Magazine article The Spectator

Why Change Our Habits?

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Change Our Habits?

Article excerpt

By now you will know the details of the major changes to Radio Four announced by the network's controller, James Boyle, on Wednesday, too late for this column, alas. At the time of writing I do not, though there's been intense speculation in the press for the past fortnight or so. As I'm told by the BBC that much of it is inaccurate, I won't analyse the shake-up until next week in case it turns out to be wrong.

However, it is typical of the BBC to submit the proposals to the board of governors on a Thursday and wait until the following Wednesday to inform listeners who, after all, pay for the programmes. I suspect that some of the changes will be appropriate, others less so. Like Brenda Maddox of the Times speaking last Sunday on Radio Four's Mediumwave (one of the programmes said to be for the chop), I don't see why it's necessary to introduce comprehensive changes to a successful and admired network, and all at once. Why, she asked, a `massive assault on listeners' habits?'

Polly Toynbee was vexed that listeners disliked change. As a friend of the directorgeneral, John Birt, who yearns for constant revolution (a candidate for In The Psychiatrist's Chair, perhaps?) she said the BBC had `hunkered down for a big reaction' so it might be better to do it all in one go.

Toynbee, by the way, was quoted in David Sexton's radio column in the Sunday Telegraph as describing Radio Four listeners thus: `In their dreams, Radio Four means seed-cake and Darjeeling, warm beer and spinsters on bikes, when policeman were old, pews were full and India was ours.' I don't know where she said or wrote these words but does she really mean this or was it a joke?

No, Toynbees don't make jokes; she really believes it. It struck me that Birt probably does too. I know many Radio Four listeners and not one of them remotely matches her ignorant description of their mind-set. I think she's displaying all the prejudice and snobbery of the liberal intelligentsia that, back in the Thirties, George Orwell saw through so acutely; ironically, though, it was an essay of his that provided her with the silly line about warm beer and spinsters, as indeed it did for John Major's cringe-making speech at a party conference a few years ago.

You can bet that Toynbee is the sort that wouldn't have read Enid Blyton bedtime stories to her children. Blyton, author of 700 children's books which still sell 8 million copies a year nearly 30 years after her death, was the subject of Queen of Adventure on Radio Four this week (Thursday) to mark the centenary of her birth. …

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