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The BBC, at its best, is like Dr. Jekyll. Although Jekyll might offer us delightful company for an hour or two, we must always be mindful that he can never really be trusted…

The BBC never ceases to amaze me. At its best, it is simply the best there is; at its worst, it is plumbing new depths of depravity. It reminds me of Robert Louis Stevenson’s strange character of Dr. Jekyll who metamorphoses periodically into the evil Mr. Hyde.

Recently my wife and I enjoyed the BBC at its scintillating best when we watched the 2007 television adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Victorian novel, Cranford. Although Gaskell suffered from the Victorian delusion of scientism and progressivism, believing that science would herald a golden age in the future, and although shades of this naiveté cloud her work, she is a masterful storyteller whose works are infused with the je ne sais quoi that the Victorians seem to possess in fathomless abundance, for all their faults and foibles. This being so, one watches modern adaptations of these great novels with an air of trepidation, fearful of the corruption of these great works at the hands of today’s anti-culture. On watching the new BBC adaptation, all such trepidation dissipated in the presence of an artfully adept handling of time, place and character. Dame Judi Dench and the other actors were all simply superb, and the story wielded its edifying power, in spite of the liberties taken with Gaskell’s storyline.

Only one cautionary note need be sounded. I would advise that you resist the temptation to watch the “bonus feature” in which members of the cast are interviewed. The level of critical engagement seemed to consist entirely of actors and “experts” informing us that Elizabeth Gaskell was “ahead of her time.” I think I switched off after the third or fourth person had punctuated their otherwise vacuous analysis with this exact phrase. What exactly did they mean by this? Presumably they meant that life today is so wonderful that Mrs. Gaskell would have believed herself in Paradise had she been blessed with a vision of the future. One only has to read her novel or watch once again this film adaptation to see how shallow and trite the words “ahead of her time” sound. Mrs. Gaskell has more class and culture, more eloquence, more decorum, and more moral sensibility than the modern world can handle, as do the venerable Victorians who were her contemporaries. Are we really so presumptuous as to believe that Mrs. Gaskell would have seen the trenches of World War One as “progress,” or the mass slaughter following the Bolshevik Revolution, or the genocide of Auschwitz, or the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or institutionalized infanticide masquerading as the “right” to abortion? It is true that the arrival of the railway at Cranford heralded a time of change, but the change it heralded was not always for the better. G.K. Chesterton was more prescient than all those who utter clichés about being “ahead of our time” when he warned that the coming peril was standardization by a low standard. I venture to suggest that Mrs. Gaskell would indeed be astonished at the “progress” wrought by technology but that her astonishment would soon turn to horror as she perceived the illiterate and cultureless mess that it had wrought in its wake.

So much for the BBC at its best. It’s now time to turn our attention to the iniquitous Mr. Hyde, the BBC’s obnoxious alter ego. As an Englishman living in the United States, I am quite frankly embarrassed by the banal depravity of the programming on BBC America. It serves as a window onto the dark underbelly of modern England, with all its tawdry trappings. It is voyeurism of the most vile and vulgar variety. Essentially the BBC selects the most bizarre examples of sexual or social deviancy, behavior that any healthier age would have described as perverse or psychotic and serves it to us as “entertainment.” I have no intention of soiling this website with a list of the titles of these shows but would simply warn visitors of this site to avoid BBC America like the plague that it indubitably is. As an Englishman, I would also like to apologize for this pollution of US airwaves by the dross of my nation.

I’ll end as I began by comparing the BBC to RLS’s fictional Jekyll and Hyde. The BBC, at its best, is like Dr. Jekyll. Although Jekyll might offer us delightful company for an hour or two, we must always be mindful that he can never really be trusted. After all, we don’t know what evil concoctions he’s cooking up, late at night. At its worst, the BBC is like the monster, Mr. Hyde, who has abandoned all sense of morality in favour of narcissistic debauchery.

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Editor’s note: The featured image is licensed from Billwurles through Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons 4.0.

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3 replies to this post
  1. Being genetically 96.3% Scots-Irish I will admit to being wary of things English/British. The BBC’s sins of commission and omission are neither few nor far between; nor are these sins a recent development.
    Yes, when the BBC is good it’s very good; but when it’s bad…

  2. Never having read Elizabeth Gaskell, I may be setting myself up for a sharp retort from someone more knowledgeable, but there may be irony in the Jekyll-Hyde analogy, due to Stevenson’s point that Jekyll WAS Hyde.

  3. I’m not normally a fan of the BBC, but I have to give them credit for putting on the most un-BBC show possible, namely Top Gear. For a culture that practically worships at the altar of Climate Change and Sustainable this & that, to put on a show that mocks all of them by celebrating speed and horsepower is indeed quite a delight!

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