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A new Controller for Radio 4

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Tim Davie Tim Davie 12:00, Thursday, 15 July 2010

Gwyneth Williams, new Controller of BBC Radio 4

Over the past two months I've been searching for a new Controller for Radio 4 and Radio 7. This is no simple task; Radio 4 is a unique cultural institution with a passionate audience and incredibly talented staff. Leading it is a huge honour. As I wrote here at the start of the process, Mark Damazer - Radio 4's current Controller - has managed to sustain buoyant audiences without compromising the quality of programmes, so I am well aware of the importance of finding the right person to follow in the exceptional Mr Damazer's footsteps.

I saw some outstanding candidates during the recruitment process; brilliant leaders from a broad range of backgrounds, all with hugely impressive experience. This week we entered the final stage of the lengthy process and today we announced on Radio 4 that the successful candidate is Gwyneth Williams, until recently Director of BBC World Service English.

Gwyneth is an editorial leader of the highest calibre and a passionate supporter of Radio 4. She brings vast broadcasting experience, tremendous intelligence and a fresh perspective to the role. I was impressed by her creativity, enthusiasm and ideas for building the network's intellectual quality while maintaining its relevance.

This is one of the biggest jobs in broadcasting and I believe I have found the right person to succeed Mark Damazer. I look forward to working with her in building on Mark's success and leading Radio 4 to even greater things over coming years.

Tim Davie is Director of BBC Audio & Music


  • Comment number 1.

    Big shoes to fill, given how good Radio 4 already is.

  • Comment number 2.

    Thank goodness Damazer has gone, can we have sailing by back now PLEASE?

  • Comment number 3.

    She looks really nice - but wasn't "articulate" one of the job requirements? I'm average thick, but not inspired with confidence yet - too many "umms" per sq inch.

  • Comment number 4.

    I hope the new Controller of Radio 4 will look at the Play schedule on Radio 4. There are not enough and not enough repeats.

    1. I would much prefer to hear an hour long Afternoon Play.
    2. I would like the Saturday Play to be repeated on say a Monday afternoon. As far as I can see it is never repeated.
    3. Similarly I would like the Classic Serial to be broadcast on an afternoon during the week i.e. Monday to Friday.
    Yes I can listen again, but I would prefer just to switch on my Radio.

    in the afternoons. I would like

  • Comment number 5.

    PLEASE, PLEASE, no more music programmes (they belong on R1, R2, R3, R6), fewer arts and religious programmes and MORE science programmes (replace the wretched Front Row with a daily science programme). Radio 4 is a SPOKEN WORD service, PLEASE RESTORE IT TO ITS ROOTS.

  • Comment number 6.

    Congratulations to Ms Williams.

    One humble request on a contentious decision that was even raised in the House:


    Clearly there's great demand for this "peotic & pastoral" piece (Damazer).

    I believe you'll find the vast majority of licence paying larks would appreciate the return of THE UK THEME.

    Hopefully that's not too much to ask without another petition.

    Being roused by a national medley is the way to start the day.

    Thank you.

  • Comment number 7.

    Good luck Gwyneth. Now would you please ask your presenters/newsreaders to talk about elections/competitions instead of races, when no-one has to date explained where the winning post is in an election, and to refrain from back-to-back events which are illogical as the start of event one would be followed by the finish of event two, when what is really meant is consecutive. I am tired of being embarrassed and irritated by such unprofessionalism from people representing a beloved and previously respected institution?

  • Comment number 8.

    Congrats Gwyneth. And: in spite of how we might sometimes appear we don't mind you occasionally moving some of the furniture; just as long as you do it one item at a time.. And yes, Sailing By is a marvellous bookend; but it does need its opposite number the UK Theme. I didn't have many complaints about Mark Damazer, but his opening "pacy news briefing" was a real failure: not just rearranging the furniture, but removing the porch from the front door. It still doesn't really work very well, and needs attention.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'd like to also request the return of the UK Theme

    and to stop the trails to the Neil McGregor's a History of the world in 100 objects. We heard it all last year. Isn't it enough to promote it online?

    And Neil McGregor's droaning voice makes me dive for FiveLive or BBC R7.

    Why didn't Mark get a good voice to read Neils script?

  • Comment number 10.

    I'd love a return to the continuity announcers handling the Shipping Forecast.

  • Comment number 11.

