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More on the Radio 4 schedule changes: Short stories: Update

Thursday 28 July 2011, 11:17

Gwyneth Williams Gwyneth Williams

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Stevie Smith

From 1949, archive caption reads: "Miss Stevie Smith, poet, one of the finalists in the BBC Third Programme Short Story Competition, reading her story Sunday at Home"

Short stories and contributions from writers are an integral part of Radio 4's programming. This week Michael Morpurgo gave, I believe, the most moving contribution to our coverage of the tragic events in Norway in an eloquent essay in which he spoke of Beowolf and the meaning of that ancient legend of struggle set in Scandinavia. One of the commissions I am most pleased with since coming to Radio 4 is the series of Letters to the Arab World, commissioned from Arab writers and broadcast in the early days of the Arab Spring. If this appeals to you I recommend another series of letters, again by leading writers, which will be prominently scheduled at the tenth anniversary of 9/11, entitled The 9/11 Letters. We have already broadcast two of the Booker prize longlist titles and there are another two to look forward to in August and September: A Sense of Ending by Julian Barnes and On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry. We are and will remain the largest commissioner of short stories; we broadcast 150 original single plays a year, 40 of which are by new writers to radio; we broadcast three dramas a day as well as a raft of regular arts programmes such as Front Row, Open Book, Saturday Review and many others. My commitment to broadcasting new writing is underscored by the launch this coming weekend of a new arts commission: a poetry workshop presented by the poet Ruth Padel. All this is alongside regular daily adaptations and dramatisations of classic and contemporary literature.

There seems to be widespread misunderstanding about the level of reduction in the number of short stories to be broadcast on Radio 4 from next April. For those who are interested in the details they are as follows: as part of an Autumn schedule change I am proposing to extend The World At One by fifteen minutes. One of the results of this is that I have had to reduce the number of scheduled short stories. I have already said that the reduction will be about a third but let me be more precise. The number of stories will be reduced from 144 to 104 next year from April. I will broadcast in addition (and with great pleasure) the 5 shortlisted stories from the BBC National Short Story Award. Radio 4 Extra will launch in October a new strand of programmes highlighting short stories which will draw from the rich archive as well as commissioning some 25 new stories from publications. Thus for the listener the total loss of scheduled short stories across both networks is approximately 10. I have invited the Society of Authors to talk to me today in order to clarify our plans and I have already met Bernie Corbet from the Writers' Guild.

Arts and cultural programming, as all Radio 4 listeners know, are at the heart of our schedule and I plan to keep it that way.

Gwyneth Williams is Controller of BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 4 Extra

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    Comment number 1.

    I listened to "Hood Rat" this morning and it wasn't half grim. A father returned home from work and gave both his wife and son aged nine a hefty beating. The son's dream of becoming a star footballer turned to dust and he became a junkie. Before that he was put in care. Later he had a kid, which he wasn't allowed to see at first. The social worker talked about anger management classes that she takes for people who batter their partners.

    I thought the Simenon play yesterday afternoon was excellent, though.

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    Comment number 2.

    It is slightly disingenuous to suggest that reducing the number of short stories by 40 equates to a reduction of 10 because of extra programming on a digtal only channel - especially as a large proportion of those will be repeats. R4 has always maintained a vibrant tradition of featuring new writing and it is sad to see that undermined, especially to the benefit of current affairs which are already over represented on the network (and have their own dedicated digital channel).

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    Comment number 3.

    Today's edition of 'Radio Waves' by Mr. Paul Donovan is recommended reading in respect of the above [1]. I would summarise the contents - but it would result in my posting being censored.


    [1] Donovan, P. 'Short but Sweet' Sunday Times Culture 31st July 2011 p69

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    Comment number 4.

    If you MUST extend the World at One then please compensate by shortening the Today programme. For one thing we could do with a laugh in the mornings rather than the predictions of doom that I currently have to wake up to! Do we really need more news rather than more creativity?


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


See the latest on our blog


Find out about this year's panel and theme