Magazine article The Spectator

Speaking Out

Magazine article The Spectator

Speaking Out

Article excerpt

It goes without saying that voices matter on the radio in a way that they don't quite so much on television where the accompanying images are vying for attention. With radio, though, there is nothing else but the voice, so clarity of expression is vital. Normally, most of the correspondence I receive from Spectator readers worldwide contains complaints about heavily accented voices or sloppy pronunciation.

This year, however, I was almost overwhelmed by complaints about two issues: the removal of Andrew Neil from Radio Five Lives Sunday morning breakfast programme and the ending of World Service short-wave broadcasts to North America and Australasia; more about these later. I notice that the Radio Times is asking readers to nominate their favourite radio voices.

There are a number of broadcasters I like but, if I had to, I would choose Bridget Kendall, a foreign and diplomatic correspondent who is not on the Radio Times list. Her voice combines eloquence, intelligence, warmth and authority, and as a result compels you to listen. I hesitate to mention her name in case the BBC instantly replaces her with an incomprehensible Glaswegian rasp as a punishment to those who both listen to the radio and read The Spectator, but I'll risk it.

It is not the presence of Scottish voices on BBC radio that matters; after all, Neil is from Paisley and he's an excellent broadcaster. It is their preponderance, almost as if the BBC is afraid of getting it wrong with English voices for English listeners who form the bulk of radio listening in this country. Canon Ronald Diss in Canterbury wrote last week to thank me for commenting on this BBC obsession. 'I have long held this view,' he says, `but thought it was the prejudice that dare not speak its name.' As Gavin Gray wrote from Sevenoaks, referring mainly to gabbling and Estuary English, `It's not the "dreaded posh", it's simply clear delivery and standard English.'

Graham Hoyte in Southam summed up most readers' views on Neil's performance when he enclosed a letter he'd written to Five Lives dismal controller, Bob Shennan: `What sparkle! What zest!! The good old BBC "saying" something at last.' It didn't do him or any of the other complainants any good. In January, another reader, Bernard Cowley in Norfolk, wondered if the decision sprang from the programme in which `Neil shredded the unctuous Keith Vaz ... an independent presenter asking difficult questions once too often for Commissioner Mandelson's taste. …

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