    I was relieved to hear Gwyneth Williams point out that the BBC World Service broadcasts its programmes by a whole variety of means (though there was a row when they cut off Short Wave transmissions to North America). So I won't rubbish DAB radio (except to remark that reception only a couple of miles from the city-centre of Glasgow is poor), but simply urge that, unless their cost seriously contributes to the national deficit, FM transmissions should continue.

    And by the way, this is another Golden Age of newscasters. The women slightly have the edge on the men, and Charlotte Green is the doyenne. But for sheer cool professionalism they can't be faulted (BBC7 continuity "personalities" please note!).

  • Comment number 12.

    I'd like her revert back to old Radio 4 website.
    Far too much space is taken up with pictures which slightly ironic given that it's an audio broadcast.
    Nothing wrong with pictures when you click through to a programme but not so many on the front page please.

  • Comment number 13.

    I've just got 3 things to ask:

    1. Please don't dumb down.
    2. Please don't dumb down.
    3. Please don't dumb down.

  • Comment number 14.

    Well if Ms. Williams has a fraction of Ms. Helen Boaden’s enthusiasm and barometric sensitivity for radio – and I suspect she has - then I am all in favour of the appointment. The World Service has been transmitting some exceptional programmes over the last couple of years.

    I hope Ms Williams devotes time thinking about how to recruit new R4 listeners (but not via comedy programmes), rather than placating all the old miseries who wear vests and turn-ups on their trousers. Dr. Gwyneth Lewis’s ‘A Voyage To Lundy’ was a good recruitment programme.

  • Comment number 15.

    Am I right in questioning the BBC's (aka the manager of the taxpayer's money) have an obsession with Alasdair Campbell? Yet again he's on the BBC radio 4 this morning! I thought Fi Glover's comments at the end of the programme quite insulting and patronising. I haven't met anyone who likes this man-ever. Yet the BBC continuously promote him, his writing, ask his opinion etc. If it wasn't for the BBC, he wouldn't make a living. He wouldn't survive in a true commercial environment. He's snide to say the least. Why do the BBC continue to give him and his books etc so much air time? What hold does he have? Who's interested in him? He's well and truly past it as a subject of interest. Get some young talent on.

  • Comment number 16.

    Replying to Message 15

    I hope Ms. Williams relinquishes R4’s obsessive control of 'Feedback' when she takes up her new role. I’d like to know more about the role of agents within R4 – and Feedback should cover such topics. I, too, heard this morning’s programme and was as puzzled as you concerning Mr. C’s appearance. He’s already presented one R4 programme about Jacques Brel. It’s not as if radio has ever been important within his life. I also wondered why Saturday Live isn’t renamed ‘London Live’.

    Ms. Williams is going to be a very busy lady!

  • Comment number 17.

    The main point of conversation in the pub last night on the matter concerned Thought For The Day. Extreme views were aired, but their was majority in favour of scrapping it and a vocal minority in favour of opening it up to people of no faith.

  • Comment number 18.

    Radio 4 used to be the home service and should remain so. Please do not turn our beloved Radio 4 into a "World Service Lite"

    There are too many monotonous stories and plays. These could be replaced with classic poetry read by professional readers.
    Please have music programmes discussing classic 60s music that is of more interest than jazz.

  • Comment number 19.

    Message 18

    "Please have music programmes discussing classic 60s music that is of more interest than jazz".

    Yes, R4 does have serious problems with the production of interesting music features. I thought the programme about Hip-Hop in China was exceptional; The Archive Hour devoted to the mods was very poor, with no reference to Steve Marriott. 'The Music Group' is a two stroke programme, especially when the presenter is spotted taking part in ‘Quote Unquote’. You could devote a whole edition of The Archive Hour to the history of The Incredible String Band. Poetry and music works on R4 (e.g. the R4 programme about Tam Lin worked well). Music connected with monumental events also work on R4 (e.g. The R4 programme about the Kent State murders – Neil Young’s ‘Ohio’ was played throughout the programme)

    How should Ms Williams address your concern, without the programme sounding as though it should be transmitted on R2, 6 Music or R1?

  • Comment number 20.

    19. Lawrence Jones

    The 1960s were a very innovative era and yet there is very little discussion of the music and performers of this time.

