I was asked by the BBC to make this speech, if speech is the word. They hoped I suspect, but in no way insisted, that I would fight their corner against cuts, against the slicing of the licence fee: at the very least they expected I might make a case for the public service aspects of comedy, and for its importance and for the need for it to be nurtured and fostered. I have happy to do that, not out of eternal loyalty and belief in an institution that has, as much as any school or college made me who I am, but because I genuinely cannot see that the nation would benefit from a diminution of any part of the BBC’s great whole. It should be as closely scrutinised as possible of course, value for money, due humility and all that, but to reduce its economies of scale, its artistic, social and national reach for misbegotten reasons of ideology or thrift would be a tragedy. We got here by an unusual route that stretches back to Reith. We have evolved extraordinarily, like our parliament and other institutions, such is the British way. Yes, we could cut it all down and remake ourselves in the image of Italy or Austria or some other notional modern state. We could sharpen the axe, we could cut away apparently dead wood, we could reinvent the wheel, we could succumb to the natural desires of commercial media companies. Although I have an axe to grind on this, you should understand that it is personal not professional. Actually, if licence fee slicing and other radical plans do go ahead, I do not believe it would affect my career as either performer, presenter or producer, in fact I would probably profit more from the change. It is simply that I don’t want to live in a country that emasculates the BBC. Yes, I want to see Channel 4 secure, but I don’t believe that the only way to save it is to reduce the BBC. We can afford what we decide we can afford.
Read it all.
Alternatively, you can listen to the mellifluous tones of Stephen Fry’s voice on his Podcast, which is highly recommended.