The Spectre of another bad Bond

As you may have noticed the countdown is now on. We are only a few weeks away from the big day and everyone is getting rather excited. Shops are filled with merchandise, adverts are all over the TV and people can’t stop talking about it. Christmas? No I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about possibly the most anticipated film release for a decade, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But while plenty of enthusiasts and fanboys are flocking to cinemas on 19th December to get a first glimpse of what will no doubt be a huge spectacle, I am more interested in the most recent addition to another famous film franchise, the latest James Bond film Spectre.

I’ve always been a lover of the James Bond series. I watched them with my dad, as a little boy. I experienced the humour of Connery, the chauvinism of Moore, the vaguely ridiculous but still rather charming Lazenby, the streetwise Dalton and then the gentleman Brosnan. At university I studied film, and even wrote my dissertation on Bond, and when I left university in 2006 Bond returned from a four year hiatus with Daniel Craig and Casino Royale. It is safe to say that Bond has always fascinated me. I love to get immersed in the spectacle of the films but I also enjoy looking at how the films have evolved and how each film mirrors our contemporary society in some way, in almost every facet; the plots, the sets, the villains, the henchmen, the cars, even Bond himself. And as a purist Bond fan, seeing the reinvention of Bond in Casino Royal and then the other Daniel Craig films, was both interesting and largely disappointing.

The Daniel Craig era of James Bond films saw a shift in the approach to our favourite spy. The films felt more like a version of a Jason Bourne film than a James Bond film. The Daniel Craig bond films had to be different and draw a line in the sand. Towards the end of the Brosnan era things had gotten a little silly. The previous outing for Bond, and last for Brosnan, was the rather farcical Die Another Day film, which lost the plot a little with supercharged weapons, laughably unrealistic gadgets and a storyline that was clearly more focussed on getting spectacle into the film than grit and interest. Die Another Day, it is safe to say, probably brought the Bond franchise as close as it has ever come to ending. Certainly many people were suggesting maybe it was time for Bond to retire the Walther PPK and take a well earned beach holiday. So when Daniel Craig burst onto the scene in Casina Royale, in a paired back film that had grit, determination, panache and action abounding, it was a breath of fresh air. It was a modern interpretation with intrigue and plot twists, relying on the complex and in depth script and characters rather than gimmicks to make it a great film. But there was a problem, and one which has persisted in all the Daniel Craig films to date…it just wasn’t quite Bond.

I won’t dwell on the previous films now, I’ll leave that for my book on Bond (which I may write one day). Instead lets look to Spectre, a film that I have been looking forward to for quite some time. To frame this particularly episode in the Bond series and particularly in Craig era, Sam Mendes returns as the Director following Skyfall in 2012 – a massively disappointing Bond film in my opinion. This film features the mysterious organisation Spectre, who have popped up many times over the 53 years Bond has been appearing on our screens, as the villainous  opponents. As the focus for a storyline it is one that has been screaming to be made for sometime and finally it has been done. The film completes a story that they have been developing over the four films since Casino Royale and wraps up a number of plot strands and ties everything together in a neat bundle. Or at least that is the intention.

The major criticisms levelled at Bond since Craig took over are that it is not true to the James Bond we know and love. It has lost the quintessential nature and character of a Bond film and has been dulled down into just another action film – Jason Bond/James Bourne. For fans there are some defining things that set Bond out as different and these things seemed (in part) to be missing:

  • A dry British wit, poking fun at his adversaries and making light of the situation he is in
  • Grotesque / Unique / Freakish henchmen/women
  • A culturally significant super villain
  • Beautiful and desirable Bond girl(s)
  • Gadgets
  • Q, MoneyPenney, M, Felix Leiter
  • A villains superbase / secret lair
  • A race against time
  • A chase (often car chase)
  • Set piece confrontations and fight scenes
  • Above all else, a storyline that is contemporary (although not always entirely believable)

The argument for the new Bond is that it needed to change and modernise otherwise it would fade into nothing and become an unappealing relic of the past. But the problem is in modernising they lost the heart of Bond, and as much as I liked Casino Royale as a film it just didn’t feel like a Bond film. And nor did Quantum of Solace or Skyfall. Great films yes, great spectacles, but not great Bond films. I could spend ages focussing further on the reasons for this, or the criticisms about Bond going back to anti-feminist ways with Skyfall etc etc, but that is not for now.

