Greg Dyke at the Royal Festival Hall

 by Martin Belam, 7 October 2004

I nearly didn't post this in the end, as it seems so long ago - but I noted that Greg was appearing on Question Time tonight, which reminded me I had this draft lurking around.

A couple of weeks back, like many people who work at the BBC, I went to see Greg Dyke talking at the Royal Festival Hall. Although it wasn't sold out I'm fairly certain that it was fuller than it usually is for their programme of talks and lectures. I laughed as the familiar chimes of the single ominous piano note rang out calling people to into the auditorium - "The performance is due to start in 5 minutes".

The opening part of the evening was most certainly a performance as Greg read extracts from the book. Mostly the funny bits which served to warm the audience up a little, and then his conclusions about the Hutton Report and what it meant for him and Tony Blair. He seemed much more nervous and hesitant than he ever appeared when talking at any BBC staff event. The authority of his voice wasn't helped by the fact that from where I was sitting the two microphones at his podium sounded slightly out of phase, so his voice carried a psychedelic overtone. I'll was back at the RFH last week to see the Super Furry Animals, and Gruff's voice was treated in just the same psychedelic way.

Greg seemed keen to portray the whole writing of the book as the cathartic experience that he needed in order to move on after being, in his words, "forced out", of the BBC. Unfortunately, in order to then promote the book you have to relive the terrible experience over and over in interview after interview...

I'm never convinced by anyone who makes a great show of saying that it wasn't so bad for them because someone else was worse off, and I have to say I wasn't moved by Greg Dyke's story that he felt he overcame the "injustice" done to him because, having visited it, the injustice done at Robben Island in South Africa was worse. Especially when just seconds before he had been proclaiming that there were some days that matter in your life, like the day your kids are born, or the day you watch your football team win a major trophy. He suggested that the day he left will be for BBC staff "one of those days that matters in their lives". I was absolutely stunned when Greg left, and was one of the BBC staff who got their name on the Telegraph advert that we took out. However, I hate to disillusion him, but I doubt very much that I'll be counting it as one of my top-memorable-meaningful-days-of-all-time as I come to reckon up the moments of my life.

Mind you he did say as an aside that waiting to meet Bob Dylan for 40 years hadn't been worth it, so his judgement can't be all that bad ;-)

In the end I thought Jon Snow who did the on-stage questioning was the star of the show - and it was very entertaining to see the two of them sparring - at one point Greg said "I think you're a bit like me". I wasn't sure that Jon's body language conveyed that he agreed. Elsewhere Jon engineered the display on the big screen of a cartoon included in Dyke's book - "Who shot Greg Dyke" showing the ex-DG riddled with bullet holes, supporting Jon's argument that Greg had always been 'dangerous' in broadcasting. Jon pointed out: "This isn't from last year. It's from Nineteen Eighty-bloody-four"

Naturally much of the discussion revolved around Hutton and the aftermath - in great detail, as Greg observed "This has become for nerds". He was in good company, since it was in front of an audience of media nerds and panjandrums. Greg Dyke taunted Snow claiming that the Iraq war affair must have equally pushed him close to losing his objectivity - Jon Snow conceded maybe, "but only because we were talking about Alistair Campbell".

The entertainment level was ratcheted up once the floor was opened to questions. Two microphones were set up on either side of the RFH, and people were invited to queue up to have their say. In the recent celebration of 25 Years of Question Time Ian Hislop pointed out that "Nobody goes to public meetings anymore", the art of public debate was being lost, and it was only Question Time that was keeping this kind of tradition alive. My experience at this event and at West Walthamstow's Community Council meetings is that if people are getting less experience of public debate it can be due to an outspoken minority dominating.

There were some great questions asked, including:

"When you joined the BBC you cut off your political affiliations. Now you have left are you intending to rejoin the Labour Party?"
"Can you imagine the BBC challenging the government on immigration? And building?"
"Why don't you drive to Stoke and sign the nomination papers [in order to stand against the rumoured Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Labour, a certain Mr A. Campbell]"
"How did you lose Match Of The Day?"

There was also a public invite for Greg Dyke to join the Naming of the Dead ceremony scheduled for November 2nd in Trafalgar Square. Put on the spot he declined to answer the question.

There was also the woman, commented on by the MediaGuardian Monkey, who turned up with a video tape of an edition of the News at Ten where she claimed her protest confrontation with Tony Blair was portrayed as him being greeted by a supporter, with the theme tune music used to drown out her questioning of the PM. She wanted to know what Greg Dyke was going to do "personally" to make amends to her.

Inspired by her approach the guy who followed asked for a £2 discount on his admission price on the grounds that Greg had been late to start the performance.

The people I spoke to about it felt the Q&A session could have been handled better in order to get the most value out of Greg Dyke being there. The evening may have benefited either from having researchers near the microphones vetting the kind of questions that were about to be asked, or by allowing the submission of written questions that could be sorted beforehand.

At the end of the night virtually the last person to speak was an Iraqi, who launched an impassioned diatribe against the West's occupation and destruction of his country - "We will be at peace when your armies leave" he said, whilst pointing out that in his opinion the first people to use WMDs had been the Americans and the British.

It was a very eloquent speech, but like many of the people who had used the open mic as an anti-war platform I felt their aim was misguided. Greg Dyke was running an organisation that was repeatedly accused of being "anti-war" last year, whether by the government, the commercial media, or the public on the Points of View or Five Live News messageboards. He doesn't to me seem like someone who either was or is in a position to change the current government's policy. I found it to be a very odd decisions to attack Greg Dyke as being responsible in some way for the conflict in Iraq.

Altogether I had mixed feelings about the evening. I was glad I went, but I'd booked the tickets months ago, so didn't realise it was going to be slap bang in the middle of Greg Dyke's whirlwind self-promotion tour...

1 Comment

As it turned out Greg Dyke didn't appear on last nights "Question Time" in the end. Patricia Hewitt said sorry though.

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