Saturday, November 15, 2008

children in need of morally competent adults

Sir Terry Wogan
In today's Telegraph, Christopher Howse speaks of the moral philosopher G.E.M. (Elisabeth) Anscombe, starting by quoting her entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Biography - "all her children were told how to prepare meals".

Sometimes it feels that Minora and I are drifting apart, possibly like many adolescent girls and their Dads. There've been times when I should have been the bridge-builder after a spat, but in reality it is she who has eased the path with a culinary concoction, which may come from a range of books from my Granny's 1920 book of "Plain Cookery Recipes" from the Edinburgh School of Cookery and Domestic Economy to Maxima's Weightwatchers' Cookbook.

Food can be a strong tie between parents and children - case in point: parents passing fish and chips to their children through the railings of Rawmarsh community School in South Yorkshire when Jamie Oliver was brought in to oversee a school meals policy which, while it may have been ideologically healthy, was not at all popular...and I'd like to know why the Government hasn't yet noticed that chips are in fact healthy; they're made from potatoes.

Unfortunately, sometimes ties from children to parents aren't always reciprocated. During this year's Children in Need telethon, Terry Wogan said, "if you've read the papers over the last couple of weeks, you've an idea what can happen to children". This, I believe, was a reference to the awful case of "Baby P", a 17-month-old child who was murdered after being visited 60 times by services in Haringey, the borough in London where Victoria Climbié was slaughtered under the gaze of social and other services - and six months after former Haringey social worker Nevres Kemal wrote of her fears that another Victoria Climbié situation was waiting to happen to the then Secretary of State for Health Patricia Hewitt, copying her letter to then junior health ministers Rosie Winterton and Ivan Lewis, as well as local MP David Lammy.

Children in Need started in 1980 as "the telethon", presented by Terry Wogan, Sue Lawley and Esther Rantzen. The latter went on to found Childline, which played an invaluable role in providing children with the means to report abuse; but she came to regret that the concept of child protection was hijacked by "insidious jobsworths" who had an agenda to suppress competitive games and any risky activity whatever.

Of the three, only Wogan has remained with the yearly event, now in its 28th year, quickly replacing histrionics with hilarity - probably the most efficient way to break down barriers and facilitate empathy with people who are different to us.

And to open wallets. Last year, Children in Need raised £19 million on the night. It had been widely forecast that in the light of the economic downturn a more modest total should be anticipated, but by the end of the night of 14th November Sir Terry's humour, humility and happy surrealism had helped garner nearly £21 million - with the help of many friends, for example the soap opera Eastenders' take on several West End musicals:

The thing is, there seem to be more children in need every year. But what are they in need of? In some cases the answer is simple - motorised wheelchairs that enable participation in sports, for example, or nurses to look after one brave young chap who had survived a difficult birth with multiple disabilities, to be a source of inspiration and love to his family.

One vignette showed a boy in his early teens who had all but given up on his Dad, who was addicted to crack. One had the uncomfortable impression, in the light of recent news, that the lad was representative of a tsunami of anomie; but this young man was working to make his community a better place - he wasn't content to assume the victim status that much of the mainstream media demand in return for fifteen minutes of fame.

It occurs to me that Children in Need is unusual in the modern BBC, because it not only assumes but demands moral givens: that children have a right to childhood, and we have a duty to protect it. It is beset by many slings and arrows, for example the illusion that sexual "freedom" (which usually refers to men's freedom to love and leave women) has benefits which trickle down to children. While Ludwig Wittgenstein, Elisabeth Anscombe's mentor, averred that ethical statements belonged in the same realm as art and aesthetics, Anscombe beleived that, for instance, if you owed money, your obligation to repay the debt was as much a fact as the debenture's existence. She wrote in 1972:
If Christian standards of chastity were widely observed the world would be enormously much happier. Our world, for example, is littered with deserted wives - partly through that fantastic con that went on for such a long time about how it was part of liberation for women to have dead easy divorce: amazing - these wives often struggling to bring up young children or abandoned to loneliness in middle age. And how many miseries and hang-ups are associated with loss of innocence in youth! What miserable messes people keep on making, to their own and others' grief, by dishonourable sexual relationships!
It's not necessary to take such an overtly Christian view to maintain a moral outlook: Kant's moral imperative was categorical, ie one should do the right thing regardless of one's inclinations, and it should be assumed that any single situation which presents a moral dilemma must be addressed as if the solution to that situation constitute a universal law.

Maxima once suggested to me that the conflicts I have with Minora point to the freedom she has to have such conflicts. Freedom sometimes seems like British gold reserves - non-existent, but still widely regarded as valuable. But, year after year, Children in Need shows that many young people aren't content with fools' illusions - they want the real thing. And while Sir Terry is in charge of Children in Need, nothing but the real thing will do.

The Bill Children in Need 2008

BBC newsreaders perform songs from Mama Mia! Children in need 2008

Eastenders tribute to the Beatles, Children in Need 2007

BBC newsreaders perform All that Jazz from Chicago Children in Need 2007

Eastenders tribute to Queen for Children in Need

Coronation Street Stars perform songs from Oliver! for Children in Need

Children in Need - have a read, then come back and click on Pudsey Bear

1 comment:

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