My goal has been to keep the station intelligent and to build audiences by smartening up not dumbing down, making sure Radio 4 is the place to come for greater understanding, particularly in these turbulent timesGwyneth Williams
Date: 21.01.2019 Last updated: 21.01.2019 at 11.00
The BBC has today announced that Gwyneth Williams, Controller of Radio 4 and 4 Extra, is to leave the corporation.
Gwyneth Williams first worked as a talks writer at the World Service, later becoming Head of Radio Current Affairs and Director of BBC World Service English before being appointed Controller of Radio 4 in September 2010.
During her eight year tenure, Radio 4 has reached record numbers of listeners with ambitious on-air programmes and has also transformed its digital offer to reach new, on-demand audiences. Radio 4 Extra has also doubled its audience to over 2 million.
Listeners turned to Radio 4 in record numbers - with a peak of 11.5 million - in the months after the EU Referendum and at the time of the 2017 General Election, with programmes such as More Or Less and Brexit: A Guide For The Perplexed helping to shed light on tumultuous political times.
Tony Hall, Director-General, says: “It’s hard to overstate Gwyneth’s contribution to the BBC and our audiences - few can match her achievements. From her time in Current Affairs, the World Service, and Radio 4, Gwyneth has always put giving listeners the best in thoughtful and illuminating programming first. She’s been a dear colleague and I’m personally thankful to her for all she’s done. Whilst she’ll be very much missed, I wish her all the best for the future.”
Gwyneth Williams says: “I have had eight wonderful years running Radio 4, a national treasure at the very heart of the BBC’s public service purpose. My goal has been to keep the station intelligent and to build audiences by smartening up not dumbing down, making sure Radio 4 is the place to come for greater understanding, particularly in these turbulent times.
"I have worked with remarkable people throughout my career and none more so than my tiny, hard-working and brilliant team at Radio 4. I grew up listening to the World Service in apartheid South Africa, so that too has a special place in my heart.”
As Controller of Radio 4, Gwyneth has given more prominence to science, launching The Life Scientific With Jim Al-Khalili, and invigorated the 9am slot, adding new culture and arts programming which includes Only Artists and Soul Music. Poetry has also come in from the edges with many new commissions and the appointment of a Poet In Residence, currently Alice Oswald.
Gwyneth has deepened understanding of news events through culture. Some examples include the series Reading Europe, which features contemporary fiction from across the continent; the ambitious dramatisation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, to mark the 70th anniversary of the partition of India; and the recent reading on New Year’s Day of The Leopard, a novel for our times about a society facing great change. She has made the station’s coverage more international in both news and culture programming.
During her tenure, Gwyneth has introduced a wider range of voices to the station, which now has women fronting most of the main news programmes and diverse presenters across a number of high profile titles.
Gwyneth has had a longstanding involvement with The Reith Lectures. As Controller her lecturers have included Grayson Perry, the late Professor Stephen Hawking, Dame Hilary Mantel and Anthony Appiah, and as editor notable lecturers were Daniel Barenboim and Onora O’Neill.
Highlights in her commissions as Controller include Zola: Blood, Sex And Money with Glenda Jackson; Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, broadcast across ten mornings at the time of his death; the high-impact story of Rob Titchener’s controlling and abusive behaviour towards Helen in The Archers; Peter Hennessy’s Reflections; Jeremy Bowen’s History of the Middle East; Neil MacGregor’s many distinguished series, most recently As Others See Us; Women Talking About Cars and the popular Tweet Of The Day.
Gwyneth has pioneered Radio 4’s digital offer and launched popular podcasts such as the conspiracy thriller Tracks; Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming, for Book Of The Week; and last year’s investigation The Ratline. In October 2018 there were over 16 million Radio 4 podcast downloads in the UK alone - a record number - and more than 26 million globally.
While at the BBC World Service Gwyneth launched the successful history programmes Witness, The Forum, and The Strand.
Bob Shennan, Director of Radio and Music, says: “There isn’t another station like Radio 4, it has a unique role in the lives of its listeners and for the nation. Gwyneth has been a great custodian and under her watch over the last eight years the station has found new ways to broaden our understanding of the world through its rich mix of news, documentaries, drama and comedy.”
James Purnell, Director of Radio and Education, says: “Very few can rival Gwyneth’s contribution to BBC Radio, nor her ability to craft a schedule full of illuminating and varied programming. She has brought brilliant Radio 4 programming to new audiences. Working with Gwyneth has been a pleasure, and I wish her well.”
Gwyneth Williams will continue as Controller of Radio 4 until late spring. The BBC will appoint her replacement in due course.
Notes to Editors Around 11 million UK listeners tune in to Radio 4 every week. In Q2 2017 - during the 2017 snap General Election - a record 11.55 million turned to Radio 4 for news coverage and analysis.
Radio 4 Extra has around 2 million listeners, up from around 1 million in 2010.
Gwyneth Williams’ career at the BBC
Gwyneth started her career in Bush House as a trainee talks writer in 1976, rapidly moving to become producer and duty editor of BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight.
She took five years out of employment to be with her family and worked briefly at the Overseas Development Institute.
As Editor, Policy and Social Programmes from 1994 to 1996, she oversaw the launch of current affairs programmes on BBC Radio 5 Live and edited a number of flagship Radio 4 programmes. She was also Editor, Foreign Affairs Radio and bi-media Editor, Home Current Affairs, before becoming Head of Radio Current Affairs.
As Director of BBC World Service English, Gwyneth was responsible for all the BBC's international radio programmes in English and for the 13 streams which deliver output to listeners around the globe.
Gwyneth was appointed Controller of Radio 4 and 4 Extra in July 2010.