The statue was proposed by the George Orwell Memorial Trust, run by former Labour politician Ben Whitaker, and backed by names including Rowan Atkinson, Melvyn Bragg, John Humphrys, James Naughtie and Orwell’s son Richard Blair. More than £60,000 has been raised to have Martin Jennings, the sculptor of the bronze of John Betjeman at St Pancras and of Philip Larkin in Hull, create it.
As reported in the Guardian yesterday, “Orwell worked for the BBC between 1941 and 1943 as a talks producer for the Eastern service, writing what the BBC describes as “essentially propaganda for broadcast to India”. He is said to have based the infamous Room 101 from his novel 1984 on a BBC conference room.”
Mr Jennings said: “George Orwell is regarded as something of a patron saint of political journalism so his presence near the BBC could surely act as some kind of inspiration to all independent-minded broadcasters. […] The point was not particularly to refer to Orwell’s own history as a journalist for the BBC which he was for a couple of years during the second world war – he resigned as he found it rather tedious and bureaucratic. But he was such a paragon of political journalism, an example of how it should be done. I realised London was lacking a statue of this great man, and wanted to find a location with resonance … It was all going smoothly and then there was a sudden hiatus, at which point it was decided that the statue should be close to but not literally on the BBC premises.”
Lady Bakewell, who is backing the campaign, said the BBC should “honour the greatest British journalist of his day” with a statue in the piazza outside the new Broadcasting House in Oxford Circus, central London. A BBC spokesperson said: “We cannot put the statue immediately outside New Broadcasting House as the BBC piazza already has artwork by Mark Pimlott built into the pavement which would be obscured. We are however working with Westminster city council and those involved with the statue to find an appropriate location nearby.”
The trust is currently waiting for Westminster city council to give planning permission to erect the statue in Portland Place, nearby but not on the BBC’s premises.
According to Baroness Bakewell, Mark Thompson, the Corporation’s outgoing director general, told her the statue could not be erected on BBC premises because Orwell was “too Left-wing”:
“I met Mark Thompson at a BBC reception and mentioned the project. He said, ‘Oh no, Joan, we can’t possibly. It’s far too Left-wing an idea.”
George Orwell tendered his resignation from the BBC “because for some time past I have been conscious that I was wasting my time and the public money on doing work that produces no results”, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the proposal to place a statue of the author on the broadcaster’s premises has been rejected.