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A Family Affair: Long-distance love

When James Boyle became Controller of Radio 4 nearly three years ago, he and his wife Marie took the decision to have a long-distance relationship: James would live in London during the week, and Marie would continue to live and work in Edinburgh. The couple have been married for 29 years, and have three sons
Marie Boyle

I cope much better than James does with a long-distance relationship - but then, I've all the support of home, my own things around me, my own friends; it's a much more natural situation. And in fact sometimes, when you're working full time, it's quite nice to have a weekend to yourself. I can get to Glasgow to see my parents, for example, without feeling that I'm impinging on the time James and I have together.

We've lived this kind of life for about two years now. The decision was quite easy. For a start, I was in a full-time job I really liked, and I didn't want to leave it. For nearly 15 years I've worked in a language unit at a school in Edinburgh; it's for children who have various kinds of language and communications disorders.

When James's latest job came up we'd already moved several times for his career. Some years ago we went from Glasgow to Guildford. Then, when we went back to Scotland, it was to Edinburgh. We'd moved our three boys to new schools three times. This time we decided that the boys and I would stay put.

Had the children been younger, we might have considered moving again, but not at this late stage. I felt that, having left family and friends before, we were too ensconced to do it again. The boys are older now, of course, but one of them is still at home and another has returned. He was at university in Glasgow but he's come home. The two of them are in and out of the house.

James and I try to meet every weekend, either here in London or, more often, in Scotland. We always try to do something special on Friday nights - dinner out, or the theatre - because Fridays can be tricky, while you readjust: you're longing to be together, but you're both tired...

In recent months it's been more fraught for James and he's not been able to get home as often as he'd have liked. There have been a couple of weekends when he's not managed to get away at all, so that it's been two or three weeks before we've seen each other. And when he is home, the mobile phone keeps ringing; I do find that very disruptive.

James's life is kind of unnatural. He doesn't like his flat - he keeps saying he's got to move - but he never has time to look for another place. He's quite a homey person and I do worry about not being there to support him, especially when Radio 4 is under attack. In fact, when that happened last, when the Rajar figures came out, it was during my half-term week in October and we had to cancel our holiday in Madrid. I went down to London anyway, and was in the office for a lot of that week. It was good to see the support he got, and a lot of people came and spoke to me and gave me some comfort. But I know he finds it very stressful. On the other hand, he's quite good at being alone in these circumstances. In some ways, I think it's the way he prefers to deal with things. We phone each other every day, and in the long run he doesn't let it get him down. He does bounce back.

This last weekend, James came up to give a lecture at Edinburgh University on Saturday, then we both went south for a big Asian festival at the NEC at Birmingham in the evening. Then it was back to London for the recording of the annual Radio 1 pantomime. I'll be on the first plane home tomorrow. My son will meet me at the airport and I'll go straight into school. The only problem I can foresee is that I'll be tired for a day or two.

James Boyle

I don't like living away from home. It's been nearly three years now and it doesn't get any better. I'm losing my tolerance for this way of life. I'm totally worn out, totally unfit - never get out into the fresh air. Only this morning we came home - or rather, back to my London flat - and the burglar alarms were screaming, from the shops around the place. I hate it. The trouble is that I'm not methodical about dealing with it all. I'm so completely oriented towards my work. I say to myself, every day, "I must deal with this; I must get out more." In fact, I bought myself a pair of track-suit bottoms - I had visions of myself jogging around Grosvenor Square - but I'm the least sporty person in the world. The best I've done is to wear them to go downstairs and open the front door to put the bins out.

The difficult thing is that we get so few windows to take holidays, because we can only go away in the school breaks. I certainly get very tired. I did feel the loss of that October holiday. We shan't get another chance now until April. My staff have been telling me to take every other Friday off and I suppose if they push me out of the door I might. I'm hopeless otherwise.

Perhaps there are some good things to come of not living at home. One of my sons has always complained that I'm very hard to talk to. Well, he came into the office about a month ago and one of the girls was talking to him and she said, "I was quite frightened coming here but it was OK because I spoke to your dad and he's so easy to talk to", and she walked away. He came straight up to me and said he couldn't believe his ears.

And it did make me think. If there's one good thing about all this it is that it gave me a sense of perspective about him. I got away from all the classic father things - clean up your room, do this, do that - and I began to get a bit calmer, because I saw him so little and I wanted to do it better. It did make me stop short and think, well, I've got to stop being a grouch when I get home.

And you see, I always was very home-oriented, completely unadventurous. That is why I liked Radio 4 so much. I was your ideal housewife. I have listened to the radio incessantly, all my life; I used to write letters to the broadcasters. I wrote to Tony Hancock when I was a kid. When I was interviewed for this job, people thought all that was a pose, but it wasn't. It was true.

I'm very proud of Marie. In effect, her job is a greater rarity than mine. There are plenty of BBC controllers but only a handful of people - anywhere - with her skills. Personally, I've always kept a clear line between work and home, and I know that it upsets Marie that I don't talk about it. Marie, you do know that I work for the BBC, don't you?

Interview by Sue Gaisford