It’s no wonder that the BBC gets it in the neck, especially with regard to the issue of licences and people over 75.

Consider the following statement from Clare Sumner, the corporation’s director of policy, who, incidentally, snaffles £170,000 a year for her no doubt onerous but essential duties: “We are recruiting a specific group of people who will pay support visits to this group and help them understand what the system is and help them apply. This will be a different cohort to people who enforce the licence fee.”

Leaving to one side her bloody patronising tone, and the special circle of hell reserved for people who use “cohort” thus, and the fact that the “cash-strapped BBC” is busy recruiting more people, what especially chills is the phrase “support visits”. Can you, as someone over 75, expect a preliminary call to alert you to the imminence of a “support visitor” or will their presence be announced by a peremptory and invasive use of the door knocker?

It smacks of nothing so much as threatening behaviour and sounds quite the opposite of supportive. Still, if it means that the much-touted BBC Sounds app can continue to draw in the younger demographic, as Clare Sumner would no doubt describe it, then I suppose it’s all right to go around menacing older people with words of succour and guidance. I’m sure Lord Hall would approve. I suspect, though, that the app’s audience is likely to be described as “unnewsed”, those people who “actively avoid” the news, according to the Reuters Institute. Well, I suppose wilful ignorance is bliss.

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Finally, nouns being mangled into verbs. On last week’s BBC’s Gardener’s World: “She has been allotmenting for 10 years.” The perpetrator of that certainly deserves a support visit.

Jonathan Bouquet is an Observer columnist



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