What's The Point Of ?

Quentin Letts takes a witty but thought-provoking look at some great British institutions.

show more detailshow less detail

Episodes

SeriesEpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
Comments
0101The Archbishop Of Canterbury20080304
0102The Football Association20080311
0103The Arts Council20080325
0104 LASTMichelin Stars20080401

Are the 'Food Oscars' a useful guide to good cuisine or an anachronistic piece of gastronomic snobbery we could do without?

0201The Privy Council *20090512
0202Formula One *20090519
0203Gibraltar20090526
0204 LASTThe British Zoo20090602
0301The Raf20100817

Quentin Letts asks if we still need an independent air force.

Quentin Letts returns with another series offering a witty and thought-provoking look at some of Britain's cherished insitutions.

Over the next four weeks he casts a quizzical eye over Marylebone cricket club, the public library, the Kennel Club - and the RAF.

All over the country, events are being held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, when the bravery of the Few saved these islands from a Nazi invasion.

Even if some historians have had the temerity to suggest it was actually the navy wot done it, it's an opportune moment for the RAF to remind us of their historic contribution, and why we need them in the future.

Which is why exactly?

Britain was the first country in the world to have an independent air force.

To get rid of it is unthinkable, isn't it?

Defence secretary Liam Fox has promised that the Governments strategic defence review will be ruthless and unsentimental - will he listen to the RAF's critics? They claim that a bloated higher command structure in Whitehall argues for fast jets we cant afford for a war we wont be fighting.

Oh - and its uniforms are horrible and they can't march properly.

Historian Max Hastings, War correspondent Sam Kiley, former defence secretary Geoff Hoon and retired Colonel Tim Collins are among those who join Quentin to ask the question, What is the point of the RAF?

0302Marylebone Cricket Club20100824

Quentin Letts examines the institution responsible for upholding the spirit of cricket.

What's the point of the MCC?

The celebrated historian George Trevelyan once wrote that if the French nobility had only played cricket with their servants they wouldn't have had their chateaux burnt.

Today, with the revolution taking place within the game itself, Quentin Letts casts a quizzical eye over Marylebone cricket club, the English institution responsible for maintaining its laws and upholding its spirit.

It's not easy for MCC to shake off the weight of history.

It resisted the demands of sexual equality almost into the present century, and it is still berated for its exclusiveness.

The programme hears from Rachael Heyhoe-Flint who captained the first English women's team allowed onto the Lord's pitch, and to another former Captain, Mike Gatting, who berates MCC members for a display of very ungentlemanly manners to fellow cricketer, Ian Botham.

The powerhouse of cricket is now in India, the governing body is in Dubai and the focus of the game is shifting from test match to twenty-twenty

But this private members club, the owner of the most famous sports ground in the world , still seeks a place at the table.

Quentin talks to MCC chief executive Keith Bradshaw about what it's doing there - resisting the economic and global

forces of modernity or leading the charge of change?

0303The Public Library20100831

Quentin Letts asks if we have lost sight of the original purpose of public libraries.

Question: Where can you go to reduce your fear of crime, have a massage, ring a church bell, get some information about council tax, and engage in some heavy petting without being told off?

Quentin Letts is surprised and sometimes disheartened by the answer; a library.

Of course, you can borrow a book as well, but campaigners argue that - with some authorities spending less than ten per cent of their library budgets on books -something has gone very wrong with the way the service is being managed.

Public Libraries have come a long way since Manchester opened the first in the 1850s.

But where is the service going? Gleaming new buildings have opened in Newcastle, Whitechapel and Brighton - but more than 80 other libraries have been closed in the last five years; an age of public spending cuts surely means more.

Former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, campaigner Tim Coates and Arts minister Edward Vaizey join Quentin Letts as he asks, what's the point of the public library?

0304 LASTThe Kennel Club20100907

Quentin Letts considers the work of the club which regulates the world of pedigree dogs.

It has a fine dining room and a celebrated collection of canine art.

It has a charitable trust and organises the greatest dog show on earth.

That doesn't stop Quentin Letts asking, "What's the point of the Kennel club?"