So we get to Spectre. And with much trepidation I went and saw the film. My trepidation was mainly because Spectre as a concept is up there with the very best Bond plots. To make it badly would be to miss the biggest opportunity in the Bond franchise and with the relatively poor outing that was Skyfall, and hearing some criticism of Spectre generally, I was not convinced the film would be any good. But to my surprise and utter delight, what I watched was Bond back at its best. In fact I would venture so far as to say it lived up to all my expectations. I would even go so far to say that it surpasses most other Bond films. It is excellent (with a couple of caveats).

But why? Why is this film so good where arguably all of the previous Daniel Craig Bond’s have failed to hit the mark? Well without giving any spoilers – quite simply because it has reintroduced every one of the facets of Bond that we have come to know and love. The film re-establishes Bond as the witty character that pokes fun at his situation. It re-establishes the working dynamic between him and his surrounding contributors (MoneyPenney, Q and M). It puts Bond back in the environments we want to see him in; real cities and locations. More significantly though it has a storyline that is contemporary and that we can all relate to, which is being enacted by villains that are characterised in the Bond way; they are outlandish, bigger better and stronger than the norm, they are sinister and believable in the power they establish and wield and intimidating in their menace. Where the previous films have been almost comic book in their characterisation, these characters return to the principles that created henchmen like Jaws, OddJob and Rosa Klebb and super villains like Dr No, Scaramanga and Ernst Stavro Blowfeld. And the story is as complex and involved as you would expect from the best Bond films, rather than the sometimes paper-thin stories such as that of Skyfall – which frankly could have been from any Bond / Bourne / Mission Impossible film, to name but a few. But maybe it was necessary to have those rather soft films before. Without giving anything away, Spectre draws upon all of those three previous films and makes you suddenly realise what was actually going on there, which in some ways goes against the Bond principle of standalone films with standalone story lines, but is something that actually I don’t mind.

For me Spectre finally delivered on the promise we have know Daniel Craig has as a modern Bond. It stayed true to the modern elements he brings to the character; a daredevil action man, more solemn and detached than those who came before him. A somewhat lonely and unfulfilled / lost individual searching for answers for his inner demons. But what they have finally done is wrap that up with the wider James Bond surround that we expect. The film has huge and spectacular set piece action sequences, subtle and realistic gadgets, great car chases, a seemingly unstoppable and freakish henchman, a sinister super villain who has a classic villain superbase, a plot that twist and turns and keeps you riveted a beautiful Bond girl and a dashing MoneyPenney, a clever and resourceful but rather despairing Q and a dynamic and demanding, but ultimately supportive M. It even has a race against the clock with an actual timer and of course, some great interplay and intense staring between Bond and his arch enemy. In short it has everything you would expect, want and need from a Bond film.

Any down sides? Well a couple. There is one strand to the storyline which is unnecessary in my view. It reveals an existing relationship between Bond and the villain that borders on the cheesy and the film would have worked quite happily without it. It works with it as well but the consequence of the extra complexity is a film that is 30mins too long and left a slightly bitter taste in the mouth. But I can accept that for all of the positives. So in answer to all the critics, this time I think they’ve done it. This Bond is not just a great film, it is one of the great Bond films.

So where does this leave us? Sam Mendes ends his association with Bond at this point. This also presents a convenient opportunity for Daniel Craig to hand over the reins to another actor. He’s already said that the role is very physically demanding on him but he is contracted for one more film. The other consideration is that he has been Bond for 10 years. A lot has changed in that time and the one thing we do know about the man who inhabits that role is that he has to be current. He has to be a Bond for the people of that time. Is Craig’s time done or can his dynamic Bond live on for another couple of year? Will he retire the Aston and the PPK or will he continue? That is a story for another day. Only time will tell, all we know is that Bond will return…and I can’t wait!

Of Lemmings & Lions

One of the things I have most enjoyed in my career is the focus I’ve had on changing cultures and business processes for the better. It is something that I actually find immensely interesting and the challenge that I most relish. I’ve also been able to do this outside of work as well, be it working as a governor with the local school or just helping some of the organisations in hobbies that I like.

