Not just a song

BBC management has such a knack for unsuccessful compromise that I can only imagine Nick Clegg had a big smile on his face last night as he thought: for once it’s not me!

Yesterday evening, Radio 1’s chart show had a dilemma – a successful campaign had sent “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”, the 50-second masterpiece from The Wizard of Oz, to number two as a macabre and (perhaps) humorous celebration of Margaret Thatcher’s death. It sold just under 53,000 copies, 5,700 short of the number one (Duke Dumont, Need You (100%)).

As the song climbed the charts since Maggie died, the debate grew about whether the nation’s flagship public service broadcaster should treat the song like any other and ignore the fact that it was an insult to a woman many people thought great, and was not yet in the ground.

Was it insensitive? Yes, no doubt. But to put this in perspective, Radio 1’s chart show is aimed at an audience of 15-29 years of age. Margaret Thatcher left office in 1990 – 23 years ago. The campaign to get the song to number one was launched on Facebook, and most sales are through downloads – both platforms used mostly by younger people.

This strikes me as an attempt to be rebellious and funny more than it does an attempt to be insulting and political.

Enter the BBC…so self-consciously it’s like an Etonian in the ghetto. The compromise? Play a 5-second clip of the song as part of a news report explaining why. The news report itself was twice the length of the whole song. Here’s the clip and transcript.

To add insult to injury, the BBC did play the full song (with no news intro) “I’m in Love with Margaret Thatcher“, a 1979 track by the Notsensibles, which hit number 35 as Maggie fans propelled it up the charts. Erm…double standards, Beeb? Notsensible indeed.

Fortunately, Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper is not paid to have a good night’s sleep. Here was his argument:

What do you think? “A compromise” or “a fudge”? Here’s the media reaction. In all honesty I wouldn’t want to listen to the full track anyway – it gets stuck in your head like that annoying Kylie Minogue song (sorry).

As Bloomberg pointed out, the BBC did once refuse to play a song in 1977 – the Sex Pistols’ anti-monarchist “God Save the Queen”. And if I remember correctly, this wouldn’t be the first Facebook campaign to get a song up the charts (Rage Against the Machine, anyone?).

Bottom line: poor old Beeb – always in the middle.


One thought on “Not just a song

  1. lahacienda

    I think it’s ridiculous to allow a 5-second clip of a song people have clearly voted for just because you don’t agree with it – because that’s just what Cooper did. The arguments on the song being insulting to her fans and family do not justify censorship.


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