Antony Jay

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Sir Antony Rupert Jay (born 20 April 1930) is a British broadcaster and script writer best known for co-writing the 1980s political comedy Yes Minister. Less well known is Jay's role as a right-wing activist. In a preface to an Institute of Economic Affairs pamphlet on public choice, Jay wrote: 'the theory that things are better done by government officials than private citizens or companies is simply not sustainable. I see no way of reforming the system, so the only sensible course is to leave the government only those tasks which it is impossible to have done in any other way...'

Education and career

Jay was educated at St Paul’s School, a prestigious private school in London where he was awarded a scholarship. He then attended Magdalene College, Cambridge where he was awarded a first in Classics and Comparative Philology. [1] In 1955, after his two years national service, Jay join the BBC. He edited its current affairs programme Tonight from 1962 to '63 and was head of talks features from 1963 to 1964. He then he left the BBC to work as a freelance writer and producer. [2]

In 1972 Jay wrote a pamphlet called The Householder’s Guide to Community Defence against Bureaucratic Aggression which advised citizens who to protest against government planning decisions. [3]

He was a member Annan Comittee on Future of Broadcasting (1974-77) which led the the creation of Channel 4 - an innovation which served the interests of independent producers like Jay.

Video Arts

In 1972 Jay co-founded the corporate training video production company Video Arts with the comedian John Cleese. Jay chaired the company from 1972 to 1989. [4] Jay was also a partner in a sister company called Video Arts Television which was set up in 1978 and produced a number of films promoting neoliberal ideology. Most notable of these was the ten part documentary Free to Choose promoting the views of Milton Friedman, but it also produced a three part film called Heyek - His Life and Thoughts, broadcast in 1985.

Jay has written: 'I am a Friedmanite. My company produced Milton Friedman’s 10 part documentary series Free to Choose back in 1979, but I was a convert to market economics long before that. In fact, that was why my company got the gig.' [5] In his autobiography Friedman recalls the first meetings with Video Arts Television to discuss the future production of Free to Choose:

Bob [Chitester] had been planning a trip to London to talk to the BBC about its interest in acquiring the program when it was completed and to talk with possible producers... By far the most important interview was with Antony Jay, recommended by Ralph Harris [Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs] as “a Friedman fan” (initially from reading my [1973] Playboy interview). Jay was a partner in Video Arts, a television production company formed by ex-BBC employees who had wanted to escape bureaucracy… [Later] Bob and I took off on September 20 for London, where we had extensive discussions with Antony Jay and two of his partners who were to be the most closely involved in the production of Free to Choose, Michael Peacock, managing director and Robert Reid, chairman. In addition, Peacock arranged for us to interview Michael Latham as a potential producer. Unlike the producers we had interviewed in the United States, both the Video Arts trio and Michael Latham were sympathetic to our philosophy and enthusiastic about producing a documentary to present it. [6]

Free to Choose eventually became a ten part television documentary. The BBC bought the rights to six of the programmes, [7] five of which were broadcast with studio discussions with Milton Friedman hosted by the neoliberal economist and journalist Peter Jay. [8] Friedman commented that it was: 'Interesting that Britain, the fatherland of the welfare state and the home of a major avowedly socialist party, should be where we would find producers sympathetic to free markets.' [9]

Critic of the BBC

In recent years Jay has emerged as a right-wing critic of the BBC. In July 2007 the Centre for Policy Studies published a pamplet by Jay entitled Confessions of a Reformed BBC Producer. Jay argued that the BBC is part of a 'minority media liberal subculture' which promotes attitudes and opinions 'at odds with the majority of the audience and the electorate'. He argued that the culture of 'media liberalism' at the BBC made it hyper-critical of governments and other powerful institutions. This, Jay argued, had led to the 'erosion of the efficiency and effectiveness' of the institutions Jay called the 'building blocks of civilisation'. Recalling his time at the BBC (over 40 years earlier) Jay wrote:

