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Feedback: Controller of BBC Radio 4, Gwyneth Williams

Friday 13 April 2012, 11:02

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

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Roger Bolton presents Feedback on BBC Radio 4
The Controller of Radio 4, Gwyneth Williams, is a disarming figure.

She arrives at the studio for our Feedback interview full of earnest enquiries about everyone's health, ignoring the fact that she herself has just risen from the sickbed. She kisses her interviewer on both cheeks and appears to be genuinely interested in what he thought about some new programmes.

She has the air of a kindly teacher, who expects high standards and makes you feel you can achieve them. However one is left in no doubt that if one doesn't come up to the mark one will be dropped, smartish. And she has dropped and is dropping some well loved programmes.

A number of 1.30pm shows such as On the Ropes have already been cancelled to make way for an extended World At One. Now she has turned her attention to Saturday Live which is gaining a co-presenter, Sian Williams, and an additional 30 minutes, at the expense of a free-standing Excess Baggage. Some of the elements of it will be subsumed into Richard Coles' extended programme. What will happen to the much admired John McCarthy?

Ms Williams has quickly made her mark on the network, significantly increasing the amount of science programming and foreign news. She is undoubtedly a serious person, and perhaps her upbringing in apartheid South Africa, occasionally evident in her accent, makes her well aware of the importance of an independent public service news provider.

So far things seem to be going well, with audiences continuing to increase for both Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra, for which she is also responsible.

However we at Feedback have detected a growing chorus of discontent from those who think there is far too much news on her network, and those who think that the new science programmes don't have enough science in them. Of course she has less money to spend than her predecessors.

Although Radio 4 has been treated more generously than the other national networks there are fewer journalist to make her extended news programmes and less cash in real terms overall.

So earlier this week I stiffened my sinews and put some of these issues to the immensely courteous Controller, who of course pays my wages.

I hope you feel that I bit, or at least nipped, the hand that feeds me.

Here is an edited version of our interview.

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Feedback is now off the air until 1 June, by which time a new Director General may have been appointed. The ad for his job says that the successful candidate "will be able to admit quickly when in the wrong". Why don't you help me find out?

Please keep emailing, writing and phoning. We read and listen to everything, even when we are off air.

Roger Bolton

Roger Bolton presents Feedback

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    Comment number 1.

    It was bad enough when Radio 4 cynically used the death of John Peel to axe the much loved Home Truths. David Stafford was an equally great presenter. Very few people have ever liked Saturday Live. To say it reflects the tone of Saturday morning is completely missing the point. If I wanted that sort of a listening experience on a Saturday morning. I know where to find Five Live. Please reverse your decision to roll the brilliant Excess Baggage into Saturday Live. It would make far more sense to axe Saturday Live and have an extended Saturday edition of Today.

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    Comment number 2.

    I agree with USir. Saturday Live has only ever been a poor stop gap on Saturday mornings and it has got more and more lacklustre. In fact the substandard quality of the programme made me think it would soon be put out of its misery.
    Please do not destroy the excellent Excess Baggage, this is Radio 4 at its best.

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    Comment number 3.

    The missus sometimes gets big time disappointment when she don't laugh coz the show is under 'BBC Comedy'. I say to her that this is a brand name which although of some historical generic derivation when it meant comedy on the BBC, she'll only get big doses of nostalgia for the old timers if she goes on expecting the generic because of a name in the brand-even if the product is belly achy funny.
    But of course, the missus can't get her mind around this stuff but takes the patch off her remaining eye and rolls its gaminess up to her print out of Roger come hithering her from the wall.

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    Comment number 4.

    In response to Jane Anderson radio editor in this weeks Sunday Radio Today's Choice, may we please have the Tudors following now the end of the wonderful dramatization of the classic serial Plantagenet. James I of England said of the Tudors that "they started with a lass and ended with a lass" It would be so interesting to learn who was the lass who started the Tudors and how exactly, in another serial classic.

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    Comment number 5.

    I always enjoy Excess Baggage and was very unimpressed by Gwyneth Williams explanation as to why it is being axed. I wanted to e-mail her to say so but when I put her name into the search on the BBC website it said there were no results for this! It is very difficult to find out how to contact her. Can anyone help?


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Identifying the top ten game changers operating in the UK today.


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Find out about this year's panel and theme