Magazine article The Spectator

Famous Faces

Magazine article The Spectator

Famous Faces

Article excerpt

It was almost a shock to hear Kate Adie's measured tones linking despatches in the newly extended From Our Own Correspondent on Radio Four (Saturday). It took me back to the 1950s and I fully expected her to offer me a cup of Horlicks with the stern reminder that there should be no talking after lights out.

Radio Four presenters tend not to speak like that these days. She has perfect, precise diction. There is nothing slovenly about her delivery and she reads a script with great naturalness. In fact, she has given the first two editions something of a lift which, judging by some of their material, they certainly needed.

Her first programme kicked off with the mawkish Fergal Keane, the `sobbing Celt' as one Spectator reader described him, droning on about the Northern Ireland peace agreement. He was back the following week boring us with his dental problems in Jerusalem. I had hoped it might be lockjaw but it was some other molar complaint. One of the few reports that stood out was from John Simpson. He delivered an evocative description of how Moscow had altered since his previous visit which had been during the Cold War.

I have always liked FOOC and used to enjoy contributing to it but it can be uneven. Adie is a television reporter and Margaret Howard, the former presenter of Radio Four's Pick of the Week, now of Classic FM, says BBC radio is no longer interested in voices. It wants faces. She's right, of course, but there is nothing recent about this. It's been happening for years. She was complaining in the Daily Mail about the arrival of television faces to present some of Radio Four's new programmes; people such as Adie, Peter Snow, Martin Bashir, Michael Buerk and Jonathan Dimbleby.

It is thought in radio that television faces increase radio audiences. They might for Radios One and Two but not, I believe, on Four. Much as I like Adie and Buerk I wouldn't tune in simply to hear them. As I've written before, BBC radio became so mesmerised by the dominance and popularity of television it lost its collective nerve. The people who ran the network overlooked the broadcasting talent under their noses and recruited people from television in the hope that some of its success might rub off on their programmes. It is rather patronising to believe that we'll only listen if we're familiar with the face.

Curiously, the one network, apart from Radio Three, that hasn't pursued this policy is the youngest, Radio Five Live. …

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