    Yet Radio 4 drones on about jazz which has been pushed by the BBC for all my life. I would like 60s music discussed as a part of social history and this does not mean endless playing of the "Classic Hits" I would like proper discussion about the lyrics, the band members and the rapidly changing times. For instance Bob Dylans early 60s stuff and through to Pink Floyd at the decades end.

    Now I have never heard discussion of this type on Radio 2.

  • Comment number 21.

    Congratulations to Gwyneth Williams.
    PLEASE REINSTATE THE UK THEME on radio 4. It is an excellent way to start the day. 'Sailing' is perfect for closing the day.
    The current 'On this day in previous years' is quite unmemorable because the incidents referred to are delivered so quickly, it is impossible to remember them and they fade into oblivion and insignificance - this item could happily be dispensed with. I've yet to find anyone who has found 'On this day' of any interest.
    Let us have more programmes about Jazz and the Big Band era. 'Pop' items should be confined to Radio 1 (and 2), certainly not on Radio 4.
    Please - no more dumbing down of Radio 4.

  • Comment number 22.

    Replying to Looternite (message 20)

    Oh yes, I know what you mean about Jazz and this used to irritate me when I was a youngster (struggled with trad and never had any desire to wear a bowler hat!!!). A lot of Jazz purists will argue that Ken Clarke’s programme leaves a lot to be desired. You certainly won’t hear John McLaughlin’s work discussed.

    Helen Boaden wrote quite a lengthy article some years ago about R4’s neglect of popular culture on R4 (sorry just spent 30 mins trying to find the reference for you). R4 has always been sniffy about the bands/personnel/culture that I suspect are lurking within your mind. Take a look at some of the controllers and commissioning editors CVs. You’ll find opera, classical – but no pop. Woman’s Hour is a disaster when it comes to appreciation/knowledge of popular music and associated culture. R4 could do with a pop equivalent of Dr. Peggy Reynolds. There are, though, some very knowledgeable radio producers working in this area. Lucy Ditchmont, Barney Rowntree, Sam Bryant et al did a pretty good job with 1968 Myth or Reality [1].

    The Eel Pie Island Hotel [2] and Burdon’s Journey touched on the subjects mentioned in your posting – and I can think of a few others. I do, however, still think your point is valid.

    Thanks for responding.


    [1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/1968/daybyday.shtml

    [2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00773kj

    [3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/pip/dpip0/

  • Comment number 23.

    22. Lawrence Jones

    Thanks for the links; you do seem to be very knowledgeable on this subject.
    I have always wondered why Radio 4 is so sniffy about popular culture, not just music but literature. After all the BBC is funded by a form of poll tax and so, it should reflect the wider public.
    As someone who is now turned 60 I was very much part of the 60s generation. Radio 4 often has nostalgic programmes about the war and 1950s but the 60s don’t seem to be quite far enough back for the programme makers to recognise this era.

  • Comment number 24.

    Wonder if Ms Williams' editorial work will allow her to check on how BBC radio 4 is not (I repeat not)fulfilling its international role in reporting the tragic deaths in action in Afghanistan of allied forces other than those from the UK and USA, whilst continuing to air those propaganda messages from the Taleban? Of course there should be objectivity and not bias in hard news reporting, but let's have balance too. What about the 41 Australians plus other nationals murdered by the Taleban and unrecorded by BBC radio; haven't they earned a place in our grief?
    Don't we have an obligation to honour those whose lives have been sacrificed to help future generations of Afghans? I've been asking for the policy on this from variousl sources in the BBC for a month now, with no response. It hardly needs saying that the Taleban's latest (July 15) claims about our true policy in Afghanistan won't convince any reasonable British listener.

  • Comment number 25.

    I used to agree with David_Jago's comment:-

    "And by the way, this is another Golden Age of newscasters. The women slightly have the edge on the men,
    and Charlotte Green is the doyenne "

    but now I think that for sheer clarity, pronounciation and voice quality, the best current newsreader
    has to be Cathy Clugston (hope my sepelling is correct!)

  • Comment number 26.

    The first priority for the new Controller should be to restore The World at One and The World This Weekend to 45 minutes (or even 60).

    A useful second move would be to cut down the number of 15-minute stories/dramas. It is irritating to tune in on the offchance and come in halfway through episode 3 of some silly story. The gist of factual programmes can be more easily picked up, even if on misses the beginning: an excellent File on Four being an example, this afternoon.

