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As successive director-generals have found out, running the BBC is no laughing matter. If Tony Hall is to make a success of it, he must get "the reporter and the editor in the Sahara" joke. Allow me to share it with you.
A plane crashes in the Sahara. Only a reporter and an editor survive. At first they hope that rescuers will see the smoke rising from the wreckage. But the fire dies, and no one comes. They are lost and alone under a merciless sun, and start walking.
For days, they march in horrendous heat. Their water runs out. Their skin peels. Their minds reel from sunstroke. Finally, they collapse — blistered and dehydrated — at the bottom of an enormous sand dune.
"Let's curl up here and die," gasps the editor.
"No!" cries the reporter. "We cannot give up. Let's climb to the top of the dune and see if there's any hope."
They stagger up — two steps forward, one step back — and reach the top of the dune. On the other side they see a beautiful azure oasis, shimmering in the sun. They roll down the hill and — a miracle! — the oasis is not a mirage. The reporter plunges his hands into the cool, pure water of life. If he lives to be a hundred, he thinks, he will never again experience another moment of such sublime perfection. He is about to raise his cupped hands to his lips when he glances up and sees that the editor has opened his flies and is urinating in the water.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he bellows.
The question leaves the editor surprised and affronted.
"Why, I'm improving it," he replies.
The creative crisis in British television is at root a managerial crisis. Hall would still be at the Royal Opera House if the editor of Newsnight had not refused to report that Jimmy Savile had been a rapacious child abuser while he worked at the BBC. Reporters know that genuine scoops are incredibly rare. Managers who suppress them commit an unforgivable sin in our eyes. Justice was done when the scandal destroyed the career of Hall's predecessor as director-general, George Entwistle.