14 DECEMBER 1996, Page 92


Dear Michael

Michael Vestey

my postbag for the year has made me feel like Feedback on Radio Four. Some of the letters I have received about radio pro- grammes are full of accurate insights into various shortcomings; others are delightful- ly eccentric.

It was interesting to hear from readers in Canada, Cyprus, parts of continental Europe and Ireland, who listen to the BBC World Service. They clearly depend on both Bush House and The Spectator for some sanity in this turbulent world. The most amusing missive to come my way was from a correspondent in Cork who upbraided me for my praise of Test Match Special on Radio Four long wave. A self- confessed `hearty', he thought TMS was `smug, juvenile and masturbatory. Not boy- ish, not endearing, not amusing.' His trum- peted conclusion, as befits a former officer of Her Majesty's armed forces: 'One only has to listen to five minutes of it to under- stand why so many grown women are nowadays turning to lesbianism.'

So, Jonathan Agnew and Freddie True- man have much to answer for. The delivery of reporters and presenters annoys many. Mr John Boyle in Belgium lamented what he rightly called `the lachrymose dying fall' at the end of sentences, and blamed reporters with Ulster accents. He thought they were copying Michael Buerk's televi- sion despatches about the Ethiopian 'I'm about to enter the spirit world.' famine some years ago which, while work- ing for him, sounded awful when imitated. I couldn't agree more, but it's not just the Northern Irish, it's the English too. Reporters subconsciously copy others and believe this is how they should sound, as Matthew Parris pointed out earlier this year in an excellent report on the Afternoon Shift on Radio Four. The other problem is that reporters (I will continue to call them that though they now have the absurd Bir- tian title of News Correspondents) are given little or no instruction in broadcast- ing skills.

Mrs Ann Holloway in Cyprus com- plained of mispronunciation, 'PRY-merrily, IrryVOCICable, Missal' etc. My own pet hates are Island for Ireland, vunerable instead of vulnerable, and the old favourite harr-ass in the American style. She found examples of this sloppiness in almost every World Service bulletin. Mrs J.G. Hudson in Crewe asked what we had done to deserve Alex Brodie on Today. A very good ques- tion but he is only holiday relief. Or should I say holiday purgatory. Mr Ian Jordan in Surbiton bemoaned the political correct- ness of The Archers, as did other readers, and opined, I was convinced some years ago that the changing behaviour of the majority of Ambridge citizens was proof positive that BSE had infected the human species.'

Thank you for the letters. I'm only sorry I don't have the time to reply to them indi- vidually. No doubt there will be more next year, particularly as 1997 will be as momen- tous a year for the BBC as this has been. The Corporation is run by one man, John Birt, and MclCinseys. There seems little point in being a BBC executive nowadays as there's limited scope for creativity or ini- tiative. Edicts are issued from above and merely implemented or passed on, a form of conveyor-belt management. No argu- ment or healthy discussion is allowed even when proposals are found to be unwork- able.

Despite the low morale at the BBC, with more redundancies looming next year, and the smashing of the World Service, the pro- grammes have yet fully to reflect the sham- bles. That, I think, is to come. Radios Two, Three and Five sound healthy, I can't speak for Radio One as I don't listen to it, and Radio Four has had a patchy year, with too many contrived regional voices and Scottish plays (not Macbeth), and a move downmarket in some areas (programmes like the dreadful No Job Too Small and the truly excruciating natural history series from Bristol about the sex lives of animals). The News Quiz still hasn't recovered from the voluntary departure of Barry Took and Analysis is as dull as ever. Radio comedy is generally lack-lustre, with the occasional exception. On the bright side, I'm Sony I Haven't a Clue is on splendid form, notable for Humphrey Lyttleton's sharp wit and timing; the edition I heard from Northampton recently was superb. Quote Unquote remains entertaining, embellished, I was pleased to hear, by the lovely deep voice of the former Radio Three announc- er Patricia Hughes. Independent radio has had a year of mixed fortunes. Classic FM caters for its market extremely well, while Talk Radio UK needs some remedial work. There's clearly a demand for day-long talk shows because listeners do phone in, but it's not a format I care for. Perhaps Talk Radio UK could attract more commercial sponsor- ship, as in the United States, to make more structured programmes and reduce its reliance on the phone-in. It's only fair to say that we still have the finest radio in the world as far as quality and range is concerned and we must fight to keep it. A good thought for the festive season, I think.