BBC policy on mail handling does not prevent mail being hand delivered to the gate – and advice on handling protests suggests a BBC security representative makes themselves available to hear grievances.
Last week I made a trip to BBC Studios at Elstree to deliver an open letter to the Executive Producer of Holby City, Simon Harper. Signed by 280 people, the letter asked Mr Harper and others at the BBC to listen to what people were saying about the December episodes that brought the end of Berena, and to make some commitments to being more mindful of potentially vulnerable LGBTQ+ audiences when planning these sorts of stories.
I emailed Mr Harper the week before, to let him know about my visit and to ask if he would meet me to discuss what had happened – events on screen can’t be undone, but my goal now is to ensure that the harm done to fans before Christmas 2018 isn’t done again. I got no response. With my travel plans finalised, a couple of days before going, I contacted the Senior Executive Producer at BBC Studios, Kate Oates, who oversees Casualty and EastEnders as well as Holby City. No response.
As I said in my blog last week, when I arrived, it seemed that the security staff at the gate had been briefed to refuse the letters (one copy for Kate, and one for Simon). Confirming my name, the man I spoke to said: “We understand that you’ve been advised of correct procedures for the BBC. So we will not be able to take them.”
Having now seen BBC policy on receiving mail, it seems there is not a blanket ban on receiving hand-delivered letters. Although on-screen personalities are advised not to go to the gate to meet unexpected visitors with gifts without first checking them out, it is not the case that security staff on the gate cannot accept mail. In fact, the BBC has guidelines for the receipt of hand-delivered mail: they suggest that extra vigilance is paid with regard to letters and packages handed in, and that they may be put through screening. There is no suggestion that they be refused.
While I was at Elstree, I also met with two protestors who were there for a second time as sad clowns, silently protesting that Berena Deserved Better. BBC policy is probably designed for larger (and more aggressive) protests, but it is interesting to note that the guidance suggests that protestors’ grievances be heard, with the possibility of a BBC security representative meeting with a nominated protestor to discuss the issue. From what I understand, on both of the clowns’ visits, staff at the gate have approached to ask what they are doing, and have been friendly, but they are unlikely to be BBC staff: the contractor Interserve has run facilities management for the BBC since 2014.
Given that hand-delivered mail can typically be accepted at gates and receptions on BBC premises, and in light of what I was told on the gate last week, I have to conclude that Simon Harper and/or Kate Oates instructed the security staff to refuse the open letter – but did not have the courtesy to inform me that this would be the case before I travelled down from Liverpool. In light of the BBC’s institutional suggestions for action in response to protest, and given the specificities of this protest, such a refusal is even more disappointing. It does, of course, marry well with the BBC’s refusal to engage properly with complaints made about Berena and Holby’s representation of women-loving women. This is not, though, how the BBC brands itself, and we are entitled to expect better.