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A new Controller for Radio 4

Thursday 15 July 2010, 13:00

Tim Davie Tim Davie Director of Audio & Music

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Gwyneth Williams, new Controller of BBC Radio 4

Over the past two months I've been searching for a new Controller for Radio 4 and Radio 7. This is no simple task; Radio 4 is a unique cultural institution with a passionate audience and incredibly talented staff. Leading it is a huge honour. As I wrote here at the start of the process, Mark Damazer - Radio 4's current Controller - has managed to sustain buoyant audiences without compromising the quality of programmes, so I am well aware of the importance of finding the right person to follow in the exceptional Mr Damazer's footsteps.

I saw some outstanding candidates during the recruitment process; brilliant leaders from a broad range of backgrounds, all with hugely impressive experience. This week we entered the final stage of the lengthy process and today we announced on Radio 4 that the successful candidate is Gwyneth Williams, until recently Director of BBC World Service English.

Gwyneth is an editorial leader of the highest calibre and a passionate supporter of Radio 4. She brings vast broadcasting experience, tremendous intelligence and a fresh perspective to the role. I was impressed by her creativity, enthusiasm and ideas for building the network's intellectual quality while maintaining its relevance.

This is one of the biggest jobs in broadcasting and I believe I have found the right person to succeed Mark Damazer. I look forward to working with her in building on Mark's success and leading Radio 4 to even greater things over coming years.

Tim Davie is Director of BBC Audio & Music

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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Congratulations to Gwyneth Williams.
    PLEASE REINSTATE THE UK THEME on radio 4. It is an excellent way to start the day. 'Sailing' is perfect for closing the day.
    The current 'On this day in previous years' is quite unmemorable because the incidents referred to are delivered so quickly, it is impossible to remember them and they fade into oblivion and insignificance - this item could happily be dispensed with. I've yet to find anyone who has found 'On this day' of any interest.
    Let us have more programmes about Jazz and the Big Band era. 'Pop' items should be confined to Radio 1 (and 2), certainly not on Radio 4.
    Please - no more dumbing down of Radio 4.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Replying to Looternite (message 20)

    Oh yes, I know what you mean about Jazz and this used to irritate me when I was a youngster (struggled with trad and never had any desire to wear a bowler hat!!!). A lot of Jazz purists will argue that Ken Clarke’s programme leaves a lot to be desired. You certainly won’t hear John McLaughlin’s work discussed.

    Helen Boaden wrote quite a lengthy article some years ago about R4’s neglect of popular culture on R4 (sorry just spent 30 mins trying to find the reference for you). R4 has always been sniffy about the bands/personnel/culture that I suspect are lurking within your mind. Take a look at some of the controllers and commissioning editors CVs. You’ll find opera, classical – but no pop. Woman’s Hour is a disaster when it comes to appreciation/knowledge of popular music and associated culture. R4 could do with a pop equivalent of Dr. Peggy Reynolds. There are, though, some very knowledgeable radio producers working in this area. Lucy Ditchmont, Barney Rowntree, Sam Bryant et al did a pretty good job with 1968 Myth or Reality [1].

    The Eel Pie Island Hotel [2] and Burdon’s Journey touched on the subjects mentioned in your posting – and I can think of a few others. I do, however, still think your point is valid.

    Thanks for responding.


    [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/1968/daybyday.shtml

    [2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00773kj

    [3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/pip/dpip0/

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    22. Lawrence Jones

    Thanks for the links; you do seem to be very knowledgeable on this subject.
    I have always wondered why Radio 4 is so sniffy about popular culture, not just music but literature. After all the BBC is funded by a form of poll tax and so, it should reflect the wider public.
    As someone who is now turned 60 I was very much part of the 60s generation. Radio 4 often has nostalgic programmes about the war and 1950s but the 60s don’t seem to be quite far enough back for the programme makers to recognise this era.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Wonder if Ms Williams' editorial work will allow her to check on how BBC radio 4 is not (I repeat not)fulfilling its international role in reporting the tragic deaths in action in Afghanistan of allied forces other than those from the UK and USA, whilst continuing to air those propaganda messages from the Taleban? Of course there should be objectivity and not bias in hard news reporting, but let's have balance too. What about the 41 Australians plus other nationals murdered by the Taleban and unrecorded by BBC radio; haven't they earned a place in our grief?
    Don't we have an obligation to honour those whose lives have been sacrificed to help future generations of Afghans? I've been asking for the policy on this from variousl sources in the BBC for a month now, with no response. It hardly needs saying that the Taleban's latest (July 15) claims about our true policy in Afghanistan won't convince any reasonable British listener.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I used to agree with David_Jago's comment:-

    "And by the way, this is another Golden Age of newscasters. The women slightly have the edge on the men,
    and Charlotte Green is the doyenne "

    but now I think that for sheer clarity, pronounciation and voice quality, the best current newsreader
    has to be Cathy Clugston (hope my sepelling is correct!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    The first priority for the new Controller should be to restore The World at One and The World This Weekend to 45 minutes (or even 60).