    Woman's Hour is quite clearly well past its day. If it was "Man's Hour", it would have been axed as non-PC years ago.

    While you're about it, could you not restore the timing of the interesting "Sunday" programme to a more civilised hour, say from 8 a.m. I am a regular churchgoer, but I find the Sunday morning R4 Church Service ill-timed and, frankly, boring.

    And that's just a start....

  • Comment number 27.

    Leave services untouched and let the military raise money with jumble sales and other public fund-raising.

  • Comment number 28.

    message 26

    "And that's just a start"

    You forgot to mention the reinstatement of ‘The Financial World Tonight’. If radio is so popular, then why did R4 close the flagship: ‘A World in Your Ear’? Why hasn’t Feedback interviewed any R4 official who was involved in the ‘Radio 4 Roadshow’? Do university students listen to R4? What do drama students think about the scandalous demise of The Friday Play? Why doesn’t R4 support its messageboards? Ms. Williams could be the first controller to place an (identifiable) posting.

    11:15………..and that was The Financial World tonight……Phewwww…..off with the intellectual running shoes.

  • Comment number 29.

    I don't often find myself agreeing with the nationalist
    leader A. Salmond, but did today in his interview with
    Evan Davies on the Today programme.
    Salmond again showed his mastery of
    language technique, though his points were political,
    but Evan did hand him the opportunity for a closing triumph
    when he put that condescending question about a Scottish
    "foreign policy."
    Personally, I'd be much more concerned about any
    "Defence" policy, e.g. navy, army, airforce for Scotland.

  • Comment number 30.

    It seems the website complaints procedure is being treated by insiders as something of a joke, when it states:-

    "For some of our, um, more regular correspondents,..." etc.

    Paul Wakely, Editor, Moderation Services, BBC Online, needs to nip this jokey treatment of genuine complaints in the bud. Let's have some public accountability and less sneering 'look at me' showing off.

  • Comment number 31.

    I was one of the 15 million who listened to "Dick Barton" every evening at 6.45 pm in the post-war years, from the age of 7 in 1946. Having just returned from a short holiday, I find that last Thursday's programme, "Dick Barton-a Very Special Agent", is already gone from the website, just 7 days and 1 hour after it was broadcast. You bring the shutters down as fast as a Saudi shopkeeper at mid-day when the religious police are around! Does this mean that the programme is gone forever and that I will have no chance to wallow in nostalgia? By the way, the background note left on the site is not quite correct, to my recall. "Dick" was not immediately replaced by "The Archers" but by a circus life soap, "The Daring Dexters." I think it lasted for only a few weeks, paling in comparison with its predecessor. But never so pale as "the everyday story of country-folk", which I never took to.

  • Comment number 32.

    May I join those welcoming Gwyneth Williams?

    May I also add my voice to those calling for the return of the UK theme? In fact, why not play it before the 13:00 news as well?

  • Comment number 33.

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

  • Comment number 34.

    I on't agree with comments that Front Row is dire. Its reviews are first-rate and Mark Lawson does a great job.

    I'd like to see Feedback done more seriously, one gets the impression that listeners are patronised and their views not taken seriously enough.

    Women's Hour is, as some have said already, well past its sell-by date and needs a new format.

    Please could we have the Radio 4 anthem back. Getting rid of it seemed a sop to the politically correct.

    I find your news bulletins through the day (apart from Today, the 1 o'clock news and PM) very thin. I tend to switch to Radio 2 to get a fuller version.

    And Sunday mornings - urgh. I know the BBC has a commitment to Christianity but, really, can we have some news at some point in the morning? I find Radio 5 live so much better on Sunday morning while Radio 4 is doing its white-middle-class-kneeling-in-the-pews thing.

    And Fi Glover, you need to break out of the London focus. I'm glad I'm not the only listener to have noticed that you obssess about the metropolis. Not all your listeners (and licence fee payers) live within the M25.

    Er, that's it. Thanks.

  • Comment number 35.

    There is a lot that continues to be good and really good on R4 so it will be important to make sure they continue. I note that Gwyneth has already been in charge of much that is good. Comedy on R4 is one exception though. I cannot imagine that the BBC can get away with describing many of the programmes as such. Reading above I saw the joke in
    "Mark Damazer - Radio 4's current Controller - has managed to sustain buoyant audiences without compromising the quality of programmes, so I am well aware of the importance of finding the right person to follow in the exceptional Mr Damazer's footsteps." it is QUALITY that we need reinstated and I do hope Gwyneth will try to undo all the damage done by Damazer.

