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Today on Feedback; Your questions for the R4 Controller

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 13:43, Friday, 22 July 2011

John Humphrys and James Naughtie during a broadcast of Today

Editor's note: You can leave your questions for Roger to put to the Radio 4 Controller on next week's Feedback in the comments on this blog post - PM.

Just after 4am in the Today office at BBC Television Centre in west London.

The programme team has been working since eight the previous evening. The journalists have five hours to go and coffee cups litter the tables fighting for space with every conceivable newspaper and magazine. Arguably the last three hours are the most important, when they are dog tired but have to be at the top of their game for the programme's transmission.

Each three-hour Today programme has around 100 items, some of which will bite the dust if there is a breaking or developing story. Producers soon learn the art of standing down an interviewee, and of phoning up another at some unearthly hour.

This morning's presenters, Sarah Montague and John Humphrys slip into the office, the latter having parked his bike outside.

I am slightly astonished that the BBC is happy for such a central figure to be cycling in the dark in west London at such an early hour, but JH is overflowing with energy as if he has consumed half-a-dozen espressos already.

Enter stage left a Feedback listener, Francesca Fenn, an avid Today listener , who has been given an access all areas pass to find out what goes on behind the scenes. I would like to tell you that she is accompanied by Feedback's presenter as well as its producer, but I'm afraid I didn't get there until after six am, for budgetary reasons of course.

The vast majority of the audience, and there are more than seven million of them , are a pretty vociferous lot, so I was not short of questions to put to the Today editor when I interviewed him a couple of days later.

First, here is a snapshot of what goes on behind the scenes at the apparently smooth running show.

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Our thanks to listener Francesca Fenn who has gone back to bed.

Two days later when I talked to the Editor of Today, Ceri Thomas, the News International hacking scandal was beginning to quieten down.

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Our thanks to everyone at the Today programme for placing no restrictions whatever on where we could go.

Next week I'll be talking to the Controller of Radio 4 about the schedule changes she has made, one of which is to move this programme from its Friday slot at 1.30 to 4.30pm in the afternoon.

Do let me know what you want me to ask her. You can leave a comment below.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback


  • Comment number 1.

    Yes! I'd like the Controller of radio 4 to account for why most of her presenters have such poor questioning skills. With the exception of Jenni Murray, almost all of the rest ask closed, leading questions, or make long, rambling leading statements. To experience probably the worst of these, listen to Kirsty Young, Clare Balding, Fi Glover, or Jane Garvey. It is extraordinary that these individuals represent probably the most well-known broadcasting corporation in the world, but lack the ability to ask an open question.

  • Comment number 2.

    Can we rejoice yet?
    ... in the total retirement of Ann Atkins from her instant switch-off 7.50 a.m. occasional broadcasts?
    (otherwise the Today programme has only minor errors in style and content.)

  • Comment number 3.

    I am in agreement with those listeners who have contacted Feedback to express their outrage at the Controller's decision to axe Americana. Americana with its mixture of expert presenters and excellent guests has revealed to listeners many interesting and fascinating facets of the United States (not all favourable). It bodes ill for the future if the axe is being taken to high quality programmes.

    Why have you decided to axe a programme that is praised by so many listeners whilst doing nothing about Thought For The Day which is detested by a countless number of listeners?

    Do you think that you decision to devote almost an entire day to readings from the King James Bible in January was a good use of licence-fee payers money and will we have more days on Radio 4 devoted to religion?

    With most people in the country having no active interest in religion should Radio 4 still be broadcasting a religious service every Sunday morning at licence-fee payers' expense?

  • Comment number 4.

    Why is there soooooo much music on Radio 4? It's a SPEECH channel!! There are bursts of music all over the place. There are half witted people who have never read anything more insightful than the Melody Maker using long words about punk and rap! "How disco changed the world" - oh please, Radio 4 used to be for Grown Ups, what does GW think Radio 2 is for?

  • Comment number 5.

    Why are there so many test card programmes on Radio 4? Programmes where Someone Singh Koli, or Lenny Henry or that Yorkshire poetaster bloke (see, you know who I mean!) fetch up and witter about trivia for 15 minutes just to pad out the space between programmes. Every association a bunch of wordwonks can come up with on some given random topic, inevitably including half a dozen songs. When there are switch off programmes like this people forget to switch on again and miss interesting programmes.

  • Comment number 6.

    When are you going to dump Eddie 'king of trivia' Mair? If you've sneezed today, Eddie would LURV to hear about it, why not send a sentence about your sneeze to..... If you've yawned today, Eddie would LURV to hear about it..... I've heard him do admirably insightful and probing interviews, but mainly he's an irritant.

  • Comment number 7.

    Why can't you stop treating science as a sub branch of stand up comedy? And why can't you find some stand up comedy that isn't just a left wing rant? And why can't there be (since I have to wait x seconds before the next moan) more sitcoms that aren't a succession of mildly pleasant platitudes? Claire in the Community, Arthur Strong and Ed Reardon apart, it's an atrociously dull set.

