The Adam Rickitt Incident
I am an habitual letter-writer. Rarely does a week go by without me firing off a letter to The Guardian, New Statesman or some other publication. I had a good strike rate with The Guardian in the beginning, but once I started writing a regular radio column for them, I stopped being an irate member of the public and I like to think that’s why the appearances on the letters page dried up. This illustrated the precarious divide between civilian and non-civilian. I still send letters to them, as it has a therapeutic value that’s unbeatable. One thing I learned during my time was that letters criticising the newspaper never make it into print. Criticism of content is fine, but not of the paper’s editorial line. The NS is no less prickly, although they did once print a letter I’d sent questioning the stealth sponsorship of their letters page by Sainsbury’s. In it I provided a long list of the supermarket giant’s crimes against the community, daring them to print it. And they did. I’ll be honest, the 25,000-circulation Statesman clearly don’t get that many letters, as I enjoy something like a 90% strike rate. This can lead to complacency on my part, and I sometimes expect to be published. In the past month I’ve written three letters: one about a lazy Arctic Monkeys piece, one about the frankly baffling branding of a public health supplement by Pfizer, and one about Adam Rickitt. Today, they printed the latter.
My gripe was about the convenience of a dumbing-down argument against Question Time, one of my favourite TV programmes, by Decca Aitkenhead. This is the letter – I think it’s self-explanatory. [The part they cut out is in bold.]
Dear Letters Editor*
Once again, television soap opera is casually used as shorthand for “low” or “worthless” culture (the Media Column, 6 March). Decca Aitkenhead accuses Question Time of dumbing down because it recently had Adam Rickitt on the panel, the implication being that, as a former Coronation Street actor, his opinion must be of no value, even though he has been approved as a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party. (The fact that he has 4 A-levels and was set to read law at Cambridge before the Street is not mentioned.)
She goes on to question the suitability of another recent “wild-card guest”, Art Malik, whom she sneeringly describes as “famous chiefly for having appeared on Holby City.” Rather more famous, I would have said, for Jewel In The Crown, The Far Pavilions and A Passage To India, but then these don’t suit the dumbing-down argument quite as neatly as a dismissive reference to a hospital soap. Ms Aitkenhead goes on to wonder how surprised anyone would be if Jade Goody were next up on Question Time. Very, is the inconvenient answer.
The “fifth chair” (formerly fourth) has been a welcome fixture of the programme since its debut in 1979, when novelist Edna O’Brien counterbalanced the party-political ballast, and long may it continue, with no “culture bar” against those who work in popular culture.
Former scriptwriter, EastEnders
*I always apply this cordial courtesy to publications that don’t dustily expect “Sir”
I’m pretty proud of this one, as unelected defender of popular culture. (This lazy dismissal of soaps often goes unchecked in middle- or highbrow publications. I once had Letter Of The Week in the NS when I railed against a similar act of facile snobbery by Brian Appleyard. This meant I got a wine voucher to spend with Corney & Barrow, which I never claimed actually.) Last week, I had a letter (my second ever) published in Private Eye on the same subject. Again, it explains itself – and of course, makes me sound, cumulatively, in love with Adam Rickitt. I’m not. He is merely symbolic. [Nothing in bold as they printed it in full.]
I fear Remote Controller is either being disingenuous or dim in his assessment of BBC1’s Question Time (Eye TV, 1152). The main plank in his case for the programme’s dumbing-down is the recent appearance on the panel of Adam Rickitt, “famous for playing a teenager on Coronation Street“. Working himself into quite a lather about “booking soap stars”, “soapier guests”, “the cast of Hollyoaks“, “some bloke from the Rover’s Return” and “Babs Windsor, Chantelle and Pete Doherty”, he omits to mention that Rickitt, 27, who attended Kingsmead Prep, Sedbergh School in Cumbria, got four A-Levels and was set to study law at Cambridge before joining the Street, was, in October 2005 approved as a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party. While none of these qualifications especially endears him to me, they do rather explain his appearance on Question Time. We’ve all seen vapid panellists on Question Time. They are called cabinet ministers. My name’s Ben Elton etc.
It’s good to get into a dialogue. (And yes, I know signing myself as from Surrey is one step away from being disgruntled of Tunbridge Wells, but what can I do?) I do have to tread carefully. As a contracted BBC employee, I don’t wish to shoot my mouth off on a politically sensitive issue and end up like Rod Liddle. (Certainly not after looking at the state of him on last week’s QT. He needs to call Nicky Hambleton-Jones forthwith.) My automatic email signature has my 6 Music credentials in it, as well as Film Editor, Radio Times, which I prudently always remove before sending. Unfortunately, I forgot to do this when I sent a lengthy rant about Live 8, including the BBC’s occasionally naive coverage thereof, to the NS, which they printed in full (Letter Of The Week), signed, “Andrew Collins, BBC 6 Music.” In effect I was complaining about the BBC as a hapless representative of the BBC. Big mistake. I forewarned the 6 Music press office about my accidental misdemeanour but their experienced, don’t-panic view was that “nobody reads the New Statesman“. It passed without incident. (I’m much happier defending the Corporation anyway.)
Incidentally, thanks to the wonders of the BBC and the unique way in which it is funded, I have been viewing archive editions of Question Time online, including Rickitt’s appearance, and although I don’t think I’d like to spend any quality time with him (he seems a bit waxy-looking), he acquitted himself very well. Better than I would have done at 27. The exhaustive QT minisite offers a fantastic service, by the way; the archive also includes an unmissable best-of from 2004. It’s here.