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On the way out - Sir Michael Lyons on Feedback

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 13:55, Friday, 25 March 2011

Sir Michael Lyons on his first morning as BBC Chairman outside the BBC Television Centre in Shepherd's Bush, London.

"Events, dear boy Events"!

That was the apparently unflappable Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, discussing what most concerned him. He meant the crises that arrive out of clear blue skies and changed the political weather overnight. Well we have had plenty of 'events' during this latest run of Feedback programmes.

There was the almost peaceful revolution in Egypt, and widespread demonstrations in the Arab world, then the Japanese Tsunami which caused tens of thousands of deaths, followed by the crises at one of its nuclear power stations.

And now there is the latest in Libya. Even as late as two weeks ago, who would have thought that our aircrews would be in action over Tobruk, a place that older listeners amongst us only associate with the Second World War?

BBC Chairmen have to get used to 'events', and to leaks from all over the Corporation when vested interests see what they most care about being threatened by cuts. The Director General has just announced 21 options for cuts and the internal and external battles have begun.

Newspapers of course lap it up, MPs find comment irresistible and the result is massive pressure on the BBC Trust to step in to protect the 'public interest', about which few can agree. Sir Michael Lyons, the outgoing BBC Chairman, says that everyone who does his job soon gets used to 'incoming fire' from all sides. Yet when he decided to step down there was no shortage of applicants for the job, which has gone to the former Conservative Party Chairman and the last Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten.

This week, shortly before he steps down,I spoke to Sir Michael and here is the complete interview, extracts of which we used in the programme.

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By the way can I just say that Sir Michael Lyons was unfailingly charming on and off the record and was, I think, genuinely committed to ensuring that the licence fee payer had more of a say in the strategic decisions of the organisation they, we, pay for. He certainly never ducked being interviewed on Feedback. Our invitation to his successor to appear has already been dispatched.

We are now off the air until May 20th, but please keep in touch and let us know what you love and hate and want investigated. All of BBC Radio is our territory, national and local and international.

Thanks for listening.

Roger Bolton is presenter of Feedback

  • Listen again to this week's Feedback, produced by Karen Pirie, get in touch with Feedback, find out how to join the listener panel or subscribe to the podcast on the Feedback web page.
  • Feedback is on Twitter. Follow @BBCR4Feedback.
  • The picture shows Sir Michael arriving at Television Centre on his first day in the job in 2007.


  • Comment number 1.

    'Help us to keep our finger on the pulse.

    Do you have 5 minutes to tell us what you think about this site?'

    This seems like a rather silly question to be asked by a pop-up, when the next thing it does, on being answered in the affirmative, is ask a lot of questions about *me*...

    But what I really want to talk about is the message boards. D'you not think this is a big deal for your internet-active listeners, announcing the scrapping of the R4 and R7 boards? Is it not worthy of a blog entry of its own, if only to ease listeners into blogging? Did it get a mention on 'Feedback'? For that matter, will I be able to post this comment. The Archers blog doesn't seem to be taking new comments...

  • Comment number 2.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 3.

    Message 1

    "But what I really want to talk about is the message boards. D'you not think this is a big deal for your internet-active listeners, announcing the scrapping of the R4 and R7 boards"?

    Unfortunate coincidence that Feedback is always at the end of a series whenever a major unpopular event occurs within Radio 4 that affects the listeners detrimentally (see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2006/11/todays_messageboards_part_2_1.html ). The same thing happened when the BBC Radio POV was closed down and also when the DID board was closed with just 2 hours notice. R4 has refused to explain why that board had to be terminated with such urgency.

    After the censorship was imposed on the Today boards, Mr Bolton interviewed the deputy editor, Gavin Allen, and he admitted – on air – that he had never even viewed the original uncensored Today boards. Needless to say, the Today board collapsed once the censorship was introduced.

    I trust when Feedback does investigate the closure of all the R4 boards and challenges Mr Aspin’s MB closure statement, Ms. Pirie will have tracked down the October 2002 BBC messageboard interview conducted by Mr. Bolton and Ms. Kathleen Griffin. Anna M. C. Chris Kimber and Elizabeth Jackson took part in the feature. The programme was produced by Margaret Budy and compiled by Testbed Productions. I have a full transcript of this interview and will be only too happy to pass it on to Ms. Pirie. The interview describes how important the messageboards are as a feedback conduit for programmes and the avid interest that radio producers supposedly take in the radio listeners' contributions. For the record, just three male R4 producers placed more than 3 identifiable postings during the whole lifetime of the R4 messageboards: Ed Morrish, Simon Clancy and Torquil MacLeod. Even worse was the abysmal female R4 producer input – thank you to Kate Murphy who always supported the POTW board with interesting comments/observations relating to radio programmes.

    The 2002 interview that I cited goes on to describes how helpful Mr. Parfitt (R1 controller) was to listeners when he posted on the R1 messageboards. Helen Boaden, Mark Damazer and Gwyneth Williams never placed one identifiable posting on the R4 boards – and certainly never supported them.

  • Comment number 4.

    Interesting that Joe K mentions the 'Do you have 5 minutes to tell us what you think about this site?' pop-up. Seems like it is a standard embedded bit of code on all BBC blogs that pop-ups every few visits, so I've filled it out on several occasions. It's been going now for a couple of years or so. There's never to my knowledge been any feedback on the results though.


  • Comment number 5.

    As well as the closure of the message boards, there's the disappearance of World Service from 648 Medium Wave, which means I have no way of tuning into World Service on my car radio ...

  • Comment number 6.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 7.

    As for the closure of all BBC Messageboards (except for the Archers?), I do understand about cuts, and there probably are too many boards. What I don't understand is why they couldn't have one blanket BBC Radio Messageboard and break them down into Station sub-categories.

    This doesn't seem unreasonable or unwieldy and the BBC and it's listeners would still have a forum to discuss BBC Radio and it's programs.

    I do not, nor does anyone I know from the boards, Twitter or Facebook. To rely on these exclusively for feedback from listeners seems ageist to me, as most folks my age, in my experience, don't use these social media.

    Does this mean that the younger audience will drive BBC Radio programming from now on? I know this is the demographic they are looking to bring into the fold, and they should, but should it be done at the expense of the current listener base?

    This is foolish, in my opinion, and the repercussions of such will be a watered down BBC Radio not worth listening to anyway.


  • Comment number 8.

    Message 7

    "What I don't understand is why they couldn't have one blanket BBC Radio Messageboard and break them down into Station sub-categories."

    There was such a board ("Radio POV") - and it was populated by genuine radio fans from all the networks. Hosted by the legendary 'Peta' who even used to drop in at weekends to say 'hello'. The BBC closed the board down.


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