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Feedback: Roger Bolton interviews Radio 4's controller Gwyneth Williams

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 16:20, Friday, 18 November 2011

Radio theatre

BBC Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House, London

There is an expression floating around the internet at the moment, plucked from a number of American magazines. It's "pulling a Gwyneth" and refers to that somewhat eccentric actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Well on Feedback this week we pulled our own Gwyneth - Gwyneth Williams - who as Controller of Radio 4 has introduced the most significant changes to the network's schedule since James Boyle, well over a decade ago.

In private his successors will tell you that they were grateful for many of the changes he made, but at the time there was a huge uproar and shortly afterwards the man, nicknamed McBirt, retired to the quieter waters of Leith and the world of Scottish arts.

His next two successors, Helen Boaden and Mark Damazer concentrated on the programmes and those who make them.

Now Gwyneth Williams, driven in part, some suspect, by the need to make economies, but also by a genuine belief that The World at One needs more time, and that her network needs more science and less Americana, has refashioned the schedule she has inherited.

Quite a number of those who have contacted Feedback approve of what she has done, but a larger number worry that Radio 4 is now too dominated by news. They point out that between 6am and midnight over a third of the Radio 4 output is news or news related.

"We already have 5live", one wrote. "We don't need another rolling news station". I put the concerns to Gwyneth Williams when we met this week. (By the way the name Gwyneth, Welsh of course, means "white, fair, blessed". Well I can confirm that she is white and fair. You can decide on the third attribute.)

Here is our discussion.

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Please let us know what you want Feedback to look into, and remember, the BBC Trust's consultation on Delivering Quality First ends on 21 December.

Make sure your voice is heard.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback


  • Comment number 1.

    The "white, fair" Gwyneth did not sound at all "blessed." Indeed she didn't sound like a happy bunny at all.

    But I suspect she'd have been even more ill at ease if the subject of Radio 4's rapidly vanishing short story output had been raised.

    What a pity it wasn't.

    Meanwhile the petition against Gyneth's philistine cuts has now raised some 9,000 signatures - including those of Juliet Stevenson, Joanna Lumley, Ian Rankin, Tim Pigott-Smith . . .


  • Comment number 2.

    Apologies: "Gwyneth's philistine cuts..."

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm commenting against my better judgement - I really don't believe it makes any difference what listeners and viewers say, the BBC doesn't listen to what we tell them. Sad, really. I like Feedback, and I think Roger Bolton does a good job, but if he's faced with a programme producer or with the controller, who is convinced s/he is 100% right, what's the point of having the option to provide Feedback? Either the programme itself, or the 'right to comment' on these blogs? Prove it works, and stop treating us like morons, please. Customers comment by refusing to buy, in the end. I'm not going to listen to R4 any more, it's too depressing.

  • Comment number 4.

    It is good that there is more good science on Radio 4 - The Life Scientific, Brain Culture, A History of the Brain and yesterday a welcome return of The Infinite Monkey Cage. It is a great blow, however, that she ditched the excellent Americana - a once-a-week programme that lasted a mere 30 minutes.

    Feedback at 4:30 just doesn't feel right. When it was on at 1:30 I knew where I was - It's Friday, it's 1:30 it's Feedback! Although a person may have only a minor problem with his inner ear it can throw him completely off balance. An anchor cable has been cut.

  • Comment number 5.

    'Americana' will be sadly missed, Matt Frei is a fine broadcaster. Gwyneth Williams obviously feels the need to make her mark,
    and for what...more news!


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