The kennel club was founded in 1873 by twelve Victorian gentlemen who liked dogs and dinners in equal measure, and wanted to bring some discipline into the world of dog breeding and showing.

It's struggling to do that today.

Some breeders and showers are in open revolt against Kennel Club health regulations.

Others from the welfare lobby say the Kennel club hasn't been doing enough to tackle the suffering caused to dogs by generations of inbreeding.

Quentin enjoys the sunshine, spectacle and order of a dog show in Worcestershire, goes for a walk with a breathless dog suffering a range of genetic disorders, and enters the hallowed halls of the Kennel club Clarges street as he considers whether this British institution still has the teeth needed to improve the lot of dogs in this country.

0401Lord Lieutenants20120808

Quentin Letts returns with another series offering a witty and thought-provoking look at some of Britain's cherished institutions. Over the next three weeks he casts a quizzical eye over universities, pubs and in the first programme, Lord-Lieutenants.

The office of Lord-Lieutenant was created by Henry VIII in 1547. They were the eyes and the ears of the monarch in the shires when there was a real prospect of sedition and rebellion. They also had the job of raising a militia when the country was under threat. The military functions of Lord-Lieutenants have long gone and their main duties now are to organise official Royal visits to their county. With Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee this year Lord-Lieutenants have perhaps never been busier, or had such a high profile. But how many could name the Lord-Lieutenant in their area, or could even explain what their job is, or how they're appointed? In an era where democratic accountability and transparency are increasingly important, what's the point of Lord-Lieutenants?

Quentin Letts asks if the Queen still needs 98 personal representatives around the country

0402University20120815

As A-level results come out, Quentin Letts asks, 'What's the point of university?'.

"The noblest task of a university is to encourage its students in the disinterested and relentless search for truth" - so said the Archbishop of York in 1953. But the search for truth doesn't necessarily lead to a job and could land today's students in debt until their fifties, so what is the point of university in double-dip Britain?

As students in England anticipate their A' level results tomorrow, Quentin Letts canvasses the views of people within and beyond the ivory towers about the value of a university education. Is it becoming purely a means to an economic goal, a route to a better job, or is it an end in itself, learning for learning's sake, the true benefits of which cannot be appreciated in advance?

0403 LASTPubs20120822

With 12 pubs closing every week, Quentin Letts asks what's the point of pubs?

They've been with us for centuries and are the heart of local communities, but are we falling out of love with pubs? Since 2001 almost 10,000 have called time and pulled their final pint. Those that survive often now look more like restaurants. With beer sales falling and more of us preferring to drink at home, Quentin Letts asks what is the point of pubs?

0501The Chief Rabbi20130724

Quentin Letts questions the continuing relevance of the office of the Chief Rabbi.

Sir Jonathan Sacks stands down this August after more than 20 years in a job that some people have described as tougher than the Archbishop of Canterbury's - but with better jokes.

The office of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the United kingdom and the Commonwealth - to give it its full title - has always had close links to the political establishment.

First Edward V11 and now David Cameron have spoken of "My Chief Rabbi." A seat in the House of Lords seems to go with the territory these days. In September, Ephraim Mirvis will become the next Chief Rabbi, with ready access to the stars of the Cabinet and the Media. So what does the Chief Rabbi do? How much does it cost to run his office?

The full title is important. It's especially important to Reform and Liberal Jews who point out that the Chief Rabbi (of the United Hebrew Congregation of the United kingdom and the Commonwealth) doesn't represent them. In fact, he represents only about half of Jews affiliated to a synagogue. The fastest growing Jewish denomination is the ultra Orthodox - and he doesn't officially lead them either.

So what's the point of the Chief Rabbi? Historian Geoffrey Alderman thinks that, if there used to be a point to the office, there is no longer; Michael Howard thinks the point of the Chief Rabbi is to present a moderate religious voice in a world of growing religious extremism, and Vanessa Feltz thinks it's so that she has someone - other than herself - to argue with.

Producer: Rosie Dawson.