Principally the focus is always about improving. This could be making something more efficient, reducing stress, recognising that something needs to be done differently in order to better achieve what it needs to or removing single points of failure. The angle I always try to come from is looking at what is happening, looking at what the outcomes are, what they should be and if there is a way that can be better achieved. And a lot of the time this is about looking at what other places and people are doing, those places that excel, and seeing what it is that they are doing differently to succeed. Identifying these things and then putting them in place in your own environment can achieve great things. One of the key things about improving is that you learn from those that do it better, and from those that do it worse – i.e. you try to eliminate problems that other people are having. But whilst learning from others is key, copying them can be fatal.

Over the years I’ve seen people try and fail to improve because they are simply copying what other successful places are doing, without really understanding why they are doing it. And because they haven’t actually understood what is trying to be achieved and only put the process in place, rather robotically, they don’t have the ability to assess and innovate properly. This has lead me to coin the phrase “Lemmings vs Lions” and it is quite a good way of describing how you will succeed or fail in the world of business change.

Lemmings are well known as relatively pointless small rodent creatures that throw themselves off of cliffs in the arctic tundra, or as small green haired blue creatures in the eighties / nineties computer game – I prefer the latter. Either way they tend to follow the crowd. They copy each other and the end result is usually being splatted on the floor. They don’t innovate they just do what they have always done and this results, ultimately, in not improving their chances much. Lions however are quite a different thing altogether. They grow prides that will share their experiences, teach their young to hunt and then let the young off into the wilderness to form their own prides. These prides of lions need to adapt constantly to their changes environment and they have to make decisions about what they will do to survive. Each pride is similar but at the same time different in the way they do things. It is the reason they are an apex predator.

So in business transformation are you going to be a lemming or a lion? If you are a lemming then you will copy a process without really looking at what it is for, and you may initially get success but over time it will either plateau or possible end in failure because as the environment changes you won’t. Or you can be a lion, constantly looking for the advantage and adapting to your environment. You’ll implement something that succeeds because it is adapted for the environment. In business transformation or cultural change this is the key. By all means learn from others, it is the only way to innovate, but make sure you take the essence and embed it into your own culture, in a way that will work. If you do this then you will be likely to find success.

I want my apple to be technically savvy

A lot of people seem to be getting all bent out of shape at the prospect of technology replacing humans, or in some cases the fear that they will not just replace us but repress us. Whilst Stephen Hawking is predicting that AI (artificial intelligence) is the biggest long term threat to humankind, many people are more concerned about the more immediate threat to manual and lower skilled jobs. I find this interesting for a couple of reasons, the first being that the idea technology is only just about to replace humans is rather behind the times, and secondly because some of my recent experiences as a consumer make me scream for something more automated as the human run ones were infuriating.

I recently attended a conference called ‘Agile on the Beach’. It was a very enjoyable couple of days surrounded by peers and colleagues from the world of IT (and other sectors) discussing the approaches, benefits and culture of the agile way of working. One of the keynote speakers, Dave Farley (a pioneer of continuous delivery), discussed his three laws and one of them was rather apt…”People are rubbish”. What he meant by this is not that people are incapable, but that by our nature we make mistakes, we overlook things, we are infallible. It is true. In recent years Moore’s Law has allowed technology and software to progress to a point where the world is a drastically different place to where it was only ten years ago. We have replaced a secretary who opened the post and replied to correspondence with an iPhone and auto-messaging. We have replaced people on a construction line with automated machines. We have replaced health & safety officers with failsafe software. The list goes on and on. And that is somewhat the point. The idea that technology is going to start replacing people is old hat, because it has been going on pretty much since the beginning of time. We aren’t in some position where suddenly this is going to happen, it is just the natural evolution of society and technology. A good example is that a large proportion of us now use self-service checkouts at the supermarket, where we would have previously had a person sat at the checkout swiping our items for us. This has been going on ever since we invested industry. Once upon a time we used to row our ships, but then we invented steam engines. We hauled massive stones with hundreds of stoneage men, until we invented boats and realised we could roll them along on logs. At each step of our technological evolution we have replaced people with technology and in each case the people have moved on to new roles. So I don’t think we are yet at the point where we are all going to become obsolete.

