Sunday Column: Peter Griffiths – Tell me when my light turns green!

“Sell-out!” goes the earnest, middle-class, half-hearted cry. I first heard of it, got my head around what it really meant, in the mid-Nineties during the indie music scene when bands that had more than one syllable in their one-word name released a bland imitation of the real thing from the comfort of a huge ‘soulless’ record label run by – you guessed it – The Man.

What the shouty young people meant was that the product had less value because of it having been funded by a huge corporation of suits who know how to make money; not of the desire to make and share music for music’ sake. Now, I’m quite blazé about a lot of things but music isn’t one of them. There are very few exceptions to the ‘artistic merit’ rule but there’s enough artistic merit out there to enjoy in every genre to negate having to listen to the crap that the charts makes ‘cool’.

From reading that last paragraph you can imagine the naïve thoughts that used to spew out of my gob way back when; until I realised that the world has to work like this, even though I haven’t found out why yet. I’ll spare you the self-righteous indignation, having definitely grown out of it, but the effects of the big corporation’s drive to make money out of a product still dictate our environment.

So what happened to Formula 1? I was as disappointed as anyone else to find that the BBC had decided to sell it on. Even more disappointed to find that they sold it to fund another sparkly talent show, as if hoping to revive the corpse of the poor shark that died from being jumped over, up and down on. They couldn’t afford to continue broadcasting F1 at the same time, yeah? No. They sold it to the highest bidder.

We should be so lucky that ITV couldn’t afford to compete – remember those days? They were not so free-to-view, all things considered. The BBC did a lot of things right, but genuinely couldn’t afford to push the envelope despite the wealth of talent available to them. We could all see that the ideas were there but that the budget didn’t stretch. Now we see the Sky F1 coverage and we see that Budget makes all the difference.

The fancy graphics in the extended features, the access all areas which isn’t done out of a sense of duty or because someone asked really nicely (or knew someone who knew someone else), the entire channel dedicated to Formula 1. The front-of-house faces that moved over from the BBC can surely only be the tip of the iceberg of transfers of production staff, how could Sky fail to miss that trick? They could afford to not fail to miss it, that’s for sure.

Ok let’s skip to the end, the logical conclusion to this is to shout from the soapboxes that Rupert Murdoch is an evil overlord who has raped and killed millions in his pursuit of the domination of the major news and entertainment outlets of the modern world – I think he even PRODUCED Tomorrow Never Dies, or something.

Yeah he’s a creepy old man, he’s flouted our laws, and exploited the weaknesses of the people of our nation, selling their stories to us through our more ridiculous and exploitative newspapers in a reprehensible manner and we all want rid of him – fine. The fact is that Sky, while he takes a mint out of it for himself, has about a bazillion people working for it in so many different departments that he is not overseeing every single product that is produced.

What happens when, if you were to feel so inclined, you considered Bernie Ecclestone in the same light? All he’s done is overseen the evolution of F1, he’s known as the ‘supremo’, dictated every money-making deal in the last 30 years, profited from all of them, probably dictated championship results, he also seems to have simply tolerated safety regulations – despite how expensive they are. What’s the difference between these two old men? People haven’t boycotted watching F1 on the grounds of the profit he’s made from it – that’s the difference.

I found myself resenting the Sky F1 product initially, thinking ‘why couldn’t the BBC have done this’ and ‘this is brilliant. Damnit.’ but then realised that what I have guessed at above had occurred. Sky has bought the majority of BBC F1’s production staff and are letting them fly, like peacocks, to show the world how one of the richest sports in the world can be shown when done properly.

In the end it was the BBC that couldn’t be bothered to invest, they couldn’t be bothered to turn a humble duckling into a swan, so they sacked it off for a bundle of cash and a lot of people have screamed ‘SELL-OUT!’ at the tops of their lungs – but it’s misdirection. If you believe it was anyone other than Ol’ Bernie that directed this move then you’re sorely mistaken.

At the moment I, for one, feel a sense of uneasiness about watching Sky F1 because of how clear so many people have made their feelings known about the move from the BBC. It’s sad, really, that it has come to this. The middle-classes are ‘rising up’ again and half-heartedly bleating about money, deals, and integrity. There has been very little integrity in F1 for many many years which is why I tune in to see the grid-walk with Martin and turn off just after or before the press-conference depending on who wins; I enjoy the spectacle of the racing, the various tactics, and the sight of the pinnacle of motorsport thrashing around at the mercy of the greatest drivers.

Everyone does things the way they want to in life, and that’s how I watch F1. Sky are now doing F1 better than anyone ever has, grown men still imagine that enjoying pop music will make them more attractive/cool, and North Korea are still systematically physically destroying their own people. There are far more important things to worry about in the world, and we are the 1% richest people in the world. If you want to watch the F1 then just pay a little bit more for it – it’s worth it – and please try not to judge anyone else in the future unless they really, really deserve it.

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