    A useful second move would be to cut down the number of 15-minute stories/dramas. It is irritating to tune in on the offchance and come in halfway through episode 3 of some silly story. The gist of factual programmes can be more easily picked up, even if on misses the beginning: an excellent File on Four being an example, this afternoon.

    Woman's Hour is quite clearly well past its day. If it was "Man's Hour", it would have been axed as non-PC years ago.

    While you're about it, could you not restore the timing of the interesting "Sunday" programme to a more civilised hour, say from 8 a.m. I am a regular churchgoer, but I find the Sunday morning R4 Church Service ill-timed and, frankly, boring.

    And that's just a start....

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Leave services untouched and let the military raise money with jumble sales and other public fund-raising.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    message 26

    "And that's just a start"

    You forgot to mention the reinstatement of ‘The Financial World Tonight’. If radio is so popular, then why did R4 close the flagship: ‘A World in Your Ear’? Why hasn’t Feedback interviewed any R4 official who was involved in the ‘Radio 4 Roadshow’? Do university students listen to R4? What do drama students think about the scandalous demise of The Friday Play? Why doesn’t R4 support its messageboards? Ms. Williams could be the first controller to place an (identifiable) posting.

    11:15………..and that was The Financial World tonight……Phewwww…..off with the intellectual running shoes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I don't often find myself agreeing with the nationalist
    leader A. Salmond, but did today in his interview with
    Evan Davies on the Today programme.
    Salmond again showed his mastery of
    language technique, though his points were political,
    but Evan did hand him the opportunity for a closing triumph
    when he put that condescending question about a Scottish
    "foreign policy."
    Personally, I'd be much more concerned about any
    "Defence" policy, e.g. navy, army, airforce for Scotland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    It seems the website complaints procedure is being treated by insiders as something of a joke, when it states:-

    "For some of our, um, more regular correspondents,..." etc.

    Paul Wakely, Editor, Moderation Services, BBC Online, needs to nip this jokey treatment of genuine complaints in the bud. Let's have some public accountability and less sneering 'look at me' showing off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I was one of the 15 million who listened to "Dick Barton" every evening at 6.45 pm in the post-war years, from the age of 7 in 1946. Having just returned from a short holiday, I find that last Thursday's programme, "Dick Barton-a Very Special Agent", is already gone from the website, just 7 days and 1 hour after it was broadcast. You bring the shutters down as fast as a Saudi shopkeeper at mid-day when the religious police are around! Does this mean that the programme is gone forever and that I will have no chance to wallow in nostalgia? By the way, the background note left on the site is not quite correct, to my recall. "Dick" was not immediately replaced by "The Archers" but by a circus life soap, "The Daring Dexters." I think it lasted for only a few weeks, paling in comparison with its predecessor. But never so pale as "the everyday story of country-folk", which I never took to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    May I join those welcoming Gwyneth Williams?

    May I also add my voice to those calling for the return of the UK theme? In fact, why not play it before the 13:00 news as well?

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I on't agree with comments that Front Row is dire. Its reviews are first-rate and Mark Lawson does a great job.

    I'd like to see Feedback done more seriously, one gets the impression that listeners are patronised and their views not taken seriously enough.

    Women's Hour is, as some have said already, well past its sell-by date and needs a new format.

    Please could we have the Radio 4 anthem back. Getting rid of it seemed a sop to the politically correct.

    I find your news bulletins through the day (apart from Today, the 1 o'clock news and PM) very thin. I tend to switch to Radio 2 to get a fuller version.

    And Sunday mornings - urgh. I know the BBC has a commitment to Christianity but, really, can we have some news at some point in the morning? I find Radio 5 live so much better on Sunday morning while Radio 4 is doing its white-middle-class-kneeling-in-the-pews thing.

    And Fi Glover, you need to break out of the London focus. I'm glad I'm not the only listener to have noticed that you obssess about the metropolis. Not all your listeners (and licence fee payers) live within the M25.