But one of the things that did surprise me not so long ago was the lack of an automated experience at Apple. I recently had to go to the Apple store to have the screen replaced on my iPhone. I booked the appointment online and that experience was completely self-serve and automated. So what was then surprising is arriving at the Apple store, the mecca of trend setting and sleek experiences in technology to find it all rather backward. Having not been to an Apple store before I made my way to the ‘Genius Bar’ and sat on a stool awaiting someone to ‘check me in’. There wasn’t any guidance around to tell me the process so I waited for a staff member to help me. And I waited…and waited…and waited.

During my ten minute wait, for that is what it ended up being, I noticed at least half a dozen members of staff just stood by the shelves of products. This perplexed me as I am still unsure exactly what purpose they served. At one point I did see one of them talk to a customer browsing one of the products but after a short chat that I wasn’t privvy to the staff member resumed her security guard like stance and re-found her bored expression. At the same time no less than four separate members of staff wondered by me, determinedly ignored my attempts to grab their attention and generally seemed determined to prove that whilst they were apparently geniuses they were also rather dim!

Eventually I got the message that I wasn’t going to get any proactive help from the staff at Apple and so sought out someone who finally helped me check in and so my problem was dealt with. But as I then wondered around the shopping mall for an hour, waiting for my phone to be repaired and dwelling on the experience I’d just had I realised how counterintuitive it was. Why on earth does the biggest technology company in the world have an experience that is so uncoordinated and relying on people who are quite clearly letting down the side? Certainly my opinion of Apple employees was diminished to the point where I am almost entirely convinced they don’t really care about the customers at all. And that really isn’t great for a company that prides itself on providing the best user experience. With the technology they have at their disposal surely the experience at an Apple store should go more like this…

I turn up to the store and immediately make my way to one of the iCheck terminals. The bluetooth technology means that the terminal instantly picks up the signal from my iPhone and welcomes me, asking if I’d like to checkin. It guides me through a few quick screens and then tells me that I have been checked in and that they aren’t quite ready for me yet but a message will be sent to my phone at the correct time and that I can browse in the meantime. As I browse around the other products they have on offer I am able to select a complimentary beverage from the iDrink machine. As I’m fiddling with one of the latest gadgets my phone starts to buzz in my pocket. I take it out and a message is telling me to make my way to the Genius bar to a specific stool. As I get there a member of staff is waiting to take the device from me and already knows exactly what the problem is. They inform me that the phone will be ready in an hour and hand me a little device that will alert me when it is ready to collect.

This is just a snippet into how technology could make my experience better. Going to the Apple store was a frustrating experience. It was uncoordinated, awkward and I felt unloved as a customer, but the experience I have just described would make me feel very well looked after indeed. So what is the moral of this blog? Well there are a couple…the first is don’t fear technology is going to replace us because often it actually improves our lives, and history has taught us that it doesn’t replace us, there are just different jobs that we then take. And the second? Well the second moral of this blog is that Apple should employ me to transform their in store experience!

Google Is Your Friend?

Richard Branson founded a tremendously successful brand in Virgin, based primarily on the principle that he looked after his employees, his employees looked after the customers, the customers looked after the profits and the profits looked after the share holders. It is a simple principal and one that works. If your staff are happy then they will do a good job, which in turn means your customers get a good service. So on and so, the company does well. So why is it then that so many big brands these days seem to be neglecting the most basic of customer needs?

Today it was announced that EE are going to be fined one million pounds for poor customer service. Well about time. I have moaned before about the appalling state of the usability on their online self service portal. It was one of the many reasons that I moved away from the provider when my mobile came up for renewal last year. But it isn’t just EE. The monopoly holding telecomm providing BT are well overdue for a massive fine. They seem to have developed a reputation for appalling customer service and seem to rely on their infrastructure monopoly to see them through. I know countless people who have been left with no service for weeks, to be offered compensation to the amount of £1.50. Is that really how you treat a treasured customer? But BT have been doing it for years. Let me share my own experience of BT with you, which is the sole reason I wouldn’t even let them come and clean out my toilet, let alone provide me with any services. Following a series of incorrect bills and service outages, where I had to make calls on my mobile, I finally managed to speak to a manager. He assured me they would refund all of the costs I had incurred. I took this very helpful mans name and a call reference and then waited for the remuneration I had been promised. And of course it didn’t arrive. What did happen was when I phones up to query it I was told that no such person existed and that wasn’t a valid call reference! The threat of legal action on the back of this fraud was enough to ensure my contract was cancelled, leaving my account in £2.61 credit. They have been merrily writing to tell me this every month for six years now. I wonder how much that has cost them?