  • Comment number 8.

    Why doesn't Feedback confine itself to discussing listeners' FEEDBACK, as Chris Dunkley used to do? More often than not half the programme is devoted to a publicity blurb about how wonderful the BBC is, how such and such a programme is made, etc etc. It's an abuse of the listeners' time.

  • Comment number 9.

    With all due respect, I've never heard of you and I don't think you're doing a very good job. I'd like Stewart Lee to be controller, I'm sure he would grab it. Why can't various bods set out their stalls and Radio 4 listeners could express a preference?

  • Comment number 10.

    When the radio 4 schedules are next amended would it be possible to transfer Eddie Mair back to radio 5 live from where I think he came. He is by far the worst presenter of the PM Programme ever and in my opinion spoils the programme completely. He is lightweight and silly and would be much more suitable on radio 5 live where his infantile comments and remarks would be more appreciated.

  • Comment number 11.

    By chance I was able to hear the 'Feedback' program yesterday and enjoyed the glimpse behind the scenes of the 'Today' show. It was interesting to hear the editor accept that few listeners remain tuned in for more than forty minutes or so. So I guess that makes me something of an addict.

    I have the advantage of living in Munich and my litening is online. And so the show starts at 7 in the morning for me. And I have the audio running while I have my first coffee, check my emails and read the blogs to which I subscribe. This means that I am still listening when the 'Godslot' comes around (an item I find totally appropriate within the show format) and the '8:10' interview.

    Then there are days like today, when the run-down has to be responsive to the breaking news from Norway. This is, in my opinion, the 'Today' show is one of the best radio formats there is, an indispensable news magazine.

    Yes, I suppose some of the complaints sent to you at 'Feedback' are warranted. But I think that the significance of all of these comments is the fact that listeners feel they have a kind of 'ownership' of the show... and that is a level of engagement which can only be taken as a compliment to the 'Today' crew.

  • Comment number 12.

    (As experienced by an English 75 yr old David Brittain)

    Sentence padding: Such as “At the end of the day” and “Taking things by and large” also the frequently over-used word “Basically” prefixing each utterance.
    TV and Radio Media’s tendency to alter the pronunciation of some words and names, for example when I was at school +60 years ago “Boadicea” was pronounced by all including all at the BBC “Bo-dee-cee-er” but now for some unknown reason it is generally pronounced in tones that brook no argument “Bodekka” Similarly, “Advertisement” was always pronounced Add-ver-tis-ment, where as today we are regarded as incorrect unless we say “Addver-tize-ment”.

    I was taught to always place ‘a’ in front of words that start with consonants i.e. a horse, a house, a hat, and ‘an’ in front of words that start with vowels i.e., an apple, an oak tree, so why do we hear the plumy-toned TV and radio announcers inform us that, “This is an historic occasion”?

    Other sources of irritation from, one assumes, reasonably educated broadcasters on Radio and TV include “Fillum” when they mean “Film” and “Think” when they mean “Thing” Also as a ploy to sound trendy, smooth, vaguely American, and ‘with it’ broadcasting disc jockeys, male and female, frequently avoid pronouncing the letter T. I tire of being blasted with the latest focus of news media attention to the almost total exclusion of all else, whether that focus be on a global or national event or on the medias’ obsession with sports. Yet another source of irritation is the recent tendency on the media of young ladies to squash or gush, their gabbled utterances as though the back of their tongues are glued to the roof of their mouths, similarly, those female would-be singers who instead of singing a song as it was composed, instead chase up and down the scales as if desperately searching for the correct note.

    I am constantly irritated by TV news presenters who arrogantly bully, loudly override, and continually interrupt the people they are paid to interview. I’m greatly irritated by the entire selection of politicians, media pundits and broadcasters who barely conceal their relish and enjoyment when publically commenting on and voicing their astonishment and indignation about the latest corruption scandal. I struggle to understand why on TV when members of the public are interviewed in the high streets the TV cameras are always aimed for close-ups of their faces guaranteed to reveal every facial spot and blemish. Why via our TV screens do we viewers have to endure, often in nauseating close-up, the sight of so many chefs and their guests stuffing food into their mouths?
    I could go on, and on, and on, but I won’t. Can it just be me or does anyone else also share these feelings of irritation?

    David Brittain
    [Personal details removed by Moderator]

    PS: I feel better now I’ve had 'an' moan!

  • Comment number 13.

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

  • Comment number 14.

    I vehemently disagree with the derogatory comment above about Eddie Mair. Some people are more easily irritated than others for a variety of reasons.

    I was much impressed with the PM Privacy Commission, and I found the report published on Friday an interesting and informative read. It was good to hear on PM the considered views of people from a variety of backgrounds. The Commission allowed me to gain a valuable insight into the tension that exists between a persons right to privacy and public's right to know.

