Radio and BBC Radio 4 have been my main source of information throughout my entire life. It has been my favorite source of entertainment and news since I was a teenager, through my political career, and up to today.
On Thursday, the House of Lords is going to be discussing the future of BBC. I won’t be able to take part, because I’m chairing another meeting: but if I could, I’d be loud in my praises of the Corporation.
But I’d also have some stern criticism. Radio 4 is so focused on addressing diversity and gender, as well as identity politics, that it neglects all-embracing inclusion.
People living outside of the well-off, rigidly-right-on professionals, which is almost everyone in London, do not feel part of the station.
If you’re not part of the self-proclaimed metropolitan elite, you are unlikely to hear your views reflected. The BBC seems to ignore the obvious fact that ‘B’ stands for British — and its remit is to broadcast to the whole country, not just a few fashionable streets around Islington.
Radio 4 is so focused on addressing diversity and gender issues, as well as identity politics, that it neglects all-embracing inclusion
Looe and Lowestoft radio listeners also desire to be entertained and informed with relevant programmes to their lives. And though I’m all for having my attitudes challenged, I’m fed up with feeling that I’m too old, too provincial or too traditional when I listen to Radio 4.
The station is now obsessed with preaching to me. The Food Programme spends the majority of its time criticizing British tastebuds as being too monocultural and stoic.
Radio 4 seems to think that my food must be included in the culture wars. I’m almost tempted to wonder why I even bother turning on. I find it increasingly frustrating to listen when the station tells me why.
That’s never more true than when I’m listening to the comedy shows. My goal is to have a good time and share a few one-liners with friends. What I get is stand-up comedy stars competing for their brilliance.
The News Quiz contributors believe posturing and humor are obligatory, while jokes can be optional. From some, there’s no irreverence or mischief, just sneering.
While others do occasionally deliver a few moments of wisdom, they’re often sandwiched in between serious rants about government policy. By the end of half an hour, I feel I’ve been made to work too hard for a smattering of chuckles.
The wickedness of The News Quiz is what I miss, as was Linda Smith and Alan Coren. When politicians of every stripe were welcome and no one cared about being virtuous, it was a great place to be.
A lot of contribitors at The Now Show, for example, think that jokes and posturing are obligatory.
And though the jokes were hit-and-miss, Week Ending on a Friday night was a regular treat — with punchlines coming so fast that if you laughed at one, you missed the next.
This kind of show is no longer on the airwaves. Instead, it’s replaced frequently by self-indulgent, self-centred programs that only interest the presenters.
When Tim Davie became director-general in September last year, he told his staff that his priority was to ensure BBC output ‘represents every part of this country’.
It was the right message — but it isn’t happening. We listeners will instead be expected to focus on the cultural politics obsession and limit our laughter to those subjects.
Common sense tells us that won’t work. The BBC’s insistence on being right will lead to more people switching off.
Radio 4 must be restored to its former glory. The station is a cornerstone in my life. It was even called the Home Service back then.
My earliest memory is that my mom picked me up and took me to dance around our Sheffield home to The Archers theme music when I was just four years old.
David Blunkett was blind and found companionship on BBC Radio 4 when he became a radio presenter. But he is now critical of the station’s recent wakefulness.
Of course, I’ve loved the show ever since. The jaunty and sweetly-dated song never fails to warm me. Even through months of lockdown when some storylines were shaky, I continued to listen with loyalty.
It’s an important strand of our national heritage, and of my family history, too. When the first of my four sons was born in the 1970s, I tried to do my share of the childcare — and I remember being aghast that babies thought they could cry during The Archers.
My mother was right, so I followed her lead and danced around with my boys, singing along to the song while listening to the dialogue.
Recently, I was asked to name my favourite Archers episode and I picked one from that era: when a young Shula Archer (Judy Bennett) got frisky outdoors one summer’s evening with her boyfriend Simon from the local paper.First she scolded him for suggesting a liaison in the middle of a cornfield — ‘Simon! Farmers hate people like you trampling it!’ — and then she wondered if he had a picnic blanket in the car.
‘I don’t think the National Farmers’ Union worries much about the edges of cornfields,’ was Simon’s response.
I loved the innocence of that scene, with its echoes of Cider With Rosie, and also the delicate way it reflected the growing influence of women’s liberation. Shula demanded that Shula get a rug. Simon had originally proposed the hanky panky. It’s a perfect illustration of how good drama can respond to social change, without attempting to dictate it.
This latest accusation of the Corporation is for its perceived biases, wakingness and insensitivity to the public.
Yet every Radio 4 drama I’ve heard lately has failed to understand this. I feel as though the scripts and characters are lecturing me. The storylines also seem like propaganda. I’m not being entertained, I’m being culturally re-educated with all the subtlety of a steam hammer.
Even worse are the newscasters. They start off preaching — and frequently end up screeching.
It isn’t a new trend. This trend was first observed by me as Education Secretary over 20 years ago when I warned of slipping standards.
‘I fear that a lifetime’s pleasure is being replaced by second-rate and poorly produced dramas which try too hard to be clever and seem too often to reflect the need to meet a quota,’ I wrote as far back as 1999.
I was also warning that people don’t like the torrent of trailers that promote the new features. It gives me no pleasure that I was right on both counts — standards have been sinking lower for 20 years and those trailers are more annoying than ever.
It’s a great shame that the BBC didn’t listen to our complaints back then. We who criticise the Beeb are invariably its biggest fans, because we’re the ones who care enough to speak up.
Younger, more fickle listeners don’t bother pointing out problems — they just tune out and listen to podcasts instead. Auntie can be her worst enemy. She shuts down to constructive criticism.
Let me now offer some suggestions. Please, Radio 4, remember your patient — but often exasperated — audience who have stood so loyally by you all these years.