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
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?