My sister-in-law Deborah has been in touch to tell me of a sorry tale involving Brighton Nudist Beach, and Alison Trowsdale and Hanna White, two BBC employees committed to the old maxim "the customer is always wrong".
Deborah is a researcher who specialises in recent pop culture, and was surprised to read on the BBC's "On This Day" site: "August 1979 - Brighton Bares All". There followed an article about Brighton nudist beach, which opened in April 1980. The article referred to a decision made in 1979 to give the beach the go-ahead, but the "Brighton Bares All" title rather suggested that the beach opened in '79 and the only reference to the 1980 opening date was tucked away under a heading entitled "In Context". Odd.
Some months later, Deborah bought a birthday card for a young relative, born in 1979. It featured so-called events of 1979 - a "Year You Were Born" theme card - and announced: "Britain's first nudist beach opened in Brighton". Intrigued, Deborah phoned the manufacturers.
"But it must be true!" she was told: "The BBC says so - August 1979, on this day, 'Brighton Bares All'!" Further investigation proved that the BBC's On This Day article had led quite a lot of others up the garden path. Surely it made more sense to commemorate the anniversary of the beach's opening day - 1st April 1980?
But the BBC doesn't like the 1980s. Bizarrely, a BBC Oxford online article, this time about the World Wide Web, touts 1990 as the pivotal year - and the trivial fact that the web was invented in 1989 is tucked away in the small print!
Anyway Deborah wrote to the BBC about the Brighton nudist beach...
Ridiculous article - it gives the impression that the beach opened in August 1979. There was no nudity on that beach until the opening day in 1980. The BBC really needs to get over its 70s fixation.
And BBC employee Alison Trowsdale replied:
The report "Brighton bares all" was written to coincide with the date the local authority made the decision to designate part of Brighton beach for nudists. It clearly states that the beach officially opened 1 April 1980.
"Officially" opened? Actually, the beach "opened" on 1 April 1980. Deborah wrote again, reasoning:
The Brighton nudists' beach article is headed "August 1979 - Brighton Bares All" and only states some way in that the beach officially opened on 1st April 1980. It did not OFFICIALLY open on 1st April 1980, it OPENED on 1st April 1980 - I was there.
The article is, I'm afraid, misleading and has led to inaccurate information appearing on several websites and a range of "Year You Were Born" greetings cards - all stating that the beach opened in 1979. I have made enquiries, and the BBC has been cited as the source of information on each and every occasion.
Brighton and Hove Council's article on the beach does not even mention 1979...
"On This Day" for 1st April contains no mention of the beach's big opening in 1980.
I do wish that you would not reject my complaint out of hand. The BBC is supposed to serve, not press its bizarre 1970s obsessed view of the past on to the general public. We had quite enough of the warped view with the "I Love 1970s" TV series.
No answer came the stern reply. Deborah wrote again and received this reply from one Hanna White:
Your latest email to On This Day is not being ignored at all. Alison Trowsdale works part-time for the BBC and is not currently at work.
Her initial response to you was not dismissive but sought to point out that all the facts of the story were there to be read.
However we have decided to changed one word in the first paragraph of the article from "has" to "will" for greater clarification.
Finally Deborah decided to make a formal complaint.
This was a trivial matter. Deborah had evidence that the article had led to confusion. But the BBC dug its heels in and conceded only to the point of making a grudging, tiny, alteration to the article. The article is still open to misinterpretation. Web surfers are notorious for skimming - we do it ourselves!
BBC information should be clear. The article should be dated 1 April 1980, beginning with the tale of the beach's opening day, and then telling the background story.
Deborah has recently suffered two bereavements, and has handed over the reins to myself and the 80s Actual group. We think it is best to publicise the BBC's attitude - and, although this is a trivial incident, we think it is important. It indicates the BBC's attitude to the public, and also its ridiculous attempts to glorify the 1970s.
We shall be monitoring!