Will they or Won’t they? There are 48 hours for the broadcasters to decide whether the song “Ding Dong the Witch is dead” should be played if it charts in the top ten this Sunday as it appears it will. The song is currently Number 1 in the iTunes chart and is provisionally in the top 5 – the BBC being a public service broadcaster is in a difficult position.
If they were to choose not to because of pressure from Conservative MPs it would make it a political decision when it’s a factual one. If a song gets into the chart then because, as Paul Gambaccini puts it the song becomes a “Matter of history and reality, and the BBC can’t decide what is reality.” However if they do play it then there will be numerous complaints made that they are being disrespectful to the memory of someone who served this country and could upset her family.
For me they have to play it and man up. It’s all of 51 seconds long and most of the people who will complain, as usual, will not actually listen to the show. The right-wing press are getting very excited over what is effectively a song from a 1939 musical. The BBC need to stand up to them and make it clear that they are not making a political statement – but the BRITISH PUBLIC is! If those who are offended by it were to go out and all buy an alternative record they deemed appropriate then it would be played on the chart and possibly stop the offending song to the top of the charts.
This is nothing new, as in 1977 the Sex Pistols took the top spot on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee with “God save the Queen” when a similar “outcry” was heard by the easily offended. Did it make any difference? No, nothing stopped, changed or mattered that it was number one and the same applies here. It will possibly linger in the top 40 for another week until her funeral is past and forgotten but after that it’s gone. You can almost put money on the fact that people are now buying the song just to annoy the Mail and Telegraph readers to get them to complain – and if the BBC capitulated the song would stay number one until it was played – because we’re that petty!
I obviously didn’t know the woman, but from all I’ve heard this week about her I think Margaret Thatcher would have taken a certain glee at the fact so many people were driven to make a political statement at her death. She appears to have thrived on opposition. In her final speech to Parliament she was not coping very well with it until Dennis Skinner, the veteran Labour MP heckled her and then she bristled to life – she lived for confrontation and an argument. If anything she would have been satisfied that her impact was still being felt twenty-three years after her resignation.
The irony for me is this is about Democracy something which we as a country have fought and will continue to fight for, something that – to give her credit – Thatcher helped to bring to the countries beyond the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe in the late 80s. The charts are a representation of what the public have bought and if the BBC censor the British public on a protest point, then it won’t be the right that complains – things could become even more problematic next week at her funeral with those who feel hard-done-by making themselves heard in more disruptive ways.
Post Script: As of 4pm on Friday 12th April Ben Cooper, head of Radio 1, has decided not to ban the song but will not play it on the chart show. They will instead patronise the public by making a news item out of it. The reasoning behind the move is as follows:
“It is a compromise and it is a difficult compromise to come to. You have very difficult and emotional arguments on both sides of the fence. Let’s not forget you also have a family that is grieving for a loved one who is yet to be buried.”
While I understand this position was not an easy one to come to, Cooper has bowed to the pressure of the critics and has effectively censored the charts and the music buying public. It is a protest by those who feel their lives were affected by Thatcher and by refusing to play the song as part of the charts the BBC are setting a dangerous precedent and inviting more problems next week.