The best and the worst of the BBC

View Blog

The best and the worst of the BBC

We are currently seeing the best and the worst of the BBC. The best has been the corporation’s brilliant and courageous coverage of the invasion of Ukraine, led by Clive Myrie and Lyse Douset. The worst has been the wasteful and totally unnecessary over-expenditure on the new set of EastEnders, which is proving a gift to those who want to abolish the licence fee.

Brick Lane, LondonThe astonishing cost of rebuilding Albert Square, estimated at an eye-watering £87million, has rightly been criticised by MPs and the National Audit Office. It is four years overdue and £27 million over budget, yet it is unlikely that anyone will notice the difference. In trying to explain why the new-look Albert Square cost so much, producers revealed that they had to ship specially-made bricks in from India.

This staggering revelation came from Steve Groves, the set’s chief designer, who told the Radio Times that the fictional Walford “is built of London Stock bricks, which in the 19th century were produced by lots of clay pits around the country. They aren’t made in this country anymore.”

That is complete nonsense, of course. But the story gets worse. After spending £44,000 on sample bricks from Brussels, the BBC concluded that those bricks used inferior materials. Instead, they ordered the bricks from India, then paid a team of “scenic agers” to make them look convincingly late 19th-century. The ageing process took more than a year.

The BBC’s conduct in this sorry saga has been wrong on so many levels. To start with, we at York Handmade are now manufacturing London Stock bricks. We could have supplied EastEnders with the bricks they needed at a fraction of the cost of those imported from India. That is galling enough, but what is really upsetting is the conditions under which those bricks from India are made. They are akin to modern slavery which, ironically, is an issue that the BBC – quite rightly – campaigns against.

London Stock brickLet’s be clear. There is a large defined area across India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh as well as Sub-Saharan Africa and the Far East, where bricks are manufactured seasonally, in large numbers, and more often than not using bonded or child labour. Those poor individuals making these bricks work under extreme conditions with little or no regard to health and safety, awful sanitation, often with little or no pay. This is totally unacceptable in today’s business world.

Keith Aldis, the chief executive of the Brick Development Association, the influential brick manufacturing industry’s trade association, commented: “It is up to everyone to check the provenance of the bricks they buy, supply or use but this can prove complicated, with some manufacturers and re-sellers sometimes deliberately hiding the source of their clay bricks or evading simple questions as to the provenance and production methods used in the manufacture of the clay bricks they sell. Some suppliers are simply re-branding poor quality bricks with heart-warming British-sounding names, in order to associate themselves with the good reputation of UK clay brick and the potentially lucrative UK clay brick market. The cost of transporting these bricks, often halfway around the world, is offset by the use of cheap and often unpaid bonded labour. And of course, transporting bricks halfway around the world also has a significant negative impact on use of carbon which is ultimately affecting climate change.”

At York Handmade, we are very proud to have been honoured for our high ethical standards - as the brick industry fights back against the widespread use of child labour and slavery in South East Asia. We have been awarded the Brickmakers Quality Charter to underline our moral standards and green credentials. The award comes from the Brick Development Association, the trade association for the UK’s brick industry. This accolade means a great deal to us. We take huge pride, both in our environmentally friendly brick-making process and in the way we treat our loyal and hard-working staff. Sadly this approach is not shared by some of our competitors.

Anyway, back to the BBC. Had those working on the new set of EastEnders done even the most basic research, they would have realised that they could have sourced the bricks they needed from within the UK – thereby saving money, alleviating modern slavery, reducing the project’s carbon footprint and avoiding a hugely embarrassing appearance in front of an all-party committee of MPs. Quite needlessly, they have given those anti-BBC campaigners a stick with which to beat the corporation. What a mess.