Harold "Butch" Evans, the BBC & me
"The greatest editor of all time" speaks

Tawfiq Chahboune

A little while ago I wrote to the BBC to seek an explanation about comments made by Harold Evans (bizarrely voted "the greatest editor of all time") on This Week, a show hosted by the over-employed Andrew Neil. Given what Evans had said, an explanation was the least that was to be expected. Indeed, television personalities have seen themselves out of work for less. Evans was invited to share with the watching British public his profound insight into the London terrorist atrocities. Asked about the undeniable disaffection amongst British Muslims to UK foreign policy, "the greatest editor of all time" responded that if Muslims didn't like British foreign policy, the British government should offer the disaffected the following deal: "Here's a hundred-pound voucher. Go back" to where you're from. I also asked the BBC for an apology, especially given that what Evans had said was clearly the kind of thing that "the BNP and other neo-fascist organisations are banned from saying on television". It is only because Evans is a BBC star that an explanation is necessary. Is this not a reasonable request? After all, how can any listener or viewer of the BBC have any faith in detached analysis from Evans's numerous broadcasts if we know that he has voiced these views in the past?

Eventually, the BBC responded. The BBC reply would be as informative as Evans's bigotry; it was worth waiting for. This Week's programme editor wrote: "I've reviewed the tape and the context of the discussion was the very recent bomb attacks on London and what the government might do to tackle 'preachers of hate' and the fact that London was being used as a base by foreign nationals to advocate violence." So far so good and undeniably true. I must add, however, something seldom mentioned about the vile "preachers of hate". The UK has deliberately engaged in the most cynical of policies by allowing theocratic fruitcakes into the country so as to pressure Middle Eastern governments during political negotiations. It was a bargaining chip in the sordid world of international diplomacy. To be fair, it worked - for a while.



This Week's editor continued: "Mr Evans comments were clearly rhetorical [that's alright then], offered in the context of the discussion, and could only include those who were disaffected with this country, might want to return to their country of origin, and who might also be in a position to do so. It's a completely different proposition to views which might be held by a neo-fascist organisation." My request for an apology from Evans or the BBC was dismissed because Evans's repugnant views were "clearly rhetorical" and "completely different" to what the BNP would say. Silly me! According to the BBC, have never said anything as tame as "go back" to where you're from. Please note that I never claimed Evans had, or has, any fascist tendencies. I merely remarked that the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, has a (stated?) policy of not airing such depraved views, and should therefore explain and/or apologise for this bigoted outburst.

While the indigenous population of the UK has every right to be disenchanted with British foreign policy, any Muslim disenchantment, says Evans, should start, let alone end, with a one-way ticket "back". That is to say, Muslims by their very nature are not, and can never be, British and should either like it or lump it. And the BBC defends this. Needless to say, had Evans said the same of Blacks or Jews (or rich white editors), he would have either had his contract terminated or, at the very least, been asked to apologise, as Ken Livingstone and numerous indiscreet football commentators can attest. It is interesting that the editor of This Week refers to Muslims' "country of origin", thereby implicitly accepting that Islam is utterly alien. Since Judaism descends from the same area as Islam, would This Week's editor say the same thing of Jews?

In its unprincipled attempt to defend one of their employees (Evans is, appropriately enough, the new Alistair Cooke), the BBC itself is guilty of resorting to bigotry: it is now considered harmless to say that disaffected Muslims should be aided with a "hundred-pound voucher" to "return to their country of origin". Evans meant all disaffected Muslims, not just those who would apparently be swayed by a "hundred-pound voucher" to leave their home, family and jobs to "go back" to a country they do not consider home. Again, though the BNP and other neo-fascist organisations regularly thunder that vouchers and plane tickets should be offered to British citizens to speed their way "back" to their alleged "country of origin", Evans clearly, say the BBC, did not mean it in this way. And how would they know this? Did they contact him? Moreover, the editor of This Week sees nothing amiss in a prominent journalist and broadcaster saying that aid should be offered to those who "might be in a position" to "return to their country of origin".

The programme editor goes on: "Under these circumstances, I can't agree with your complaint. But I respect absolutely your right to make it. And I hope I have addressed your concerns." Well, no, you certainly have not "addressed" any "concerns"; you don't even believe an apology is even warranted for airing a programme telling Muslims to "go back" to "their country of origin". Note that the editor accepts that Evans told Muslims to "go back", but that "under these circumstances" of bigotry aimed at a section of the British community "can't agree with" any such "complaint" that telling Muslims that they are unwelcome in their own country is in any way unacceptable. The standard sub-Votairesque reply of someone wishing to dodge the issue - "I respect your right to make" the complaint but "I can't agree" - was not unexpected. But not even an apology? The BBC has, post-Hutton, learnt its lesson: the government is right about everything - especially when the government is completely wrong - and that Muslims are there for the kicking, hobnailed boots preferred.



Richard Ingrams, who has suffered, as have innumerable others, the sheer awfulness of "the greatest editor of all time", commented in the Observer: "The slightest derogatory statement was enough to provoke a letter from his lawyers threatening litigation and demanding an apology. In the end, I lost track of the number of writs he issued.

"Nor was I by any means the only editor to receive such threats. The Evening News columnist Lord Arran, who was the first to refer to him as 'Dame Harold Evans', received a demand for an apology over what his lawyers called 'an imputation of effeminacy'." That really is something. The extremely manly Evans had to resort to lawyers for the mere "imputation of effeminacy". I wish to take this opportunity to let it be known that I consider Evans a man of awesome masculinity. Though he looks like an incontinent and wrinkled old mackerel who sucks up liquidised food through a straw, he is so butch that he makes Rock Hudson look like a sissy.

Except for Ingrams's inexplicable discounting of "butch" Evans's ever increasing manliness, Ingrams goes on, "Nor has he changed over the years. Only quite recently, he was threatening the Spectator with libel proceedings over an article by Toby Young. To this day, Miss Judy Bachrach's entertaining book, Harold and Tina Come [with the virile Evans, I bet she does] to America, remains unavailable in this country, because no British publisher will touch it for fear of being sued." Ingrams ends, "Mr Evans may have done good work in his time but someone so vain, touchy and, at the same time, never slow to proclaim his belief in press freedom, ought never to have been given this latest accolade." Although I usually find Ingrams to be a perceptive sort of fellow, I'd really like to know what Evans's alleged "good work" is. I've always thought the impressively masculine Evans to be, Andrew Marr excepted, the most overrated and self-important hack in the long history of British journalism.

Courtesy of the BBC, the manly Evans has, however, been afforded another accolade: the right to air the type of bigotry that the BNP and other neo-fascists are banned from spewing. The BBC ground poor Andrew Gilligan into the dirt for reporting the truth about Blair and friends. When it comes to abusing Muslims, however, the BBC sees no reason to even apologise for comments one had hoped were left behind long ago.



April 2006

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