Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Glottal Stops and Attitude

Wherever I go, there seems to be one question on everyone's lips these days: What on earth has happened to Radio 4? Why is so much of its output becoming simply unlistenable? Including (or perhaps especially) the Today programme.
  I was having dinner with B last night, and it was only a matter of minutes before the subject came up. We agreed, I think, that elements long present in Radio 4's output (and that of the BBC in general) had now reached critical mass, a tipping point or whatever metaphor you like, with the result that a network that had once been at least listenable, and often enjoyable and rewarding, nearly all the time had suddenly become something that is all too frequently unendurable. Those long present elements are the kind of things Mrs N likes to call 'cultural Marxism' – an unexamined, cost-free mix of moral relativism and hostility/indifference to traditional institutions, along with the relentless pushing of an agenda of 'diversity', 'inclusivity', intersectional feminism (don't ask) and multiculturalism. Lately on Radio 4, the most conspicuous symptom has been an apparent drive to foist female presenters – and ideally all-female line-ups – on as many programmes as possible (and if the women are from ethnic minorities and/or don't speak RP, so much the better). There are, of course, many excellent women broadcasters, including some of my own radio favourites, but they owe their success to their excellence, not their sex. Once you embark on what is in effect ideological quota-filling, quality will inevitably suffer. For evidence of how dire the effects can be, I would refer you to the two recent series mentioned here... If the aim had been to prove that women aren't funny, they could hardly have done a better job.
  The metropolitan 'liberal' bias of the BBC – so deep-seated and all-pervasive that the BBC itself genuinely cannot perceive it – used to be something that we could put up with and easily discount. But now, as it takes on more and more of the trappings of cultural Marxism, it has spread out from its traditional strongholds – notably Woman's Hour (the continuation of the Guardian women's page by other means), topical 'comedy' and arts programmes – to encompass more and more programmes, thereby making more and more of Radio 4 unlistenable. Everywhere there are glottal stops, attitude and reflex leftism (Trump evil, all migrants good, Brexit bad, 'Europe' good, socialism moral, conservatism immoral, etc, etc.). As Jeremy Corbyn says on that brilliant Private Eye cover, 'Enough already.'
  However, all is not lost: though much is taken, much abides. Radio 4 still has some very good programmes, and continues to come up with things that are well worth hearing. Just this morning, I was listening to Reflections, in which Peter Hennessy encourages politicians to look back over their careers and reflect thereon. This can be pretty tedious stuff, but today it was Iain Duncan Smith, a man fatally lacking in charisma but one of the more decent and thoughtful politicians of recent times (and one with an interesting back story). When the conversation got round (inevitably) to Brexit, he told of meeting with a group of EU ambassadors and presenting them with a thought experiment. Could you not, he asked, entertain the notion of 'British exceptionalism'? To the bemused ambassadors, he elucidated: Britain, because of its very different history and its island status, has never felt the same way about the EU as they have, and has never made an easy fit with it or been fully committed to it. We, for example, don't feel that we owe the postwar decades of peace and prosperity to the EU (in its various incarnations), nor have we had any reason to. Still less do we feel the need for 'ever closer union'. Could the EU not recognise that we are not just another member state, one whose departure will open the floodgates for the rest; the rest will have as many reasons to stay in after Brexit as before. We have always stood apart, we are not representative but exceptional. Surely we could be accommodated in such a way as to recognise that fact and enable us to live with the EU as a friendly, co-operative but independent neighour?
  A stunned silence fell. All were aghast.
  Finally one of the ambassadors spoke up. 'Only a British citizen could say that,' be declared. Which rather made IDS's point.


  1. Here’s a new game for two or more players. It’s called Right-On Bingo. Each player needs a portable radio, a pen and pad which contains twenty phrases in frequent use on Radio 4. These might include:
    Glass ceiling
    Gender pay gap,
    The male gaze
    Colonial legacy
    Unconscious racism
    Under-representation of women
    Cultural appropriation
    Etc, etc
    Each player turns on his or her radio for ten seconds and ticks the sheet every time one of the set phrases turns up. It won’t take longer than a normal game of bingo and is much more fun.

  2. You can't go anywhere on R4 these days without bumping into Maya Angelou or Spike Lee (who was treating us to tales of New York racism on 'Today' yesterday). Why on earth R4 thinks the interests of such writers and 'auteurs' are remotely congruent with those of its Middle England audience I don't know.

  3. The trouble is, Guy, that the BBC loathes its Middle England audience and regards it as, at best, a joke. I know this because I've worked inside BBC radio - not for long, I'm glad to say.
    Ingoldsby - good to hear from you again. That sounds like a fun game...

  4. Curious, to loathe your major audience. You'd think it would be obvious that that's not a recipe for success.

    Another interesting angle on this is that R4 has not, in fact, changed that much but the social/cultural/political background HAS thus throwing what has always been there into relief and has revealed that, perhaps, IT is not the wallpaper any more.