Martin Freeman: “the BBC is the envy of the world – we should be singing its praises from the rooftops”

The Sherlock actor discusses what the BBC means to him and British culture

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“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” sang Joni Mitchell, once upon a time. Ain’t that the truth. At the Baftas recently, a journalist on the red carpet asked me to say a few words about what the BBC meant to me. Ah, that’s easy. Blimey, that’s tough. Easy, because I can talk quite happily about the Beeb, and tough, because where the hell do you start? After all, how do you sum up what the world’s oldest and original broadcaster means to you?

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I looked around the red carpet, and thought that probably every writer, director, producer and performer was at this great event, directly or indirectly, because of the BBC. It might be because they’ve been nurtured by the corporation as young people, brought on in an environment that encourages and, hopefully, improves, our work. Or it might be because, like me, the fact that you want to do this job in the first place is because you were inspired by imbibing TV and radio most of your life. And of all the shows that have rung my bell since I was tiny, most of those have been on the BBC.

I could fill this entire issue with titles of classic BBC films, radio shows and TV programmes. So could you, dear reader. That’s the point. It’s a part of us. I’m not an employee of the BBC (well, except occasionally), so I don’t need to be their cheer- leader. Whether you like it or not, the record speaks for itself. Take a moment to consider what our cultural landscape would look like without the following: The Goons, Hancock’s Half Hour, Monty Python, The Two Ronnies, Not the Nine o’Clock News, Fawlty Towers, Yes Minister, The Young Ones, Blackadder, Only Fools and Horses, French and Saunders, Alan Partridge, The Thick of It, Outnumbered… (Modesty prevents me from mentioning The Office. So I won’t.) That’s a very short list of comedies. We could name scores of others that we love.

What about The Archers, Doctor Who, Question Time, Top of the Pops, Peaky Blinders, Match of the Day, I, Claudus, Life on Earth, Bake Off, Luther, EastEnders, QI, Civilisation, London Spy etc etc. (Modesty prevents me from mentioning Sherlock. So I won’t.) Again, this is a tiny list of programmes of various genres that we love and have loved seemingly forever.

I didn’t want to make this piece a list of lists, but good heavens it’s hard not to use them to illustrate just how ubiquitous the BBC is in British cultural life.

Why on earth anyone would want to mess with it is honestly beyond me. I’ve met [Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport] John Whittingdale, and he’s obviously an intelligent man who claims to have a fondness for the Beeb. I would respectfully ask that he listen to the people who actually make programmes. He might not like all of their work, but they do generally know what they’re talking about.

We as a nation, and frankly our Government, should be singing the corporation’s praises from the rooftops, not embarking on a “major overhaul”. The BBC is the envy of the world. Along with the Beatles and the Queen, it’s one of the things that the rest of the world immediately identifies with the UK. The breadth of its programming alone is staggering. The fact that the quality of that programming is usually excellent and sometimes world- beating becomes crystal clear as soon as you turn on the television or radio anywhere else in the world.


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We know from countless poems, love songs and frankly, life experience, that we often don’t know how lucky we are until that luck leaves us, maybe never to return. Let’s be smarter, and more vigilant, than that when it comes to the BBC. All together now, “Don’t it always seem to go…”