Wednesday, 3 July 2013

I love BBC Radio 4, but...

The other day I was listening to a podcast from BBC Radio's Archive on 4, entitled Writers and Radio. The idea of the programme was to interview a number of British writers who were born in that pre-1950s period before television became ever-present in the British sitting room, and radio was at the heart of home entertainment. The programme explored what influence on their writing early listening to the radio might have had. Fascinating in prospect - I certainly recall and cherish its influence on me.

The more I listened, though, the more I felt that the title was a misnomer: it should have read Upper Middle Class Southern Writers and Radio. So BBC Radio 4. The only guests on the hour-long programme were:

Andrew Motion educated Radley College, University College Oxford
Alan Hollinghurst, Cranford School, Magdalen College Oxford
Richard Holmes, Downside School, Churchill College Cambridge
Posy Simmonds Queen Anne's School, Sorbonne Paris, Central School of Art & Design
Tessa Hadley, school unknown but another Cambridge graduate.

Each of these a welcome contributor in their own right, but what a narrow spectrum to represent 'Writers and Radio'. I was interested enough to hear one story about cosy listening to the radio at prep school but by the time it got to the third it became a little wearisome. The succession of RP voices began to meld into another so I quickly lost sense of who was whom.

Where were the Northern voices and writers of this vintage? There's a rich choice from literature and broadcasting - off the top of my head: Alan Bleasdale, Willy Russell, Alan Bennett, Victoria Wood, Barry Hines, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. This is not to mention a range of possible contributors from Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

And, considering this is an 'archive' programme why was it restricted to present-day interviews? A little research could surely have provided a rich vein of comment from writers no longer with us: Alan Plater, Alan Sillitoe, Stan Barstow, Shelagh Delaney, Keith Waterhouse, Dylan Thomas - just to provide some more top-of-the-head examples.

Perhaps the clue lies in the choice of presenter/interviewer: Susannah Clapp, co-founder of the London Review of Books.

Archive on 4 is a luxurious sixty minutes - plenty of time to introduce a wide range of experiences from across the geographical and class divide. I'm not asking for quota representation, but in diversity we find riches.