    Er, that's it. Thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    There is a lot that continues to be good and really good on R4 so it will be important to make sure they continue. I note that Gwyneth has already been in charge of much that is good. Comedy on R4 is one exception though. I cannot imagine that the BBC can get away with describing many of the programmes as such. Reading above I saw the joke in
    "Mark Damazer - Radio 4's current Controller - has managed to sustain buoyant audiences without compromising the quality of programmes, so I am well aware of the importance of finding the right person to follow in the exceptional Mr Damazer's footsteps." it is QUALITY that we need reinstated and I do hope Gwyneth will try to undo all the damage done by Damazer.

    There was a comment higher up about Feedback. It just does not work for the listener and I have stopped listening. It does show how arrogant many of the BBC producers are though.

    I also wonder what happened to the drama and story telling on the World Service, a look at RNZ would offer some ideas of what to do to entertain us all and bring in more listeners.

    Of R7 its prime value is in the fact of offering quality programmes from the archives. It should be on all our radios however - not just the DAB ones.

    I keep my fingers crossed that Quality is the key word and change is neither driven by listener numbers or new brooms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I sincerely hope the new controller has some interests outside 'the arts'. Radio 4 is getting dull and boring as it becomes increasingly an arts broadcaster with apparently little interest and no skill in any other area.
    Take yesterdays (Wed 18th August) PM program. This is supposed to be 'news and current affairs'. We were treated to a long piece on some newly dead 'literary critic' - frankly I don't read literary critics, I prefer to read the books and make up my own mind...
    Apart from the 'interview' (not exactly in depth or useful) with the Labour party candidate - actually an idea that I agree with - the rest of the listening was equally about art and celebrity, not a single piece of news in it.

    Frankly - especially at a time when the UK needs people who actually do useful things - like manufacturing - we should find a balance on stations like radio 4 where engineering, science, proper investigative journalism (not just reading sound bites from a prepared government statement, or asking stupid questions about 'splits' in a coalition - of course there are going to be differences of opinion in ANY government worth its salt, if there aren't then we have worse than a dictatorship even some of Hitlers advisers argued with him!).
    Radio 4 should stop believing the rest of the world is full of arts obsessed thickos with the attention span of a goldfish and start providing us with real content worth chewing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    For the sake of your station's integrity please get rid of [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] and all similarly poorly acted and extremely poorly written rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Oh please, no return to that awful musical medley, I would call it more a musical mash-up, called the "UK Theme"...

    As for what I would like to see changed (brought back), it would have to be a 40 to 45min' "World at One" and the reinstatement of the lunchtime - that is, between 13:00 and 14:00hrs - repeat of the previous nights edition of the "The Archers", there must be many people who don't get a chance to listen to either of the week-day editions of the Archers due to working/travelling times and thus have to plan their Sunday mornings around the omnibus edition. Also, suggesting to people living in the country and/or away from Broadband (and indeed, in some cases, rock steady dial-up) that they can 'catch-up' via the web podcasts is not all that helpful I suspect!

    Oh, and can we have a daytime or evening repeat of Farming Today please, this has been mentioned to Mark in past blogs, if I remember correctly he was broadly sympathetic to the rational for such a repeat (although scheduling seemed to have been the problem), I also seem to recall that there was some support amongst fellow bloggers to the suggestion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    26. At 9:18pm on 18 Jul 2010, tambman wrote:

    "Woman's Hour is quite clearly well past its day. If it was "Man's Hour", it would have been axed as non-PC years ago."

    Agreed, there is absolutely no need for such a programme in this day and age, the programmes name and content should be made none gender specific, better still, the programme should just be scrapped.

    "While you're about it, could you not restore the timing of the interesting "Sunday" programme to a more civilised hour, say from 8 a.m. I am a regular churchgoer, but I find the Sunday morning R4 Church Service ill-timed and, frankly, boring."

    In my opinion, a re-timed "Sunday" programme would be a good replacement for that irrelevant excuse and waste of space of a programme called "Broadcasting House" on a Sunday morning unless it is made into a serious news/current affairs programme (complete with a new serious presenter [1]) - and I'm not at all a religious person but find Sunday far more intellectually interesting than anything normally contained within "BH"...

    "And that's just a start...."

    Indeed, I won't even mention my (long running) request to 'steel' the "Financial World Tonight" back from Radio 5Live!

    [1] and on that subject, can we have a serious presenter for PM, surely there must be another William Hardcastle or Derek Cooper waiting in the wings somewhere, and if the UK Theme is to return (as some seem to want) can PM have it's quirky Theme tune back also please? :-)


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