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Roger Bolton on the London Season

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick 13:55, Friday, 16 July 2010

Langham Place panorama 600

If Dr Johnson was right in saying that "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life", then a lot of Feedback listeners are pretty exhausted. The cause is the two week London Season which has just finished on Radio 4. Let me give you a flavour of the reaction of some out of London listeners.

"This programme (The London Story) summed up the kind of smug self satisfied attitude that makes Londoners so unpopular throughout the rest of the UK. The entire programme amounted to a 45 minute pat on the back about how wonderful it is to live there."
"I keep hearing adverts for a Radio 4 season where they will be focusing on London. Most of us thought that they had been doing this for the last 50 years."
"The new London series is just another symptom of the fundamentally metropolitan outlook of Radio 4 and the BBC in general."

One listener even wrote "Bring me the head of Radio 4, Roger." Well that won't be necessary because Mark Damazer has already announced he is stepping down and going off to run an Oxford College.

His successor, Gwynneth Williams was announced on Thursday and she of course starts with a clean slate. New Controllers of Radio 4 are usually asked to try and increase the listenership outside the south east, the numbers decline the further north you go, and you may have noticed more on air regional accents in recent years. (Mine is basically Cumbrian, corrupted by years living in the Great Wen).

It would appear from the reactions of Feedback listeners that there is a lot more to do.

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Roger Bolton presents Feedback on BBC Radio 4

  • Listen again to the whole programme, get in touch with Feedback, find out how to join the listener panel or subscribe to the podcast on the Feedback web page.
  • Visit the London: Another Country? homepage for details of all the programmes in the season and to listen to those that are still available.
  • Radio 4 hosted a live chat here on the blog and on Twitter for the Greatest City debate. You can read the conversation here and the tweets here.
  • Some listeners enjoyed London: Another Country? Scroll through tweets about the season for a fairly even mixture of pro and anti.
  • The picture is by Steve Bowbrick.


  • Comment number 1.

    It sounded to me that the Commissioning Editor did not listen at all to any of the criticism that has been leveled at the season. He was so defensive about the whole season that it was pretty pointless even broadcasting his interview.

    He seemed to be completely unaware and unaccepting that listeners might not want to hear even more about how "great" London is. *That* is the attitude that your listeners addressed and he should certainly get out of London more often.

  • Comment number 2.


    Mohit Bakaya completely failed to seriously respond to the queries raised by myself and others.

    The idea that 'nothing worthy of reporting' has happened in Glasgow, Belfast, Birmingham etc ... in the last 30 years (worthy of a similar season) is risible. I quote,

    “We go to all these places all the time ... if there is a compelling journalistic reason to do a season of programmes on Belfast or Glasgow, or any of the OTHER PLACES you mentioned, then of course we will consider it.”

    Chamberlain’s speech concerning a “far-away country” and “people of whom we know nothing” springs to mind!

    When was the last programme centered in Scotland, away from: A) Constitutional issues, B) gardening or C) rambling in a remote area of countryside?

    Yes, London has changed in the last 30 years - as has the rest of the country. Mr Bakaya’s failure to acknowledge this shows the limited horizon he is capable of scanning (from his fourth floor office).

    Frankly, unless the 'Nation' he refers to is itself defined by the outer boundary of the M25, Radio 4 is far from 'representative of the Nation'. The London Season, as typified by the particularly disgraceful 'London Alphabet' programme ('d is for drinking'!), is merely adding insult to injury.

    To answer that 'we covered the disadvantaged of London', is merely sidestepping the issue.

  • Comment number 3.


    Why not cover the changes in the city of Belfast over the last couple decades relating to the peace process and redevelopment? Is this not worthy of a similar (somewhat curtailed) series?

    Why not cover Glasgow's incredible rise via the Capital City of Culture, and ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’ campaign and scrubbing-up of the city's image? Or dig in to the backroom politics of the magnificent City Chambers at the heart of George Square?

    Or perhaps the way in which Asian identity differs in Scotland (and Glasgow in particular): 'British' being the preferred hyphenation south of the border (due to the apparent impossibility of being 'English Asian'), versus the Glasgow experience of the Indian Sikh, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities positively embracing a distinctively 'Scottish Asian' or ‘Scots Asian’ identity?