0502The Tate20130731

Quentin Letts asks how much Britain benefits from a national collection of art.

This year Tate Liverpool celebrated it's 25th birthday. Together with Tate St Ives they represent Tate's attempt to make available to a wider public the national collection of british and international art held at Tate Britain and Tate Modern. When Henry Tate donated his collection of modern art to the nation at the end of the 19th century he could not have envisaged how Tate would grow into multi-million pound institution with almost 7 million visitors a year to its London galleries. But in an age of austerity with public funding of the arts being squeezed, Quentin Letts asks how much does Britain benefit from a national collection of art and who should pay for it? In fact what is the point of Tate?

Producer: Amanda Hancox.

0503Lawns20130807

Quentin Letts examines the British love affair with lawns.

We British are obsessed with our lawns. It's estimated there are between 15 and 18 million of them and every year we spend hundreds of millions of pounds and dedicate countless hours on them in pursuit of the perfect striped manicure. The roots of our love affair with lawns go deep in to our nation's history. The first record of what we would recognise as a lawn was in the 17th century and along with our passion for cricket, bowls, football and lawn tennis we've spread the art of lawn-making around the world. But at what cost? With pesticides, fertilisers, all that water and the carbon footprint of hour upon hour of mowing some would argue that lawns are anything but green. And with so many other things to fill our time, is it really worth all that cost and effort to produce mown concrete? What is the point of lawns?

0504 LASTLord Mayor Of London20130814

Does London need a Lord Mayor in a state coach now it has Boris on a bike?

On the second Saturday in November the Lord Mayor of London follows a time honoured route from the City's square mile to the Royal Courts of Justice Westminster where he swears an oath of loyalty to the Monarch. In days of old this was perhaps more necessary than it is today - the Lord Mayor's power rivalled that of the King; he held the purse strings of the City. The Capital's wealth could fund the King's expensive trips abroad - to Agincourt, for instance.

Today the Lord Mayor's role is part ceremonial, part ambassadorial. He represents the City's financial and business sectors. Should he therefore use his office to speak out more about the banking scandals ? As head of the London Corporation, he oversees the spending of the City's historic wealth - the City's Cash. How is it spent? Is it used well?

And does London need a Lord Mayor in a State coach any more now it has Boris on a bike?

Quentin Letts asks, What is the point of the Lord Mayor of London?

0601The National Trust20140826

Protector of the landscape, pickler of our history, a job creation scheme for the retired?

Quentin Letts casts a quizzical eye over a cherished national institution. The National Trust was formed in 1895 to make the "life enhancing virtues of pure earth, clean air and blue sky" available for all, particularly for the underprivileged poor. To this end, it has acquired 1% of the land and 750 miles of our coastline. It's also taken over responsibility for the upkeep of hundreds of stately homes from the gentry, even though many continue to live in them, tax free. A socialist redistribution of wealth, or subsidised housing for the well-to-do?

On summer afternoons the houses are "brought to life" for swarms of visitors who admire their treasures, sniff the mandatory begonias, and eat coffee and walnut cake in their tea shops, staffed by the National Trust's vast army of unpaid workers.

Just occasionally the Trust enlists its Middle England supporters to campaign in support of their conservation principles. Governments take note: the National Trust has more members than all the political parties put together.

Would Octavia Hill, recognise the organisation she helped to found 120 years ago? Protector of the landscape, pickler of our history, a job creation scheme for the retired? What today is the point of the National Trust?

Producer: Rosie Dawson.

0602The Methodists20140902

Quentin Letts asks if the Methodists have a future.

They've lost a third of their members in the last decade - Quentin Letts asks whether the Methodists in Britain have a future.

In the nineteenth century the Methodists were a religious and social force in the land; shaking up a complacent Church of England, preaching in the open air and singing from the rafters, organising the masses into trade unions and laying the foundations of the modern labour party. Today, if current trends are anything to go by, they are heading for extinction.

Why has this happened? Have the Methodists lost their radical edge, sold out by watering down their attitudes to alcohol? Are they victims of their own success - do we now all take for granted the values equality and social justice which they communicated? Is their singing not what it used to be? What's the point of the Methodists?

