Magazine article The Spectator

Hostility in the Air

Magazine article The Spectator

Hostility in the Air

Article excerpt

At last, they've done it; they've wrecked the one radio programme that threw verbal hand grenades through the great metal doors of Broadcasting House, blasting myriad managers and programmemakers out of their complacency: Feedback on Radio Four has finally been recaptured by the enemy.

It says something for radio audiences and this programme that they so rattled the BBC and the present Radio Four controller James Boyle. When the presenter for the past 13 years, Chris Dunkley, was sacked before Christmas, it could mean only one thing: they'd had enough. Dunkley was never afraid to ask the difficult, penetrating questions sent in by listeners and there were times when one could picture his victims squirming sweatily in their studio chairs as they tried to defend themselves and their output. Some thought it an affront that they should be challenged about their programmes and one could sense the hostility in the air. Even when controllers and programme-makers had a good case and the listeners were wrong they couldn't conceal their distaste.

When Feedback, still to be produced by the independent company Test Bed, returns in April, it will be extended to half an hour and will include a section where listeners will be able to carry out their own investigations into programme-making. Presumably, they'll be shown how programmes are made, talk to the presenters and producers and at the end come away feeling flattered at being involved. Dunkley tells me he thinks Feedback will now be as much concerned to represent the BBC's views as the listeners. The great fear is that it will become like BBC Television's jokey Points of View where the viewers were sent up as much as the programmes were. I hope it doesn't take on the jaunty tone of Radio Five Live's The Media Show (Sunday) or the tameness of Radio Four's The Message (Friday) which is expected to show some respect to BBC personages. When Alex Brodie interviewed, for want of a better word, the Culture Secretary Chris Smith before Christmas it sounded like a couple of chums together and told us nothing.

The BBC wants to replace Dunkley with Roger Bolton who presents Sunday on Radio Four, the religious news programme, and Channel 4's Right to Reply. Although Bolton is a good broadcaster, I can't quite see him replicating Dunkley's spirited independence. I hope he doesn't share the haughty view of many in radio that Feedback's listeners are not representative of the audience as a whole. …

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