Robert Butler in MIL:
IF THERE WERE to be a statue outside the BBC’s new offices in central London that captured the spirit of its modish interior of “workstation clusters”, “back-to-back booths” and “touchdown areas”, and the daily struggle of the 5,500 employees to produce content across multiple platforms for an audience of 240m, it might be that of the anxious, well-fed, middle-aged, middle-class white male, with a lanyard dangling over his hi-vis jacket, who is running late for his meeting and struggling to fold his Brompton bicycle. That would be Ian Fletcher, the over-stretched head of values (played by Hugh Bonneville) and central character in “W1A”, the BBC’s sprightly satire about itself. But Fletcher is not the one who will be on the plinth outside Broadcasting House. In 2016 a statue of George Orwell—paid for by Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard, David Hare and Rowan Atkinson among others—will be unveiled, a few yards beyond the outdoor ping-pong table.
Orwell spent a mere two years (1941-43) at the BBC, which he joined as a talks assistant in the Indian section of the Eastern Service. No recording survives of him giving a talk, which is perhaps fitting; for what is most striking about his essays and journalism is the tart, compelling timbre of his voice. The critic Cyril Connolly, an exact contemporary, thought that only D.H. Lawrence rivalled Orwell in the degree to which his personality “shines out in everything he said or wrote”. Any reader of Orwell’s non-fiction will pick up on the brisk, buttonholing manner (“two things are immediately obvious”), the ear-catching assertions (“the Great War…could never have happened if tinned food had not been invented”) and the squashing epithets: “miry”, “odious”, “squalid”, “hideous”, “mealy-mouthed”, “beastly”, “boneless”, “fetid” and—a term he could have applied to himself—“frowsy”.
Orwell might well have damned this new honour too. In his studio on the edge of the Blenheim estate in Oxfordshire, Martin Jennings, the sculptor working on the eight-foot likeness, told me that Orwell had made some disobliging remarks about public statues, thinking that they got in the way of perfectly good views. The bronze Orwell will look down on the comings and goings of BBC staff who, returning his gaze, can read some chiselled wisdom from his works on the wall behind him. The Financial Times recently called Orwell “the true patron saint of our profession”, another tribute he would probably resist. “Saints”, he warned, “should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent.”