Producer: Rosie Dawson.

0603The Royal Warrant20140909

Quentin Letts investigates the companies that serve the royals 'by appointment'.

Over 800 companies enjoy the right to display a royal crest and the words 'by appointment'. They range from a chimney-sweep to a maker of helicopters. The Royal Warrant has been a much-prized accolade to trade since the middle ages - but what's it for? Quentin Letts talks to the fixer of the royal microphones, the purveyor of the royal canapes and the supplier of the royal salmon-flies - not to mention the royal ratcatcher - and asks them why they're special.

Producer: Peter Everett.

0604 LASTBritish Board Of Film Classification20140916

We can now watch whatever we want, whenever we want. So what is the point of the BBFC?

The BBFC has been going just over a century. In the early days directors could suffer the censor's snips for a long list of transgressions - unnecessary exhibition of underclothing, indecorous dancing and even talk of the relationship between capital and labour. These are more liberal, even libertarian times. We gave up the blue pencil for books and the theatre a long time ago. Now the "C" in BBFC stands for "classification" not "censor." Cinemas are struggling and the commercial power of the public picture house has been bypassed by the ungovernable internet. We can now also watch whatever we want, whenever we want to without the BBFC looking over our shoulder. So what is the point of the BBFC?

Producer: Phil Pegum.

0701The Met Office20150805

Quentin Letts begins a new series casting a critical but amicable eye across institutions at the heart of British life, asking the question 'What's the Point Of...?

From it's origins after a sea disaster 150 years ago, its importance during World War II, to its daily weather predictions, the Met Office has been part British life for a long time but as Quentin finds out it's future is part of a complex debate involving a £97 million super-computer, the accuracy of long term weather predictions and the science of climate change.

Is the Met Office a valuable national asset providing essential and possibly life-saving information about severe weather or an expensive liability, dropping forecasting clangers like the barbecue summer and missing the Great Storm of 1987?

With help from Met Office veterans, independent weather forecasters and a word or two or advice from those trusty weather folklore experts - the farmers, Quentin asks "What's the point of the Met Office. 1/4

Producer: Vince Hunt

Series Producer: Amanda Hancox.

0702The Army Reserve20150812

Reservists: cut-price army or experts ready to respond? Quentin Letts considers.

A government review of defence spending provides a timely backdrop for Quentin Letts to ask what's the point of the Army Reserve?

They've served in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years and more than 30 volunteers have given their lives for their country, but is the Reserve a way of getting an army on the cheap in these times of budget cuts and austerity?

Britain's had a volunteer force since the Middle Ages but the modern Reserve was created in 1908, bringing together militias and Yeomanry to create a trained military back-up. Then called the Territorial Army, Reservists served with distinction in WW1, WW2, Korea and Suez but were relegated to home duties during the Cold War becoming the brunt of jokes about 'Dad's Army'.

Renamed the Army Reserve three years ago, today's part-timers have to be as fit as their comrades in the Regular Army and ready to servce in combat zones.

As the government plans to cut the number of full-time soldiers and boost part-time replacements, Quentin asks is this wise and will we be fighting fit to face our enemies, whether the threat comes from land, sea or cyber-space?

Producer: Vince Hunt

Series Producer: Amanda Hancox.

0703Rospa20150819

Quentin Letts reports on the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents was founded a century ago and within a year had cut road deaths by 70%. How did they do it? By telling people to face oncoming traffic. There are no such dramatic quick fixes left today, but RoSPA fights on. They're currently campaigning against window blinds with dangling cords (a strangulation hazard) and in favour of tougher penalties for using mobile phones while driving. Tufty he Squirrel has crossed over to the other side (holding Mummy's hand) never to return. Elf 'n' safety has become a bit of a joke. So - now that we all clunk-click without having to be told - what, asks Quentin Letts, is the point of RoSPA? 3/4

Producer: Peter Everett

Series Producer: Amanda Hancox.

0704The Book Of Common Prayer20150826

Quentin Letts examines some of Britain's cherished institutions.