    Despite the concerns expressed by Stephen Abell (Director of the PCC) that the report might be "imbalanced" because too few "representatives of the public" appeared before the Commission, I consider that the commissioners have done a fine job. In especially refined language the report concludes that the PCC in its present form is not fit for purpose. On Friday's PM the phrase "a more energetic sense of curiosity" was reported.

    Will the PM Commission reconvene to examine other important issues?

    Is it some new style of report-writing that puts conclusions near the start!

  • Comment number 15.

    The Radio 4 resources for Drama & Readings continue to get worse: here are the hours figures:

    Year Commitment Actual

    2005-6 760 770
    2006-7 730 746
    2007-8 730 732
    2008-9 600 661
    2009-10 600 655
    2010-11 600 619

    Can we have an assurance that this downward trend is not going to continue?

    From her blog on the cuts to the number of readings, Gwyneth Williams wrote:
    We have just signed off on 22 plays by first or second time writers to radio in the Afternoon Play slot

    22 out of 150? I feel such a 15% ratio is falling unhealthily low, particularly as 33% was achieved in 2007-8. Although the long-standing 25% commitment has been dropped as an official requirement of the Service Licence (a result of the skullduggery between the Trust and the Executive), a 25% level does seem to provide a better look-in for new writers.


    P.S. Have to agree with newlach concerning Eddie Mair on PM. If people have a problem with the content of PM, then the target for criticism should surely be the producer, rather than the presenter.
  • Comment number 16.

    Hi All
    Deadline for suggested questions for the Controller of Radio 4 is end of tomorrow, Tuesday 26 July.
    Many thanks

  • Comment number 17.

    There is really far too much religious content on the Today programme. I refer not just to the wholly anachronistic and vile Thought for the Day; but to the general undercurrent, too. What the machinations are happening in the General Synod is not a fit topic. On a slow news day, getting in some bishop or imam to comment on whatever adds no value whatsoever - their opinion is, more often than not, utterly irrelevant. The Sunday programme is a ghastly offence and should be scrapped; but not before the weekday programme is purged of all mumbo-jumbo. A good policy would be to ensure no 'believers' are producers or editors on the show - that way no codswallop is likely to creep in.

  • Comment number 18.

    I am delighted that Americana is going. I strongly urge Gwyneth Williams to resist the lobbying, on this blog and elsewhere, for it to stay. There is more than enough, and at times an outrageous amount, of americana on Radio 4 without having a whole programme dedicated to it. I was hoping, with Gwyneth Williams background, that Americana would be replaced by Africana.

  • Comment number 19.

    Marcus Smith

    I do not get the impression from reading your comment that you have a sound knowledge of what Americana is about. Americana, a 30 minute programme broadcast once a week, has a distinctive character. It is not a programme that reinforces the crude stereotypes much derided by all discerning listeners, but one that provides valuable insights into everyday life in the United States. I do not understand how you can be "delighted" that this much loved programme is being axed by Gwyneth Williams. Have any items in particular from the programme angered or upset you?

  • Comment number 20.

    Given that Gwyneth Williams has now clarified the number of first and second time writer commissions in the Afternoon Play slot is now 40 out of 150, the second half of my comment #15 is withdrawn.


  • Comment number 21.

    I'd like to say how wonderful the comedy Cabin Pressure is. I'm sure people complain more than praise, and this is tightly written, superbly acted and directed. In fact, Radio 4 excels itself at well-written comedy and drama in many forms, including short stories (please don't chop these, or is this just rumour?), plays and sit-coms (dreadful word, but you know what I mean). So, more of all of the above. Or, will the freezing of the licence fee restrict terrific productions like Cabin Pressure?

  • Comment number 22.


    I have been listening to Radio 4 since it's inception in 1967. I have 14 radios around the house all tuned to Radio 4. I work from home and listen, on average, to about 8 hours of Radio 4 thoughout the day. I think I have as sound a knowledge of Radio 4 output as anyone else and, in my option, 'there is more than enough, and at times an outrageous amount, of americana on Radio 4 without having a whole programme dedicated to it'. The reason why 'I am delighted that Americana is going' is because I like to take a nice relaxing bath at 7.15 on a Sunday evening and I am looking forward to listening to some other than yet another programme about America.

  • Comment number 23.

    Is it because of her gender bias that Gwyneth Williams refuses to permit real equality on Radio 4, by allowing men a daily magazine programme through which to voice their views, perspectives and experiences, just as 'Woman's Hour' does for women? I have heard weak excuses from the BBC, such as it can also be informative and entertaining for the male half of Radio 4's audience. That may be true, but equally, an hour a day dedicated to the male perspective might also prove informative and entertaining for women. Is sexism only wrong when women are its victims, but not when men are? Are not half of the BBC's and Radio 4's audience male, and do they not have the right to an equal voice?


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