No changes at Thought for the Day

Gwyneth Williams Gwyneth Williams thinks the extension of The World At One works

Related Stories

Gwyneth Williams spoke about Radio 4 in front of some of its most loyal listeners, who also happen to be some of its fiercest critics.

The Radio 4 controller was at an event on Tuesday, organised by the Voice of the Viewer and Listener in central London and chaired by former World Tonight host Robin Lustig.

About 50 people, mostly pensioners, asked pointed questions of the controller, who has been in the job since September 2010.

First on the agenda was her ambition to build on Radio 4's arts and culture output on the network and her often-repeated phrase to 'throw fireworks' into the schedule.

Not everyone agrees that Williams is pursuing a high-brow strategy. One comment, read out by Lustig, voiced the belief that the controller was 'dumbing down' Radio 4 and is broadcasting programmes against Reithian values.

It was a reference to her decision to broadcast Tony Harrison's controversial poem V later this month.

The poem, written in 1985, is highly charged, personal and contains extensive swearing and sexually explicit language. Harrison wrote it in response to discovering that football hooligans had desecrated his parents' gravesite in Leeds.

The poem also touches on religion, politics and the miners' strike.

Williams defended her decision, explaining that the poem has 'new relevance'. The poem references cultural divides in the Beeston area of Leeds, where one of the 7/7 London bombers grew up.

Listeners will be given 'copious and careful warnings' before it airs in a late slot, as well as additional commentary which will put the poem into context.

She added that it's her job to occasionally broadcast 'contentious and challenging' programmes when there is justification for it.

Will Self rumours

On the subject of controversy, Lustig asked about rumours that she wanted to bring Will Self on board as her first writer in residence.

It's a subject about which she had little to say, aside from acknowledging that he's a 'brilliant writer'.

There has been press speculation that Self is too busy to commit to the job, although it has been reported that he has met with Williams to discuss it. But the controller would not be drawn: 'I have absolutely no comment on this,' was her only response to the rumours.

The discussion got heated when it switched to using on-air trails, often accompanied by music considered to be intrusive. Many in the audience believed they were unnecessary.

But Williams refused to concede this point, saying 'the vast consensus is that the trails work'.

Ultimately, Williams said it was 'a delicate operation' that is carefully handled by people in presentation.

Judging from the response, not everyone seemed to agree with this. One vocal member stated that 'presentation was out of control'.

Mind's made up

Williams also said she was not going to reconsider any decision to open up Thought for the Day to secular views. 'I've got no intentions of changing it,' she told a member of the VLV.

She felt equally strongly about her decision to extend The World At One from 30 to 45 minutes, despite challenges that it felt like it was struggling to fill the time slot on occasion.

The decision was taken, the controller explained, because she too often had to extend the programme for exceptional events. The Radio 4 boss also liked the extra time it allowed for investigating how news impacted people.

She admitted it's now a different programme, but also said she's 'very keen on it and I think it works'.

On the question of money, Williams said the network was largely protected from cuts and she couldn't complain. 'We do very well and I don't think [money] constrains ambition.'

The biggest laugh was probably reserved for a polite enquiry about when John Humphrys would finally retire.

But in closing Williams said: 'I love Radio 4. I promise you that I will look after it.'

More on This Story

Related Stories


Copyright © 2018 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.