24 September 2008

Just because you're paranoid...

Noel Edmonds has been creating publicity for his new Sky TV show, though maybe not the way his new employers had in mind. Having mugged his way through a 30-year career at the beeb, and diverted a fair chunk of the Corporation's earnings into his own trousers, he has announced he is no longer willing to put some back in the other end by stumping up for a TV licence.

This is not, you understand, a protest against the quality of programming or declining standards that usually marks people having a pop at Aunty - he even described the licence fee as "astonishing value". It's because the BBC has become too "aggressive" in the way it goes about collecting the fee: "There are too many organisations... that seem to think it's OK to badger, hector and threaten people," he said. In Noel's eyes, then, the BBC is no better than a loanshark.

In Edmonds' world, time was when Lord Reith himself would come round with a posy of flowers and a four-pack to ask if you wouldn't mind most awfully chipping in a tanner or two for that lovely Mr Dimbleby's wages. Presumably he doesn't remember the TV Detector vans of the 1970s, or maybe he views them fondly because of their ineffectiveness - a fig-leaf for the fact that, for years, successful collection of BBC revenue was largely self-policing. Even today, when the idea of a collectivist entertainment system seems increasingly at odds with a culture of individual choice, more than 93% of properties pay for a TV licence.

True enough the BBC will prosecute people for failing to pay for a service they use - more than 1000 are caught every day. But I am willing to bet they aren't half as "aggressive" as the Royal Bank of Scotland when it called in a disputed debt it claimed it was owed by Noel Edmonds, precipitating the collapse of his business empire. The sort of thing that might make a man feel as if the world was out to get him.

I began to wonder whether Edmonds applies this rather bizarre principle to other parts of his life. When he pays for something in a shop, does he walk out without paying if the vendor forgets to say 'please'? Does he dodge bills in restaurants if he feels the waiter was looking at him funny? Maybe Sky could try their luck by refusing to pay him for his new TV show, just to see how aggressive he became - then withhold indefinitely as a matter of principle.