This one little example of not just rock bottom, but non-existent customer service, shows not only a lack of engagement with the concept that making your customer happy is actually good for your business, but also shows an astounding lack of respect for the customer as well. As a result I will never use the company again. I won’t even start about the BT engineer who was trespassing on my property a couple of months ago, and when I asked him why he told me to “fuck off!”. That is top quality staffing in a fully branded BT Openreach uniform. Top marks all round.

But customer service is not just about the person on the end of the phone. And for every example of a tragic customer service team there is an example of a very helpful and pleasant team. But that is not the be all and end all of customer service. We now live in a world where self service online is a massive part of how we engage with our chosen providers. In fact in some cases that will be on the only way we ever engage with them. So the question is, why do so many of them make it so hard for us?

There is a common saying “Google is your friend”. And of course it is. We can go to an incredibly simple interface – a single search box – but in what we want to know about and we will get back results. Often before we’ve even finished typing! What is not to love about that? So why is it that, when they have proven that they can develop such simple and clever things, do they insist on the rest of their products being so damn difficult to use? A bone of contention I have with online services is when they have been built in a way where it is almost impossible to find how to do something. And when you mercifully do find some instructions on how to do it they refer to the previous version. It is beyond frustrating. Don’t get me started on PayPal, who represent a an example of some of the worst online experience I have ever found. But back to Google. Take the simple act of setting up a Google Places account. Trying to find where to manage the wallet settings, or where to shut down the account (I realise it is not in their interests to help you do this) is almost impossible. And considering the prompt to do this came from an email from them, you’d expect a link in the email taking you directly to the right place. But no, that is apparently too hard for the company who have developed the most complex search algorithms in the world to handle. It seems that the concept that smart people have no common sense is indeed alive and well at Google. In this case Google is definitely not my friend. It’s my annoying little friend that won’t do anything I’m asking of it!!

I have spent the majority of my career being concerned with trying to make an experience as intuitive and simple as possible. Whether that be a business process, an interface or a video. The general principle of simple is best works. And making it easy and simple for people to do everything also works. Even if the customer wants to close their account with you, make it as easy as possible to do this. Because at the end of the day they will remember that and may come back. If you make it almost impossible for them to do it then their last memory will be knowing that they were justified in leaving such an awful brand. Instead make their last memory a delightful one, because they will leave with that good memory and then when they are looking for a supplier again they may just come back. At the end of the day, not many people leave a supplier because they are happy with their experience. Plenty though can tell you why they would never use a particular supplier ever again!

Now the dust has settled…

A couple of weeks have now passed since the general election and most of the moaning and bickering seems to have subsided. But what was the biggest shock of the 2015 election? Was it that the Tories managed, apparently against all odds, to win a majority of the seats in the house of commons? Was it that three of the party leaders subsequently resigned (and one then performed the best comeback since Lazarus…and now might be going again)? Or was it even that the SNP almost entirely swept the board in Scotland? Well no, for me the biggest surprise is that we still operate with such an antiquated voting system. Why on earth are we still voting with pencils and paper?

I must admit that, like a penalty shootout (no one seems to like them either though), there is some added drama and tension in the system we currently have. Having to wait as the results trickle in, constituency by constituency, over the course of the following day is, for some, as exciting as it gets. For others, like me, it is tedium only broken by the satisfaction of watching some rather fatuous and arrogant individuals eat their words in the most publicly embarrassing way. But strip back the excitement and what you are left with is a supremely inefficient exercise that involves far more people than is necessary. The reality is that in the 21st century we are still operating with a process that existed when landowners and Lords were the only ones who could vote and rotten boroughs were still a legitimate way to manipulate the system. It really does beggar belief that we aren’t embracing the digital age and putting in a process that would mean we can know the result of the general election not hours after the votes are cast but minutes.

Of course, whenever you try and have a sensible conversation about this with someone the first objection that is thrown your way is that it wouldn’t be secure or anonymous and therefore easy to manipulate/ Well this is just simply naive. Anyone who works in IT and has any talent would be able to design a system that allows for completely anonymous voting, where the vote casting mechanism is completely uncoupled from any data about a person. And a lot more sensitive data than vote counts are stored online all over the world without any security issues. Quite simply, it wouldn’t be that hard to do.

