Magazine article The Spectator

Quiet Man

Magazine article The Spectator

Quiet Man

Article excerpt


Quiet man

At the time of writing, Mark Damazer, the new controller of Radio Four, has yet to appear on Feedback on Radio Four to outline his plans for the network; nor, apparently, does he intend to before the current season of this programme ends in early December. Feedback is an ideal outlet for sharing his thoughts and ideas with listeners, though, clearly, he's the quiet man of broadcasting. The BBC told me he took over only on Monday last week, but he's had plenty of time to think about the network.

He and the director of radio, Jenny Abramsky, did voice some views about Radio Four at a seminar on the future of the BBC chaired by Lord Burns, who's conducting a review of the Corporation. Abramsky was quoted as saying that there'd been times when some programmes 'had not been good enough' and that parts of the network were 'painful'. She later explained to that she meant some of the quizzes had been painful. 'Sometimes our scheduling has been safe rather than innovative.'

Damazer himself opined that certain parts of the schedule had become 'cosy'. 'Radio Four is not a museum,' he said ominously, though adding at the same time that it wasn't ripe for revolution. He agreed with the criticism that the network had lost its way. I don't think it has, and I'm not sure in what way he thinks it has.

So what can all this mean? One needs the analytical skills of Kremlinologists from the Soviet era to interpret the words of BBC executives who increasingly sound like Labour government ministers. My normal rule of thumb with ministers is to automatically assume that the opposite of what they say will come to pass. It usually works. One hopes Damazer isn't going to make the same mistake as a predecessor, James Boyle, who soothingly spoke of how important Radio Four was to him, only to introduce 45 changes at once, infuriating the audience. Damazer intends changes but I suspect they'll be introduced gradually, accompanied by a great deal of spinning.

In the meantime, I hear that morale at Radio Four is falling again; that Damazer is being regarded as a television man who really wants to return to it as soon as possible. He was, apparently, not known to be much of a radio listener. He's said to want a clear-out of older broadcasters, which is very bad news indeed; some of the younger presenters and reporters sound so naive. Perhaps Damazer is a Birtist, after all, obsessed by youth. …

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