    I am sure other listeners can provide other examples (with which they are more familiar) of similar tales worthy of being told about the other great cities in these islands. I cheerfully admit, my own provincialism, I just wish that those Londoners in control of commissioning future programmes would acknowledge their own.

    Unfortunately, Mohit is clearly incapable of viewing such diversity of experience, or thinks that Radio 4’s ‘listening hinterland’ is effectively irrelevant to the setting of the station’s schedule. This is very disappointing.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm originally from a part of Kent that got swallowed up by the great growing glob that is greater London, so's now you can't tell the difference. I got out many decades ago, and have stayed out ever since. I would quite like to spend some time in the arty bit in the middle, as a visitor, but so far haven't found a deal that is financially better value than elsewhere. And not sure how I would cope with that all-pervading traffic noise which I remember going on like a continuous drone in the head.

  • Comment number 5.

    Good to see that the Commissioning Editor takes constructive criticism so well, it needs censored!

  • Comment number 6.

    ... still so well adjusted that censorship is needed ...

  • Comment number 7.

    I actually thought the London Season was a very good theme.
    Most of the programmes have been illuminating. I would have liked more about the history of London, however.
    So please remember that London is a world city and we should celebrate that fact.

  • Comment number 8.

    Message 7

    "I actually thought the London Season was a very good theme.
    Most of the programmes have been illuminating. I would have liked more about the history of London, however."

    I enjoyed the ones that I heard (I live in a large Northern city), but would have preferred a compare and contrast approach – and as you say – more history.

    I’m wondering if any other blog reader recalls the R4 series (possibly broadcast in the early 70’s?) that encompassed a huge number of British towns/cities and exposed them to a far more profound analysis? The series was broadcast on a Saturday night at 2215hrs. London, Manchester and Glasgow were definitely covered.

  • Comment number 9.

    I have not listened to any of this season of programmes. The theme does not appeal to me, but perhaps there will be something that will grab my attention.

    I listened to the interview with Mohit Bakaya 3 times, each time looking for something positive. I'm afraid I was not persuaded by his arguments and in fact I found his tortuously circumlocutory attempt to justify a season of programmes on London woefully inadequate. He enthusiastically related how London "has transformed into a global city over the last 30 years" - but this could be said of many cities. In fact, an argument could be made that other cities have transformed themselves more than has London.

    He also said that London "is the capital of this country" which apart from revealing a complete ignorance of the UK's political geography is no justification in itself for making a radio programme. Mr Bakaya failed to provide listeners to Feedback with a "compelling journalistic reason" for the making of this season of programmes. Londonderry/Derry has been voted the UK's inaugural city of culture. This does not justify a season of programmes, but it might be worth one programme.

  • Comment number 10.

    The commisionig editor seemed totaly unwilling to answer the complaints put to him on air. Surely if you can come on the radio you should have answers at the ready. To someone from rural warwickshire, it really does seem, the BBC are either unaware, or probaly don't care that the rest of the country is even out there. Does he really think that only London has change over the last 30 years. Seemed total oblivious to the changes in the country as a whole.

  • Comment number 11.

    An email address was given on Radio 4 4,1800 hours.I heard this as ipmbbc.co.uk.I was then to post on the website.Did I mishear?

  • Comment number 12.

    Mistake: I was then unable to post on the website,did I mishear?

  • Comment number 13.

    Hello bryhers. The email address you heard was probably ipm@bbc.co.uk - the address for Eddie's IPM, which is currently on-air Saturdays at 1730.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog

  • Comment number 14.

    I suspect everything I could say about this navel-gazing travesty of programming has been said.

    But consider the A-Z entry on "Zoo". The bizzare remark that at some unspecified time in the past hippos used to inhabit Trafalgar square. Not, you notice, the strand or shoreditch. presumably there was some sort of pleistocene fence?

    This entire segment was information-free, just random twitterings. It seemed representative of the rest of it all.

    And as for the suggestion that London has changed in recent decades! I'd have thought it was only appropriate for special programming if it was entirely unaltered.

    Drivel, bilge, and space-filling.


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