HERE IS A LESSON in how to aggravate and annoy bumptious busybodies – something we should all endeavour to do more often.
My friend Neil Grant lives in a – to say the least – remote part of Scotland. He was fed up to the back teeth of receiving threatening letters from the Television Licensing Authority. So, having nothing better to do one afternoon… Well, this is an edited transcript of the telephone conversation with a woman at the Licensing Authority. I guarantee that none of what follows is made up.
Hello, you keep sending me letters. However, I have no intention of purchasing a TV license.
But you have to.
Well, you have a television, yes?
Yes, but I don’t watch the BBC.
Even so, you are required to have a license.
But I can’t get a picture.
Perhaps not, but you have the potential to get a picture.
I beg to differ. I’ve spent hours erecting a pole and an aerial, but I can’t get a picture.
Yes, but you have the POTENTIAL to get a picture.
Maybe so, but I can’t actually get a picture.
Well, according to the law, we are supplying a service, and you have to pay for it.
So, what you are saying is that I have to pay for a service you supply, even though I don’t actually use it?
Even though I can’t get a picture?
Yes – because you have the POTENTIAL to get a picture.
But I can’t GET a picture.
But you have the POTENTIAL to get a picture.
So why aren’t you in prison?
Well, you have the POTENTIAL to commit murder. So, applying your logic, you should be locked up.
It’s not the same, is it?
Well… Potentially, it is!
Look, if you have a television set you must have a license. It’s company policy.
It’s not MY policy, lady.
It’s our policy.
It’s not Tesco’s policy, is it? They don’t charge me extra for beans just because I have the POTENTIAL to buy them.
That’s not the same.
I know it’s not the same – I CAN get beans, but I CAN’T get a picture.
Look, let’s start again… Do you have an aerial socket at the back of your television set?
Yes. But I can only watch videos.
Ah! In that case, you should be using a monitor rather than a TV set.
Do they cost same as ordinary TV?
No, they’re more expensive.
So will the BBC be paying for the difference in cost?
No. You have to pay for that yourself.
Hang on. Why should I pay more money not to get a picture, when I already don’t get a picture for free?
Er. Uh… Well, you’re not paying for the actual picture; you are paying for the RIGHT to a picture…
So, I have a RIGHT to a picture?
So, since I don’t have a picture, you must be depriving me of my rights.
It doesn’t work like that.
It doesn’t work at all, lady. That’s why we’re having this conversation.
Look, you are required to have a license. If you don’t, we could take you to court.
You could? Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: you’re going to take me to court, for not paying for something that I don’t get, that I have a right to, but that you are withholding that right?
(Pause) Eh, uh, Yeeeees, I think so
And you expect to win that one?
Well, we’ve won it before.
Not with me you haven’t, lady.
Well, we’ll need to send somebody up to examine your equipment.
(Much stifled mirth!) Now, why would you do that?
We need to check that you can’t get a picture.
Lady, I’m telling you that I can’t get a picture.
But we need to check.
You need to check that I’m not using your goods? Tesco doesn’t send somebody round to make sure I’ve paid for everything.
All the same, we have to send our representatives to visit you.
Okay, so what will they want for breakfast?
Look, lady, I live on a pimple on the carbuncle on the backside of nowhere – it’ll take them a day’s trek just to get here, and there ain’t no hotels.
So, where do I send the bill for bed and breakfast?
A bill? We wouldn’t pay for their accommodation and food.
Because they wouldn’t be taking up your offer.
Ah, yes, but they have the POTENTIAL to sleep at my house and eat my food.
But they won’t be getting bed and breakfast, so we wouldn’t pay it.
So why should I pay when I can’t get a picture?
Look, we’re getting nowhere. Let me bring an engineer on the line… Hello, Ted, this gentleman says he can’t get a picture, even though he has all the equipment.
The engineer asks: You can’t get a picture?
I can’t get a picture.
What’s your postcode? (Neil tells him.) You won’t get a picture in THAT area!
Yes, I know that. And you know that. But would you mind telling that to the dumb dingbat on the line? Hello…? Hello? Hello…?
Okay, it’s funny. But there is an underlying truth here. You are obliged to buy a license to watch the BBC even if you don’t like it, don’t want it or will never use it.
Bad enough, but this obligation comes with the threat of legal action in the form of either a fine or prison.
What’s more, you have to pay up front without knowing exactly what you are going to get for it. (Would you do that if you were, say ordering a meal?) And, to make things worse, if at the end of the year you think you were given a sub-standard service you cannot demand a refund.
In other words, unlike any other business transaction whereby you give money in exchange for what you want to buy, with the BBC it is payment for the potential to receive whatever someone else decides to give you.
Does that seem fair to you? No? Then pick up the phone and give them a hard time!