...we were anti-industry, anti-capitalism, anti-advertising, anti-selling, anti-profit, anti-patriotism, anti-monarchy, anti-Empire, anti-police, anti-armed forces, anti-bomb, anti-authority. Almost anything that made the world a freer, safer and more prosperous place, you name it, we were anti it. [10]

The publication of the pamplet received publicty in the British press, with an extract being published in the Daily Telegraph. [11] A month later The Sunday Times published an op-ed piece by Jay which started by making reference to the BBC's recent impartiality report and then reproduced much of the pamphlet. [12]

Confessions of a Reformed BBC Producer was followed up a year later by a new pamphlet by Jay called How to save the BBC. In the report Jay declared himself to be a 'Friedmanite' and wrote that the market 'may, and in my own view should, be the ultimate destination' for the BBC. He conceded however that given that privitisation would probably lead to a 'national outcry and a dramatic loss of votes' for any government trying to introduce it, 'it is neither desirable nor practicable to head straight for it immediately.' [13]

Rejecting outright privitisation as politically impossible, Jay instead proposed that the BBC be drastically reduced in size and focus to a 'much smaller, self-funding public service broadcaster, consisting essentially of one television channel and one speech radio channel'. This new BBC would not compete with commercial broadcasters but would focus on meeting demands not met by the market. Under Jay's vision the BBC's public service obligations would remain but rather than being funded by the license fee, the BBC would rely on a 'massively expanded and professionalised marketing operation'. [14] Jay also argued that the obligation of political impartiality should be removed, stating: 'The obligation to maintain political balance made sense in the days of only one or two broadcasters. But as stations proliferate, so that obligation becomes more and more illiberal and restrictive.' [15]

Jay's pamphlet's was cited by Conservative MP Christopher Chope during the 2nd reading of his Private Members' Bill, Broadcasting (Television Licence Fee Abolition) Bill in October 2008. [16]

Notes

  1. Sir Antony (Rupert)’, Who's Who 2009, A & C Black, 2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2008 [Accessed 20 Nov 2009]
  2. Debrett's Online, Sir Antony Jay, CVO [Accesssed 20 November 2009]
  3. The Times, 7 September 1972; p.9; Issue 58573; col F
  4. Debrett's Online, Sir Antony Jay, CVO [Accesssed 20 November 2009]
  5. Antony Jay, ‘How to save the BBC’, 4 July 2008; p.9
  6. Rose D. Friedman, Two Lucky People: Memoirs (University of Chicago Press, 1999) p.475-6
  7. Rose D. Friedman, Two Lucky People: Memoirs (University of Chicago Press, 1999) p.499
  8. According to the BBC Motion Gallery the title of each segment and the date of its broadcast were as follows: Free to Choose:1:Power of Markets (16 February 1980); Free to Choose:2: The Tyranny of Control (23 February 1980); Free to Choose:3:Anatomy of Crisis (1 March 1980); Free to Choose:4: Created Equal (8 March 1980); Free to Choose:5: Who Protects the Consumer? (15 March 1980); Free to Choose:6: How to Cure Inflation (22 March 1980). All but Power of Markets were broadcast with a were broadcast with discussions hosted by Jay.
  9. Rose D. Friedman, Two Lucky People: Memoirs (University of Chicago Press, 1999) p.475
  10. Antony Jay, ‘Confessions of a Reformed BBC Producer’, July 2007; p.15
  11. 'Here is the news (as we want to report it), Telegraph.co.uk, 12:01AM BST 14 Jul 2007
  12. Antony Jay, '[Confessions of a BBC liberal]', The Sunday Times, 12 August 2007
  13. Antony Jay, ‘How to save the BBC’, 4 July 2008; p.11
  14. Antony Jay, ‘How to save the BBC’, 4 July 2008; p.19
  15. Antony Jay, ‘How to save the BBC’, 4 July 2008; p.6
  16. HC, Vol 480 col 1061, 17 October 2008