So let’s think about the question of security for a moment then. Many people object saying that the system would be easy to manipulate but surely no easier than the current system, which if my experience is anything to go by would be incredibly easy to manipulate. My experience this year of wondering down to my local polling station was about as lax as you can get. I didn’t need my polling card and I didn’t have to present any identification. The only thing I had to do was say my name and address, which they then found on the sheet, ticked off and handed my the voting slip. As I am quite familiar with the names and addresses of a few other people in my area, and like everyone else I also have access to the electoral role, it would be beyond the whit of man to have voted many times under the guise of many different people that day. It certainly would have been easy enough to have found out who wasn’t voting and go and cast on their behalf. No CCTV, no actual checks. I could have turned up with a bus load of homeless people, given them all a name and address and said “go and put a tick in the first box”.

The current process is not only slow, arduous and prone to error, it is also fundamentally insecure and easy to manipulate. Surely we are now in a position where we should be using a digital process? Other sectors abandoned pen and paper years ago, in favour of more optimised ways of working. The benefits of going digital on the election are quite clear and the objections to it are not things that couldn’t easily be solved. Only five years to develop the right system…but I suspect we’d need a referendum to decide whether we want to do it!

Should sacking Clarkson mean the BBC lose their charter?

With over one million people signing a petition for Jeremy Clarkson to be reinstated by the BBC, representing two thirds of the amount of people who watch an average show, and a 25th of the entire license paying public, should the BBC lose its charter for not therefore renewing his contract? Well the answer is obviously no. The BBC should not lose their Royal Charter and publicly funded status because of sacking a man who assaulted his co-worker. But the subject raises some interesting considerations in terms of the corporation and its responsibility to the public at large.

After the incident of the alleged assault, the BBC had to take action. There is no denying that Clarkson seems to lack self control and, after so many incidents with the presenter over a prolonged period, they had to stamp on his behaviour. He left them in an untenable position, but that a million people very quickly signed a petition to reinstate him clearly shows that the public thought he shouldn’t have been sacked because of it. What that actually means is that one million people couldn’t imagine a worthwhile Top Gear without him involved. They are right to think that, the idea of a Top Gear without Clarkson, and therefore without May and Hammond as well, would clearly mean that the show will have to undergo a reinvention. But the main consideration this raises here is, when should a publicly funded organisation, with responsibilities to the public at large, listen to a public outcry and when should they feel that they can go against the public opinion and act on their own beliefs?

The BBC’s Royal Charter details under what conditions it should be allowed to be publicly funded and the debate has raged for quite sometime about whether or not it still meets the requirements handed to it. The basic premise is that the corporation should produce a range of content to meet the large majority of the interests of the general public, catering for minorities, niche audiences and the general populous. This should be delivered under the three principles of educating, informing and entertaining. It is this foundation which means they operate multiple channels, with multiple focuses and run specialist radio stations that cater for Pop, Classical, News, Alternative Music, etc. It is also the reason why regional news used to be a key and substantial part of the news delivery on the BBC. For many decades the main reason for the Royal Charter was to make sure that the limited television service available to the public, limited to only a couple of channels, provided a variety of content that everyone could enjoy (at least parts of), rather than producing content that would only ever appeal to a small proportion of the population.

Whether or not the BBC should remain publicly funded is a debate that has raged on for quite some time. Since commercial television became a power, and freeview means that hundreds of channels are available and specialist content across these channels caters for almost everyone, there have been questions asked about whether the BBC continues to fulfil a vital roll. What is clear is that the corporation is no longer required to provide varied content simply because it would otherwise not be available. In fact, the reality is that people now get the vast majority of their specific needs from other networks and specialist channels that far better meet our taste needs. With this in mind, the BBC should be more focused than ever at producing content that meets their requirements under the charter. But are they? Do they meet the needs of the general public and are they even listening to the public? Are they even asking the public for their opinion? In my opinion the answer is no.

The nature of the BBC is that in so many ways it is an outdated institution that needs to be reformed. Many would argue they have kept current but that would be in their output, but in the way the institution operates it is still very archaic. At the end of the day they need to make sure they are meeting their objectives and they need to put the public first. That means listening, and not just to the one or two people who are writing in to points of view, but to every one of the 25 million license payers.They should be required to undertake a census style research program, which is a rolling project that aims to have feedback from the majority of their license payers. This would be the only way to guarantee they are on the right track.

