TV COLUMN: PMQs, BBC scheduling

James Waller-Davies

James Waller-Davies

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Prime Ministers Questions, PMQs (BBC2), is one if those quintessentially British affairs, pitching 650-odd suited Punch and Judys against each other.

This week, however, with David Cameron’s last bash at the dispatch box, a little bit of history. Cameron was only the third British prime minister in history to take a final bow from the relative warmth and pomp of the commons, rather than just the cold glare in front of Number 10.

Since parliamentary proceedings were first televised back in 1990, in addition to Cameron, only Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair have had the option to bow out in this way. Major and Brown suffered the brutality of the ballot box.

History is rarely so entertaining, or so poignant and human at the same time. Tradition dictates the outgoing PM gets an easier ride from his inquisitors.

And certainly Cameron got the benefit of much good natured bonhomie, followed by a three-quarter standing ovation, which perhaps said more about those who remained sitting on their hands than those doing the clapping. If the political insult is a thing of barbed beauty, such parliamentary expressions of poor manners and a lack of grace come over more as a fit of political petulance.

Coming back to a long-standing bugbear for this column: just what is going on with the BBC’s scheduling? Having fairly killed off the last season of Doctor Who by scheduling its flagship family programme at way past bedtime for kids and way past caring for adults, the Beeb has continued to play scheduling shenanigans with too many of its headline shows.

Currently, viewers waiting for the next instalment of Versailles will have to wait until next week, as inexplicably this week was skipped for no apparent reason. The latest season of Musketeers has gone out on three different evenings, plus a couple skips.

And as for the Top Gear fiasco, the show had enough problems to begin with before someone decided to schedule a £50 million re-boot right in the middle of a major football tournament at the start of summer. Audience figures which bled away like sand through fingers could have been more than sustained by a late autumn outing.

The BBC has a growing assumption that we don’t watch TV, we just stream on iPlayer. This clearly misses out on the entire psychology of the experience and communal, sharing, function of culture. Television is like a cultural clock: we watch to the day and the hour; it’s part of our routine – iPlayer is the equivalent of cultural jet-lag.

It surely can’t be too long before some of the BBC’s talent starts to rebel against this too often callous disregard of their work. Careers and credibility can rise and fall on the back of ratings – why put your efforts into a programme that gets turned into a TV trinket only found through the lottery of a scheduling lucky dip?