1989: NICHOLAS WITCHELL’S FRENCH
Letter to the BBC. I received a signed reply from Nicholas Witchell.
To the Director of News Broadcasting,
On Wednesday 12 July on the Six O’Clock News (BBC 1) Nicholas Witchell reported on an incident that had taken place in the neighbourhood of Besançon. I realise that the days of the correct pronunciation of foreign names (on which the BBC used to pride itself) are long gone. I recognise also that the cedilla may be an unfathomable mystery for a highly-paid announcer. What I was quite unprepared for was hearing the town’s name pronounced as ‘Baise Un Con’.
I would shudder to set out in full the English translation of this French phrase, but the enormity of it may perhaps be rendered as ‘F*** A C***’. At the present season there are, of course, large numbers of French-speaking visitors in our country. Many of them will watch BBC television, knowing of the Corporation’s long and honourable history. I can only speculate as to what their reaction may have been on hearing such a gross obscenity issuing from the screen.
As we approach 1992 we are constantly exhorted to make ourselves more sensitive to links with Europe. Surely a starting-point would be for a major national institution to avoid grotesque solecisms of this order.
Ian H Birchall, MA, BLitt (Oxon),
Senior Lecturer in French,