Magazine article The Spectator

Cruel Cuts

Magazine article The Spectator

Cruel Cuts

Article excerpt

You might be forgiven for thinking that the cuts to broadcasting have already been implemented, with nothing but Mozart on Radio 3 and the Bible on Radio 4 on Sunday.

Meanwhile, we've discovered that the actor who played the unfortunate Nigel Pargetter in The Archers, Graham Seed, has lost 75 per cent of his income, with only a few weeks' warning - is he another silent victim of the national overspend?

Switch over to the BBC's World Service and the New Year diet becomes even more stringent. No drama for at least a month, so that between the briefings on world news and sport there are instead endless repeats of The Strand, Crossing Continents or The Forum with just one or two new half-hour documentaries per week. We should be asking questions. The international play-writing competitions sponsored by the World Service have just about survived - but for how much longer? We need more drama, and more short stories, on public-service radio, not less, and especially if libraries are given the chop as recession-hit local authorities have threatened.

The Mozart season has been a brilliant masterclass; a cheap way to fill up 12 days of radio, yet carefully planned and thought through. The single day of readings from the great riches of the King James 'authorised' version of the Bible was, in contrast, a very odd experience. Treated as if they were Shakespeare or Sophocles, with huge chunks of text read in an actorly manner, the passages from Exodus, Daniel, Judges, Revelation became mere stories, which had, it seemed, been chosen (and abridged) at random. Some among the team of readers pulled it off; others could not reach the right tone of intimacy juxtaposed with grandeur, so that the words were read as a collection of lines rather than as an invitation to reflective thought.

Perhaps because we have become so inured to the daily repetition of awful events in Albert Square or Ambridge, the biblical tales of baby killing, murderous brothers and wicked temptresses seemed almost tame in comparison, and far too long-winded. The two-hour chunk in the afternoon was particularly badly timed. Who is sufficiently alert at that time of day on a Sunday to appreciate the trials of Samson or troubles of Job? Most of us listen while doing something else, but it is impossible to take in the King James without concentrating pretty hard. The anniversary deserved an inquisitive, sensitive brain like Neil MacGregor at the helm, and an expensive two-year gestation. …

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