Radio: Is the BBC at last learning to listen?

Y ou notice them from time to time: little signs, like snowdrops, of a gradual thaw in the ice-age of Thatcherism. Esso stops charging customers for the use of its air pumps. A sort of Labour Party wins an election. And the BBC acts on a listener's suggestion sent to Feedback.

This one was about The Archers. (A few weeks ago I promised I wouldn't write about The Archers again, not for a while, that is. It has now been a while.) Or, more accurately, the announcements immediately preceding The Archers. These used to be gloriously inconsequential, doing nothing more than setting the opening scene for us. "It's Tuesday morning, and in the dairy, Pat can't find her rubber gloves." The first line of dialogue would then be: "Clarrie, have you seen my rubber gloves?"

Then, one day, some genius at missing the point decided that this wasn't the way to pull in listeners. For the bathetic link actually served to divert, like a magician's sleight of hand, our suspicion that something rather exciting was going to happen later on. Anyway, back to our genius. Genius, always looking out to increase ratings, starts making the announcers alert us to the most significant moment of the forthcoming episode, even if it didn't happen until the end. So, for example, if this genius had been appointed a year ago, we would have heard, after the news, someone saying this: "And now, in The Archers, something absolutely horrible is about to happen to John Archer. In fact, after a row with his dad, he is going to be crushed by his own tractor."

So someone wrote in to Feedback, which you normally feel is about as effective as writing the name of your loved one on a scrap of paper and burning it in a silver bowl by moonlight. But this brave man patiently pointed out that new listeners were hardly likely to be enticed by being promised developments in a soap opera they knew nothing about; and that established listeners would just get pissed off. (A phrase given linguistic authority and respectability ever since young Tommy Archer used it explosively a month or two ago. Society tottered but remains intact, if only just. The day Peggy Woolley says "bollocks", don't even bother running for the bunkers - we're all doomed.)

And now the strangest thing has happened: the BBC has taken some kind of notice. They are groping towards understanding and, as you might expect, have some way to go - this is just another example of how the clash between Reithian and Birtian values affects us at ground level - but they're getting there. Last week, we were told, before the theme music, that "It's Tuesday morning, and George is getting cantankerous." Splendid - this is what we want to hear. The effect was spoiled a bit when the show opened without George - it was Jack and Peggy Woolley being, as usual, stupid and snobbish respectively - but he did show up after a few minutes and, lo, he was indeed cantankerous. (I shall spare you the details. Even the other characters, who tolerate rank tedium to a degree not found in the real world anywhere, not even in East Finchley, are fed up with him.)

So the BBC is nearly there. I can quite understand how they don't want to go back to the old way of doing things all at once - these days the prime duty of a public service provider is not to listen to the public - but to admit you were wrong, even in a half-hearted way, shows we are making progress.

Another example is the decision to keep Radio 3 broadcasting all through the night. The other day they played, in the very wee hours of the morning, a whole slew of late Beethoven string quartets performed by the Busch quartet. These 60-year-old recordings are not only the finest ever made, but the scratchy patina of age gives them an added charm. I don't know how many insomniac Beethoven nuts were listening at that time of night, but this one felt extraordinarily privileged, as if the BBC were broadcasting just for him. And there is nothing, repeat nothing, better to listen to on your own in the kitchen at three in the morning than late Beethoven string quartets.

Meanwhile, under the convenient disguise of National Learning at Work Day, Radio 1 pioneered a new job-sharing scheme for disc jockeys, probably with a view to reducing salary overheads in the future. If you have ever thought that being a DJ was easy, I could do that, you don't even have to play records any more, you just stick a CD in a machine, etc, then Thursday afternoon would have confirmed your suspicions, when Vince from Security and Bridie from the canteen at BBC's Manchester HQ took over the beginning of Mark and Lard's show. They did very well, got all the catchphrases right or near enough. Meanwhile, Mark Radcliffe gave everyone the wrong colour passes and Lard, in the kitchens, had to come in and ask where the gravy boat was - Bridie: "In the corner." Lard (panicking): "Which corner? There are four of them!" - and overcharged John Birt for his poached egg. God save us, they're even funny when they're not on the air.

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'