The treasure that is the Beeb

So the BBC is to put its programme archives on to the net for free.

There can be no doubt that this is a well-timed and smart political move. It is a good response to those who questioned the way the corporation was handling the digital challenge and to those Murdochites with ulterior motives who are questioning the validity of a licence fee.

I share some of the concerns people have about the BBC’s coverage of the war in Iraq – an agenda was clearly on display and that shouldn’t have been the case for an organisation with the BBC’s unique role.

But it is worth remembering that the BBC is about much, much more than news and current affairs. In fact for the vast majority of the population who aren’t bloggers or news and politics junkies, the BBC is not really about news at all.

When the archive is up online we will see what the BBC has provided us with over the years – the best comedy, drama and documentaries around. The Young Ones, Yes Minister, Black Adder, Match of the Day, Play on Two, Question Time, The Royle Family, Top of the Pops, Have I Got News For You?, Reggie Perin, Alf Garnett….Make your own list.

ITV has produced plenty of good stuff too but it is clearly second division. Channel Four has had its great moments but is not in the same league as the Beeb.

And apart from (very good) saturation coverage of football and a decent enough rolling news channel what has Sky provided us with in the past decade?

Shagging in Ibiza, Shagging in Corfu, imported crap from America (with the honorable exceptions of The Simpsons, King of the Hill and Star Trek), Dream Team (Fantasy Premiership Shagging) and Temptation (Shagging) Island.

The only stuff I watch regularly on Sky Digital is UK Gold which as British readers will know consists largely of the BBC archive (with ITV’s The Bill).

So a smart move from the BBC. The archive should be online and (as we have already paid for it) free to view. But it will also act as a permanent reminder that we have had excellent value for money out of our licence fees for decades.