31 JULY 2004, Page 41

About turn

Michael Vestey

"Vro 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, middleclass 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. It's been tried before and didn't work. James Boyle came in from Radio Scotland making sympathetic noises about the nature of the network before setting about it with an axe. Boaden restored calm and equilibrium. Radio Four has an intelligent, mainly well-educated audience that can immediately, almost radar-like, detect any towering of standards. It's also, of course, politically correct in much that it broadcasts, often without realising it, but that is true of the BBC as a whole. It will be interesting to see who succeeds Boaden. Roger Mosey would seem to be well placed. He's a former Radio Four news and current affairs editor — World at One, Today — who also ran Radio Five Live successfully. No doubt there are others who might be suitable.

I read in Monday's Guardian that the name of Radio One's controller Andy Partin is being mentioned. I know he's a Radio Four listener because he once told me he was, but I can't really see how you can make the transition between these two networks. I presume that a controller of Radio One must love the trashy pop music the station plays, as well as feel affection for the vulgarity of some of its presenters. I also suspect he would want to make too many unnecessary changes to Radio Four, though that's only my hunch.

It was strange to hear a sportsman linking Wagner to cricket, but then Ed Smith. the Kent and England batsman, is a thinker with a double first from Cambridge and two books to his name. He was appearing on Private Passions on Radio Three (Sunday), the upmarket version of Desert Island Discs. Talking to Michael Berkeley, he said that, apart from technique, there was a rhythm to batting which is similar in feel to good music. He thought Wagner was closer to four-day and Test matches than it was to 20/20 limited overs cricket. He turns to Wagner when he wants to forget completely, to reach a higher plane, but it wasn't a daily cure for routine problems. For that, Bach would do, making him feel that life was manageable, ordering his soul. He revealed that 15 minutes before his test debut at Trent Bridge last year, he nervously thought, 'God, I wish I had some Bach now.' It would have helped him get into the right emotional state. Although he scored 64 in his first Test innings, perhaps a burst of Bach might have got him to a century. Unfortunately, he was later dropped by England, prematurely in my view. He comes across as rather a delightful man.