    There was a comment higher up about Feedback. It just does not work for the listener and I have stopped listening. It does show how arrogant many of the BBC producers are though.

    I also wonder what happened to the drama and story telling on the World Service, a look at RNZ would offer some ideas of what to do to entertain us all and bring in more listeners.

    Of R7 its prime value is in the fact of offering quality programmes from the archives. It should be on all our radios however - not just the DAB ones.

    I keep my fingers crossed that Quality is the key word and change is neither driven by listener numbers or new brooms.

  • Comment number 36.

    I sincerely hope the new controller has some interests outside 'the arts'. Radio 4 is getting dull and boring as it becomes increasingly an arts broadcaster with apparently little interest and no skill in any other area.
    Take yesterdays (Wed 18th August) PM program. This is supposed to be 'news and current affairs'. We were treated to a long piece on some newly dead 'literary critic' - frankly I don't read literary critics, I prefer to read the books and make up my own mind...
    Apart from the 'interview' (not exactly in depth or useful) with the Labour party candidate - actually an idea that I agree with - the rest of the listening was equally about art and celebrity, not a single piece of news in it.

    Frankly - especially at a time when the UK needs people who actually do useful things - like manufacturing - we should find a balance on stations like radio 4 where engineering, science, proper investigative journalism (not just reading sound bites from a prepared government statement, or asking stupid questions about 'splits' in a coalition - of course there are going to be differences of opinion in ANY government worth its salt, if there aren't then we have worse than a dictatorship even some of Hitlers advisers argued with him!).
    Radio 4 should stop believing the rest of the world is full of arts obsessed thickos with the attention span of a goldfish and start providing us with real content worth chewing.

  • Comment number 37.

    For the sake of your station's integrity please get rid of [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] and all similarly poorly acted and extremely poorly written rubbish.

  • Comment number 38.

    Oh please, no return to that awful musical medley, I would call it more a musical mash-up, called the "UK Theme"...

    As for what I would like to see changed (brought back), it would have to be a 40 to 45min' "World at One" and the reinstatement of the lunchtime - that is, between 13:00 and 14:00hrs - repeat of the previous nights edition of the "The Archers", there must be many people who don't get a chance to listen to either of the week-day editions of the Archers due to working/travelling times and thus have to plan their Sunday mornings around the omnibus edition. Also, suggesting to people living in the country and/or away from Broadband (and indeed, in some cases, rock steady dial-up) that they can 'catch-up' via the web podcasts is not all that helpful I suspect!

    Oh, and can we have a daytime or evening repeat of Farming Today please, this has been mentioned to Mark in past blogs, if I remember correctly he was broadly sympathetic to the rational for such a repeat (although scheduling seemed to have been the problem), I also seem to recall that there was some support amongst fellow bloggers to the suggestion.

  • Comment number 39.

    26. At 9:18pm on 18 Jul 2010, tambman wrote:

    "Woman's Hour is quite clearly well past its day. If it was "Man's Hour", it would have been axed as non-PC years ago."

    Agreed, there is absolutely no need for such a programme in this day and age, the programmes name and content should be made none gender specific, better still, the programme should just be scrapped.

    "While you're about it, could you not restore the timing of the interesting "Sunday" programme to a more civilised hour, say from 8 a.m. I am a regular churchgoer, but I find the Sunday morning R4 Church Service ill-timed and, frankly, boring."

    In my opinion, a re-timed "Sunday" programme would be a good replacement for that irrelevant excuse and waste of space of a programme called "Broadcasting House" on a Sunday morning unless it is made into a serious news/current affairs programme (complete with a new serious presenter [1]) - and I'm not at all a religious person but find Sunday far more intellectually interesting than anything normally contained within "BH"...

    "And that's just a start...."

    Indeed, I won't even mention my (long running) request to 'steel' the "Financial World Tonight" back from Radio 5Live!

    [1] and on that subject, can we have a serious presenter for PM, surely there must be another William Hardcastle or Derek Cooper waiting in the wings somewhere, and if the UK Theme is to return (as some seem to want) can PM have it's quirky Theme tune back also please? :-)


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