Magazine article The Spectator

About Turn

Magazine article The Spectator

About Turn

Article excerpt

No sooner had I written last week about how fortunate Radio Four was to have Helen Boaden as its controller than the BBC announced that she was moving on to become director of radio and television news, a great loss to the network. She's replacing Richard Sambrook, who's becoming director of the World Service, a move seen as a result of the row over the Hutton inquiry. If that is indeed the case, and it seems suspiciously like it, then he's another casualty of the row. No wonder this tawdry government grins and preens itself at its success at lying so plausibly, even feeling able to promote those who helped do its dirty work.

It was Sambrook who was criticised by the Hutton inquiry for failing to check the notes taken by the Today reporter Andrew Gilligan and for what he told the BBC governors about the authenticity of the story. I don't think he should have been punished for that, but he has been. Still, if one has to be moved sideways, I can't think of a better place to go than running the World Service. He might have ended up in charge of the regions. Those at the World Service should be pleased at his appointment. He's not a pompous man at all. I last met him at a Today party and foolishly asked him what he was doing these days. He told me he was director of BBC news, something I should have known. In fact, I had forgotten, but instead of displaying self-important irritation he remained friendly and relaxed.

More importantly, from my point of view, who is going to take over Radio Four from Boaden? It has to be someone close to or familiar with the network, someone who actually loves it. It's unique, so should not be experimented with. Whoever becomes controller must recognise this. Above all, he or she mustn't dislike its audience, accepting the fact that it's largely English, middle-class and mainly concentrated in the south. However unpalatable this might be to a chippy northerner or a Scot, it should be left alone. No more aping the mania of the advertising industry for Scottish voices in the belief that they sound reassuring. They do not, and the English are sick of them. Nor should the new controller be frightened of using speakers with Received Pronunciation. No one's going to be upset by it. Not every voice on the radio has to have a regional accent. It would be silly to be totally against them, but it's important the balance is right.

Attempts at over-popularising or dumbing down the network should also be resisted. …

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