Sunday, May 21, 2023

What should the BBC do about the Eric Gill statue on Broadcasting House?

Yesterday I highlighted the BBC report below about how the statue by Eric Gill on the front of BBC headquarters has been attacked yet again - on my Facebook Page

Man arrested after damage done to Eric Gill statue at BBC headquarters

I asked 

I thought this might happen as soon as I saw the news that they were going to repair the damage from the last time somebody bludgeoned Eric Gill’s statue on Broadcasting House.
Despicable man!
Let’s just look at it from the perspective of “Would the BBC commission the work now if they knew the crimes he committed?”

I got a lot of comments - some of which reference other artists who had done awful things. 

To which my response is doing awful things to adults is one thing, doing awful things to children is quite another - and I repeat

The reality is now people are going to keep coming back to destroy this statue as it's symbolic of "the establishment" turning the other cheek. If the BBC has any sense they will have it removed PDQ. What happens to it can then be discussed - preferably at some considerable length.
"Would the BBC commission the work now if they knew the crimes he committed?”

I received one comment (from Sarah Wimperis) - which I loved and wish I'd written and which I want to highlight here - and in particular one sentence

Take it down, stop using Gill Sans font too. Make space for some work by a kinder, less cruel and perverted artist. If it was a monument to Savill or Rolf Harris it would have been carted off in shame. How about choosing a woman artist to make work to fill the space, at least they seem to have a bit more humanity plus they are monumentally underrepresented (pun intended) I really don’t get why we hang onto stuff made by beasts. History, in a way, is only a small view of our past, it is one perspective, literally his-story, I don’t often say what I think, and it is just my opinion, but Eric Gill was a monster, why not take the thing away and commission something better.
My feelings entirely. I think the BBC should address the Eric Gill issue properly and
  • remove that statue so it cannot be a repeated target for those insulted by its presence on the front of "the establishment" 
  • go away and have a very long discussion about what to do with it. Years would be good.
  • ideally find something much more suitable, much less offensive and more related to the BBC's role in NOT looking away when difficult issues relating to abuse are raised (ref. their past track record re. Jimmy Saville / Rolf Harris / Tim Westwood etc)
Being involved in creative industries does not give you a licence to abuse or allow others to do the same - or to promote others who have abused.

Saville has been removed from all the repeats of Top of the Pops etc. 

What's the difference?

I think the Tate gets it just right

Prospero and Ariel on Tate website


More on this topic for those who want to know more about the contentious topic of Eric Gill, what he did to his daughters and why it's important not to turn the other cheek and to think long and hard about why context is important when looking at art.

Susan Mansi
Making A Mark you might like to listen to part of the 'PM' programme where they interviewed Professor Jean Seaton who is the official historian of the BBC on the subject. I just heard it and while I think she was a bit hesitant and nervous I think on the whole I like what she said. Feature from about 25 minutes in.
  • Prospero and Ariel Statue | BBC Art Collection - interesting how the image is neatly cropped! (Presumably the BBC does not want the page to be buried by Google!)
Over the front entrance of Broadcasting House stand the statues of Prospero and Ariel (from Shakespeare's last play The Tempest), by Eric Gill. Prospero, Ariel's master, stands 10ft tall and is depicted sending Ariel out into the world. Ariel, as the spirit of the air, was felt to be an appropriate symbol for the new mystery of broadcasting.

After Broadcasting House was opened and the statues were installed (1933), concern was voiced about the size of the sprite’s genitalia. A question was tabled in the House of Commons, but the popular story, that Gill was ordered to modify the statue, is not substantiated.

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