A good example of this is the BBC news output, which in many ways you could argue is industry leading. But as I mentioned before, one of the major benefits for people in the past has been the regional coverage. This used to be a substantial part of the news broadcasts but recently has been reduced to a five minute bulletin like segment, which barely scratches the surface of local needs. To replace it they have increased coverage on things like major sports. It is a clear example of where the public have been put behind the pandering of executives to higher profile stories. It is also an example of where they are clearly not meeting their requirements under the charter.

The BBC needs to become a more agile institution rather than an old fashioned corporation. This means listening to the people it serves and having people in positions of authority who are new thinkers rather than old hands. This means reform and a change in culture. It is imperative that they become more independent, driven by opinion and less wasteful. And that means actually understanding what people want and what they need. It needs to be more regional and more on demand.

The problem with the BBC is that is sits in a system that has allowed it to stay stagnant and pretend it is evolving when below the surface it is not. It suffers from the same thing as the NHS, the rail network and the power network, where profits drive decisions rather than customer needs. All of these institutions need to be reformed. The public need to be put at the heart of their delivery rather than relying on the opinion of those who are out of touch, or have never been in touch. If a strategy of understanding actual needs was at the heart of all of these organisations then there wouldn’t be any debates about profit-mongering in the NHS or power suppliers not passing on cuts in prices. Perhaps one of the parties vying for government at the moment should focus on that, instead of arguing with each other over things that don’t really matter. But then, if there was ever an example of an institution that doesn’t actually listen to the general public, then government is it!

The art of copyright

Last week an American jury decided that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had breached copyright with their song Blurred Lines, by copying Marvin Gaye’s song Got To Give It Up. The official reasons were “for similarities based on inspiration and not replication” which sets a very worrying precedent.

The case was brought by the Marvin Gaye Estate,  and has been led by a group of lawyers who are reportedly pursuing a number of cases along similar lines. In this case it has resulted in the artists of the biggest selling song of 2013 having to pay in excess of £5million in compensation to the Marvin Gaye estate. After they’d won the case, Nona Gaye gave a teary statement where she said she finally felt free of the hold that Thicke and Williams held over them. It seems pretty heavy for someone who was only eight years old when her father’s song was released. I wonder whether she would have been so bothered if the court case had been against a small emerging artists and wasn’t worth over £5million to her!

Skepticism aside, the main issue here is that someone has lost a copyright battle not because they have replicated someone else’s work, but because they has been judged to have had similar inspiration. So they have lost not because they have copied Marvin Gaye’s work, but because they have had similar inspiration. In a world of art, where it is impossible to be completely original – there will always be similar works out there – the ramifications are huge. Does it mean that a composer who has never even heard another track before, but unwittingly produces something with similarities, has breached copyright? Similarly, if I was to be inspired by the sun setting over London and wrote a song about it, would I be breaching copyright for Waterloo Sunset based on inspiration? Ok, these examples are a bit silly, but the principle stands and now there is a legal precedent for any lawyer to see an opportunity for a quick buck.

This week on BBC Radio 4 they have been discussing the possibility that one of J.S. Bach’s Cello concertos might have been written by his wife, rather than him. The only suggestion of this is the interpretation by one man of the note scribbled on one of the manuscripts which says ‘written out by’ his wife. Anyone who knows about music will know this is referring to her work copying the original music out onto sheet, but it is a convenient opportunity for another conspiracy theory. Any competent cello player will attest to the consistency in style of the suite, which almost certainly supports that Bach himself wrote the piece. Why do I raise this? Well the argument is not dissimilar. The idea that one person could write something that was ascribed to another is not only plausible, it happens all the time. But similarly it is also possible for someone to compose something that is very similar, or in places the same, to another piece without ever having been exposed to the other piece.

The joy of the arts is that it is creative. It is inspiring to see and listen to and is inspired by a variety of things. When you start to apply limitations, such as the idea that inspiration itself can lead to copyright, then this will only serve to stifle that creativity. Copyright exists for very good reasons. It prevents people copying work and claiming it as there own – replication. But the idea that you could claim someone has copied your work because they were inspired by the same thing is ludicrous. It serves only the claimant and no one else.