Local Vision

By Vestey, Michael | The Spectator, November 8, 1997 | Go to article overview

Local Vision


Vestey, Michael, The Spectator


Remember the drunks, misfits and eccentrics that once were part of almost every office? Like gargoyles they encrusted the newspaper, magazine and various BBC premises of my youth, enthralling characters in my own personal dance to the music of time. Journalism attracted them but the same could be said for stockbroking, publishing, the army and, no doubt, estate agencies.

They reminded you that office life was for humans, after all. If they'd had computers they wouldn't have sent screen messages to the person sitting next to them as people do now, and they never really took themselves that seriously. Of course, they've all been swept away by brash young men in braces and frozen fish-faced women bristling with shoulder pads, and, as I described in my novel about the BBC, Waning Powers, if they're not dead, they're red-faced habitues of oak-beamed pubs in the home counties. They sauntered into my mind's eye while I was listening to the tape of a programme broadcast on all BBC local radio stations this week, The People's Radio (Friday).

To be honest, I rarely listen to local radio of any kind. I try to read my local newspapers, if only to find out if the landscape is about to be Gummerised or Raynsforded but local radio is of little interest. The BBC stations tend to offer a mixture of speech and pop music whereas the commercial stations are nearly all pop. There's no doubt that in certain parts of the country community-minded people love it. I can quite see why they need to feel involved locally but it's not for me. And yet I have a residual soft spot for local radio as I began my BBC career at Radio London when it opened in 1970, before I moved into national broadcasting.

It went on air on VHF which was not so widely received on radio sets then and the result was that hardly anyone was listening. This had its advantages as we could learn as we went along, with our mistakes going largely unnoticed. Some of us were new to broadcasting. When the station acquired a medium wave frequency, more people did begin to listen. It was not, however, local radio as envisaged by the BBC man who started it, Frank Gollard, who presents The People's Radio. Radio London didn't work that well because London is too big and disparate a place for a speech station to succeed, though the commercial LBC was quite popular for a time.

Gillard takes a celebratory and rose-tinted look at 30 years of BBC local radio. …

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