The BBC speaks (sometimes profanely)

Here is an email from the BBC complaints department, in response to my, er, complaint.

I’d said (and I censor my own email for the sake of decency here):

I am a Year 6 teacher and, as part of my drive for improved literacy and oracy, have recommended Radio 4 to the parents of my pupils. I grew up with Radio 4 as a background influence on my education and can partly attribute my two first class degrees to that experience. I cringe to think of my 10 and 11 year-old pupils sitting in their bedrooms listening to characters calling each other “*******”. I’ve heard the BBC’s arrogant and complacent response before: it doesn’t wash.

The BBC’s response was as follows:

Thanks for contacting us regarding ‘Saturday Drama: Otherwise Engaged’ broadcast on the 28 December.

We understand you were unhappy with the language used during the programme particularly as you had recommended Radio 4 to the parents of your pupils.

Concerns were raised with the programme’s Executive Producer, David Hunter and he stated that he feels that the language in this play was suitable for broadcast on a Saturday afternoon. He felt the language wasn’t gratuitous and was in line with the characterisation of the play.

Radio 4 does not operate a watershed but the following presentation announcement was made before the programme:

“The late Simon Gray, known to many as the author of the painful and funny ‘Smoking Diaries’, was one of the most distinguished playwrights of his generation. His dark comedies, like ‘Quartermaine’s Terms’, ‘Butley’ and ‘Otherwise Engaged’, had extended runs in the West End and on Broadway. Radio 4 now presents the latter play, a witty if irreverent and outspoken parable from this master of genial outrage. It contains strong language.”

I agree that the language wasn’t gratuitous.  It was a very good play: I’d have loved to listen to it in the evening.  But broadcasting these in the middle of the afternoon doesn’t seem right, and positioning a warning at the beginning of a programme doesn’t work with radio: listeners tune in at times that don’t always coincide with the beginning of programmes.

When I recommend a book for my children to read, I want to stretch them. Sometimes they ask to read a particular book, so I sit and read every word before they do – just in case there is inappropriate content.

So, in the light of this email from the BBC, I’d advise you to check the schedule beforehand.  Listening to Radio 4 may harm your child.

Charlie Chaplin speaks to the world – and to me

I only heard about this speech today.  It’s from Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 film, The Great DictatorHe speaks to me across 73 years: I dare you not to be moved by it.

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another.

In this world there is room for everyone, and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little.

More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The airplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.

Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say, do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines, you are not cattle, you are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!

In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it is written that the kingdom of God is within man, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power. Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfil that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people.

Now let us fight to fulfil that promise. Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

For a former pupil – Scottish Tablet

This is one of the recipes I use to ameliorate the effects termly assessments (the other two being Mary Berry’s Aga shortbread and
Judges chocolate brownies).

It’s not to be made – or eaten – without care. Hazardous and highly calorific, but it appeals to the Scot in me and reminds me of the lovely crunchy fudge my mum used to make.

The grandmother of one of my former pupils approached me for the recipe, saying that her granddaughter pined for it.

With no more ado…

Scottish Tablet is not, as it sounds, something to write on; it is a sweet Scottish, fudge-like, extremely sugary sweet. Tablet contains sugar, butter and condensed milk and, as you can see in this recipe, it is easy to make.

A warning: this recipe reaches very high temperatures, so ask Mum or Dad to make it, then go and play outside.

Talking to Mum or dad now: for safety’s sake you need a large pan: the Scottish tablet reaches a rolling boil and sometimes, if you have the heat even a little too high, the mixture can swell up very quickly and boil over. The pan should at least be a heavy based 4-pint saucepan, but even that will hardly be big enough if you try to cook all the ingredients at once. I made mine in three batches.

Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes


1 pint/500ml water
8oz/225g butter, chopped into pieces
4 lbs/1.8kg super fine/caster sugar
1lb/450g of condensed milk


1. Butter a 12″ x 4″/30cm x 10cm or 7″/18cm square tin.

2. In your saucepan (see note above) heat the water to a low simmer then add the butter. Stir until melted. Add the sugar and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat to high and bring the sugar to a hard boil for 5 minutes (the mixture should boil really fiercely which helps to reduce the liquid and colour the mixture) stirring all the time to prevent the sugar from sticking and burning. If you have a thermometer take the temperature to 120°C/ 250°F (also known as hard ball stage in sweet and toffee making).

3. Once the sugar is boiling, slowly add the condensed milk – TAKE CARE – the sugar is at a very high temperature and may splatter. Stir well then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. The mixture will bubble and resemble a moon crater, but don’t be put off, keep cooking. The mixture will also start to slightly darken.

4. After twenty minutes or once the mixture is visibly thickened, remove the pan from the stove and stir the mixture vigorously for 5 – 10 minutes.

5. Pour into the greased pan and when the tablet is cool but still soft, cut into 1″ squares. You can even put the pan in the freezer to make sure it is completely cold.

6. Wrap in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin.