Anne Piercy, vice-principal of Stafford College:
his ill-informed criticism is hurtful to those who study and work at further education colleges and could have a very serious impact by dissuading people from choosing a learning environment which may be enormously beneficial to them.
Leaving aside the apparent implication that any view anyone might find hurtful should be left out of drama, look at what nonsense this is. For "a very serious impact" to be felt, hordes of young people would have to tune to Radio 4 rather than any of the music stations, catch The Archers and then sympathise with a right-wing, middle-aged character. It hardly sounds likely.

Then there is Claire Boxall, "communications manager" at Mid-Kent College in Chatham. She is quoted as saying that "this sort of coverage is not helpful". A splendidly pompous phrase that. Since when has the BBC existed to provide programmes that are helpful to Mid-Kent College?

And there is a head of faculty at Stoke College:
I am horrified: we all know that Brian is both opinionated and frequently wrong, but for the casual listener, it puts further education in a bad light.
If she finds The Archers horrifying she must have led a pretty sheltered life. Note also the implication that while she is quite clever enough to understand drama, other listeners are not up to it.
She goes on:
It comes exactly at the moment young people and their parents are choosing between the options of sixth forms and further education and the negative exchange could easily be used as evidence to base their decision.
A soap opera covering an issue just at the time when people are in the real world are considering it too? Clearly, the government must act, particularly as the public are obviously so impressionable.
The Observer reports that:
John Brennan, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, has attempted to calm the situation by offering his services to The Archers' producers as a consultant on future plotlines concerning Alice's education.
I do hope the BBC tells him what he can do with his offer.

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