BBC licence fee advert from 1980s resurfaces, showing how bold broadcaster could be when fighting for funding

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A punchy BBC advert from the 1980s showing the broadcaster’s strong defence of the cost of the licence fee has resurfaced following the latest row over the payment.

The clip was shared on Twitter by BBC actor and radio presenter Adil Ray with the line, “What has the BBC ever given us?” after Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced that the next licence fee settlement “will be the last”.

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Ms Dorries said the time had come to “discuss and debate new ways of funding” the BBC but has not detailed the Government’s preferred alternative.

Mr Ray’s tweet, which has been liked and shared thousands of times, shows how bold the broadcaster has been in justifying the price of the license fee to the public in the past.

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Based on the Monty Python “What have the Romans ever done for us?” sketch from The Life of Brian, the ad shows actor John Cleese leaning on the bar in a pub, complaining about the £58 he’s spent on the license fee, before he is presented with several examples of how his money is used.

“Fifty-eight pounds for the privilege of sitting in your own home, watching your own television set. It’s diabolical,” he tells the barman in the two-and-a-half minute clip.

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“What’s the BBC ever given us for £58 quid?”

He is answered by host of famous BBC faces from its sport, news, politics, comedy, radio, and children’s programmes at the time, including Moira Stuart, David Jason and Sir David Attenborough.

Cleese increasingly agrees that there is value throughout the clip, saying: “Fair enough, fair enough,” before he is bombarded by further examples. He concludes: “Apart from excellent dramas, the natural history programmes, the sports coverage, news current affairs, documentaries, the consumer programme, series, films, Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4, children’s television, science, comedy, alternative comedy and music… what have the BBC ever given us?” before the late Terry Wogan chimes in with “chat shows”.

The advert ends with a statement reading: “The BBC. Is 16p a day really too much to ask?”

Today the annual payment, which normally changes on 1 April each year, is expected to be kept at the current rate of £159 until April 2024.

But since Ms Dorries’s announcement, a host of famous faces have come out in solidarity with the broadcaster. TV presenter Richard Bacon and comedian David Baddiel defended the need for the licence fee and criticised the Government over plans to scrap it on Monday.

Baddiel said on Twitter: “If, as the Government is implying re the BBC, we should only pay for something we like and agree with, I wonder if I can ask for all the money back I’ve had to spend in taxes on Brexit.”

Bacon, who has worked for the BBC, said: “The plan to scrap the licence fee is pathetic. Is that it? Is that how govt works?

“An institution that’s popular, global, prestigious, unique & British gets undone because the govt thinks the news bits of the BBC aren’t nice enough about them.

“So all the BBC loses its licence fee.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC radio: “I think the BBC does a good job at holding us all to account and they ask us all questions that are really tough – as you do to me – and quite right too.

“What I fear is going on here is that, what happens is that there is rule-breaking and then, this is typical of this Prime Minister, what do you do next? You then attack those that enforce the rules.”

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