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Jewish World Review
Sept. 27, 2012/ 11 Tishrei, 5773
Homage to Orwell
Word from the mother country is that still another British institution has given way to the zeal for political correctness. This time it's the BBC, once the most respected -- and trusted -- source of news in the English-speaking world. And far beyond.
But you wouldn't recognize the old BBC these days. Except for its accent, the network that played its heroic part in the British empire's Finest Hour has become largely indistinguishable from our own NPR with its decided tilt-to-port. No wonder NPR now carries BBC news programs on a regular basis; they both share the same fashionable biases.
Perhaps saddest of all, the BBC shows little or no trace of either British reserve or the dry English sense of humor, both of which were once legendary. There'll always be an England, people used to say. You don't hear that much any more.
The old BBC, that last redoubt of the Queen's English, disappeared decades ago, and RP (Received Pronunciation) went about the same time. Professor 'Enry 'Iggins of My Fair Lady fame would have been dismayed but not surprised. ("... use proper English, you're regarded as a freak./ Why can't the English,/ Why can't the English learn to speak?")
Here's the latest sign of the decline and fall of the BBC: According to Baroness Bakewell, a Labour peeress who used to broadcast for the network, the BBC's departing director-general, Mark Thompson, nixed the idea of erecting a statue of George Orwell in front of the BBC's posh new headquarters at the top of Regent Street. Even though Orwell, né
Eric Blair, worked for the BBC during the Second World Disaster -- an experience that only reinforced his distaste for official propaganda, including his own.
According to Lady Bakewell, the idea of an Orwell statue was turned down because the writer was thought "too left-wing." Huh? The author of "The Road to Wigan Pier," "Animal Farm," "1984," and numerous essays puncturing every left-wing bias in the book was too left-wing?
The BBC's esteemed director-general sounds not just autocratic but ignorant. Can he have read any of those books? Not to mention Orwell's masterpiece about the Spanish civil war, "Homage to Catalonia."
Just his one essay on "Politics and the English Language," which every political commentator should read and reread from time to time, would have earned him an enduring place among those trying to preserve the integrity of the language.
George Orwell was incorrigibly independent, a combination of Trotskyite zeal in his youth and Tory sensibility as he aged and learned better. Especially after having been chased out of Spain by the Communists, where he'd gone to fight by their side in that country's disastrous civil war during the 1930s. Accusing him of left-wing bias sounds like a joke -- except that the BBC lost its sense of humor long ago, along with its integrity.
When the literary critic V.S. Pritchett called Orwell "the conscience of his generation," he may have been indulging in understatement, for by now more than one generation has come to appreciate Orwell's enduring honesty, clarity and simple decency. For someone writing about politics of all things to embody those qualities was and remains remarkable. Orwell's work is not just an English treasure but the world's.
This doesn't mean putting up a statue of Orwell in front of the BBC is a good idea. Orwell, who gave the world the image of Big Brother in "1984," would have been be the last to encourage a cult of personality.
Paul Greenberg Archives
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