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Series 2 - 3. Intellectual Snobbery

Moving the furniture at Radio 4

Friday 29 July 2011, 14:45

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

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Gwyneth Williams and Roger Bolton recording Feedback for BBC Radio 4 in studio 70B, Broadcasting House on 27 July 2011.

You change Radio 4 at your peril, for the slightest alteration to the schedule is likely to produce a rebellion, and not just in the Home Counties. David Hatch, Controller from 1983 to 1986, learned that the hard way when he introduced Rollercoaster, which almost ran him over.

His successor Michael Green, (1986-1996) had to summon up all his courage when he decided to move Woman's Hour from the early afternoon to the morning. He was attacked from without and within, won through, but still has the scars to show for it.

The Controller who made the most significant changes to the Radio 4 schedule in the last 30 years, and arguably ever, was James Boyle (1996-2000). Widely reviled at the time, many of his changes have stood the test of time and he is held in considerable respect by his successors, but he soon retired hurt to Scotland.

His successor, Helen Boaden, (2000 - 2004) now Director of News, was told not to make waves and instead go round hugging and reassuring the staff, which she did to great effect. Mark Damazer (2004 - 2010) a history graduate and Americophile, changed the content to suit his interests and cleared the decks for The History of the World in 100 Objects, but it is his successor, the present Controller who has proposed making the most radical changes since Mac Birt (James Boyle).

Gwyneth Williams is proposing, among other things, to extend the World at One by 15 minutes, and moving programmes like Feedback to 4.30pm. She is cancelling series like The Choice, Taking a Stand and Americana, introducing a new science show and trimming the number of short stories, much to the disgust of celebrities like Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley.

All this, of course, before she has to implement any cuts which may result from Delivering Quality First initiative which has to save 20 per cent of the BBC's budget. This week Ms Williams came into the Feedback studio to answer listeners' questions.

Feedback is now off the air until September 16th - but please don't stop writing to us.

Roger Bolton is presenter of Feedback

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    Comment number 1.

    I don't think that Michael Green really was Radio 4 controller in the 10th century, it might just have seemed that way...

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    Comment number 2.

    Yes, Briantist, that would also have had him in post for over 1000 years. His Wikipedia entry suggests a more probable ten-year reign. I'd better fix that. Thanks!

    Steve Bowbrick

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    Comment number 3.

    We feel the decisions are aleady taken regardless of feedback but we must say that we do regret the extension of the 1pm news. We have news on from7am until 9am, for 1pm until 1.30 and again at 5pm in our household. Why on earth put on more at lunchtime and forcing a move of popular programmes to a time when we and many others cannot listen. We enjoyed the news followed by one of the regular progammes at 1.30 whilst having lunch and we have other things to do in the afternoons even though we are retired. Anne & John Knowles, Dawlish.

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    Comment number 4.

    I realise I'm a little late to the discussion, but I, too, don't want the 1pm news extended. I get news in snippets as I drive to and from work, when I'm home, and during the day; I don't need it all repeated on my lunch break - if I did, I'm close enough to London to pick up a rolling news channel. I deliberately time my lunch break so I can catch a quiz, the Media Show, Feedback, QQ or More or Less. Extending the news at lunchtime just means I have nothing to listen to while sitting in the car, eating my lunch, away from the computer screens. Putting this content in later slots is useless to me, unless I resort to using iPlayer to stream the previous day's programming over a 3G connection every lunchtime - I can't listen while I'm at my desk without disturbing my colleagues.

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    Comment number 5.

    What is so important about news? Why has it become the most important thing in the media universe? The World Service is fast becoming a rolling new programme, now Radio 4 is becoming a slave to the tyranny of news. Is it cheaper to gather news than make programmes? May be Radio 4 has been stuck so far in the past, its people do not know there are 24hour news programmes out in the world. If I want news I can go to several stations all with news. And only news. I listen to radio 4 for entertainment and intellegent light relief. I have started turning the world service off at night because all I hear over and over is news. And now the blight is setting in on Radio 4. I am just so bored with news. If I seem repeatative, try a rolling news programme, see what repertion is really like. Was there a late 1980's job opportunity scheme for news producers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Also against more news but it seems to be something of an obsession with radio and television these days. To be avoided at all costs.

    Gwynedd Williams is unfortunately cancelling most of the programmes I switch on for and replacing them with programmes I would switch off. I particularly winced at the newly commissioned programme with presenters choosing and talking to people they are interested in, ie the media talks to the media about what the media is interested in and never mind the rest of us. But this is part of an ongoing trend.

    Luckily iplayer means I can listen to the 1.30 Monday quiz at 1.30 on Tuesday. More than one way to skin the proverbial cat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I had to laugh when Roger Bolton put it to the old guy from Radio 1 that it must be very difficult dealing with some DJs and their very large egos - what about radio presenters and theirs!

    Ms Williams described an idea from one listener to let young presenters take over from the oldies for one week a year as "fun". I do not think the oldies with their egos would see it it this way - fortifications stronger that those protecting Baghdad's Green Zone would go up in no time. Thoughts like: "What if listener's like the kid", "They're always trying to save money and someone younger...", "She mentioned that she would like more women" might intrude.

    The Feedback postbag would be swollen that week - a lot of extremely well-written letters from bogus complainants!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I have Radio 4 on all day and every day that I am at home. Sometimes I have to turn it off before I get snared just to get other things done. I listen to Today in the morning, to PM and the 6 o'clock news. We also get on the hour News Updates now. At lunch time I reserve the 12 o'c to 2:15 pm slot for lunch and dedicated listening to Radio 4. The last thing I want is yet more news at the expense of our 1:30 pm programmes, especially Feedback. I shan't be looking for it elsewhere in the schedules. I am so bored by the current spate of intensive, over the top minutiae-scrutiny, media to media navel gazing. If this continues I shall simply go elsewhere and I don't mean to 4+ either. Why do new controllers have to disturb what works? How destructive and unsettling these huge egos are!


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