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Does it matter where a Radio 4 programme comes from?

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 13:55, Friday, 18 February 2011

North sign

David Liddiment, the BBC Trustee who led its review into Radio 4 among other stations, must be wondering what has hit him.

No sooner had he published the review last week than newspaper columnists, the odd BBC presenter, and a lot of listeners attacked him for trying to fix something they don't believe is broken.

The irony is, neither does he.

Actually I have been economical with the actualité: some listeners would like to wring his neck. What Mr Liddiment was pointing out, which is irrefutable, is that the further away you are from London, the less likely you are to listen to Radio 4. And the same applies if you are younger, non-white and from a poorer household.

The real debate is about whether that matters, and if it does, whether moving much of the corporation's output out of London, much of it to near Manchester, is the way to tackle the alleged problem.

I should declare an interest here. Although I have worked in London for most of the past 40 years, I was brought up and educated in the north, worked full-time in Manchester for three years in the 1980s, travelled there at weekends for more than 10 years to present the Radio 4 Sunday programme - and survived.

Last week, as you may have heard, I talked to Mr Liddiment about some aspects of his review. This week I travelled to the BBC's promised land, the shining Media City UK beyond the Salford Ship Canal (it's usually called the Manchester Ship Canal, but don't say that in Salford. Those two adjacent cities have a relationship not unlike the Hitchens brothers Peter and Christopher).

I am sure that most BBC Radio listeners, generous hearted as they are, will be delighted that BBC staff are to be housed in such splendid surroundings, at their expense, although the BBC insists that 'out of London' is cheaper in the long run. But of course, what really matters is what the output from Salford will be like. Will it be the same, significantly different and/or most importantly better?

Two very independent and passionate Radio 4 listeners Heather Howarth and Delphine Price accompanied me to New Broadcasting House in Manchester which will soon be made redundant when all the staff there move to Media City UK. There we met Ian Bent, head of audio and music production in Manchester to discuss these questions:

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I'd be very interested to know what your view is on 'out of London'. Are the BBC's national radio stations too metrocentric and what should be done to change that - or are you quite happy with what you hear? Leave a comment here or get in touch via the Feedback web page. Apologies if you've had trouble getting through to our phone line in the last few weeks. The high number and length of some of the calls caused some problems but we think we've fixed it now.

Roger Bolton is presenter of Feedback


  • Comment number 1.

    I note that BBC Sport is delaying the move ... http://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/5024038.article

  • Comment number 2.

    If they delay the move too long they won't have time to get used to the new studios, location and staff before the 2012 Olympus start in London.
    If the move is too close to the Olympus, maybe they should delay the move until after the BBC sports business time since the 1948 games.

  • Comment number 3.

    I can't see the Radio 4 demographic would change much if it moved its base to the Outer Hebrides, and it was interesting to hear just how much of current Radio 4 output already comes from 'oop north. The transitional problem is the potential loss of good people who might be unwilling or unable to relocate to Salford, since as everyone points out, continuing programme quality is the primary consideration.

    Btw, is Manchester metrocentricity necessarily any better than London metrocentricity?


  • Comment number 4.

    Replying to Russ (message 3)

    But Russ, the fact that you need to write ‘oop North’ illustrates how little you must know about life in the North of England. Imagine how silly I would sound if I spoke about visiting ‘the big smoke’?

    Altering the social and geographic bandwidth will only occur if R4 ceases its Oxbridge and southern posh obsession – in terms of controllers, commissioning editors, producers and presenters. Even allowing for the fact that most producers refuse to appear on Feedback, on the rare occasions one does hear them, it’s clear from their accents that they come from upper-middle-class southern backgrounds. It cannot be accidental that most R4 comedy is southern biased when the commissioning editor possesses an inherently south of England character. Are you telling me that ‘Showstoppers’ is an R4 programme with a geographic independence? If you want another example of R4’s inability to deal with audiences north of Watford gap, cast your mind back to Fiona Glover’s (inherent south of England personality) interview with Mark Radcliffe - the interview almost ground to halt, simply because Ms. Glover couldn’t cope with his northern personality. The fact that Saturday Live inserts the Rev Richard Coles as Ms. Golver’s replacement is more evidence that SL is a programme biased towards southern listeners. Saturday Review is another R4 offering that is deliberately aimed at South of England listeners. How many guests come from the North, East , West or Southwest of England? Are you telling me that Bidisha doesn’t possess a South of England character? Ever listen to the accents of women who phone in to the Woman’s Hour’s phoneins? They are almost all southern – because, of course, WH is a programme aimed at upper-middle-class south of England females.

  • Comment number 5.

    The BBC receives over £3 billion each year from licence payers from all over the UK. Jobs are needed everywhere; not just in London. I would like to know the numbers of people employed by the BBC and their locations throughout the UK. The Scottish Government frequently complains that not enough BBC money comes north of the border.

    Good quality Radio 4 programmes are currently produced in Manchester and elsewhere. My understanding is that staff are being offered generous relocation packages, but I can understand why a person who is doing a perfectly good job in London would not want to move.

    I do not see how the move will result in a reduction in quality. No one is irreplaceable.

    Is it true that the man overseeing the relocation of BBC jobs to Salford lives in America and does not pay UK income tax?

  • Comment number 6.


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