RADIO: The delicate art of repeating yourself

I have made a wonderful discovery, which I would like to share with you. You know how some people, desperate for advice or consolation, claim they can turn at random to the Bible, Ulysses, or the Bhagavad-Gita and find something useful? Well, you can do the same with any decent-sized collection of Ogden Nash.

I realized this when I found a couplet which applies directly to the life of a radio critic. Not that I was looking for one, because you don't. Life teaches you that much. But there it is, kicking off "This is my Own, my Native Tongue": "Often I leave my television set to listen to my wireless,/So, often I hear the same song sung by the same singer many times a day, because at repeating itself the wireless is tireless."

All right, it's not one of his best, but that's not the point. The point is that the battle to fill airtime with different things all day long was as lost in 1952 as it is in 1999. And, funnily enough, it's not just the pop music stations which suffer from this. Due to a programming glitch on Radio 3 last week, you could have heard two different versions of Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No.1 being played on the same day - one live, as part of its evening concert, the other a repeat of its previous week's appearance in the Composer of the Week series.

Blow me, I can hear you saying, I never realized life could be so exciting. Yeah, yeah. What I liked about this moment was the way it had been allowed to happen at all. It showed there is still room for it, even in the new- look, bean-counting BBC. I imagine the scene thus:

Nervous Underling: Um, I've just noticed we're going to be playing Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No.1 twice in one evening.

Nervous Underling's Superior: Wonderful. Played by different "ensembles", of course? (He pronounces "ensemble" in a poncey French manner, cf. the way he mispronounces "Munich" with a German-sounding "ch".)

Nervous Underling: Well, yes, but ...

Nervous Underling's Superior: I see no impediment to the flow of art. Would you care for a Fox's glacier mint? Oh, that reminds me - we've only played Strauss's "Four Last Songs" three times this year, and it's already March. Look into it, would you, dear boy? Pip pip.

What I hope did not happen was that a purple-faced controller stormed up and down the corridors of Broadcasting House, screaming that heads would roll if anything like that ever happened again.

Thinking about nicely muddled moments on Radio 3 reminded me that it was time to listen to Classic FM again. I do this with a heavy heart. You get the impression that captains of industry love nothing more than listening to Classic FM in traffic jams (apart, of course, from sacking people for the sake of their dividends). I am also told that if you prefer Radio 3 to Classic FM then you are a snob.

Well, I listened to Classic FM again and lawks, imagine my surprise when my snobometer went into the red. Again. What was interesting this time was that I heard both R3 and CFM playing the same piece within minutes of each other - in this case, Stravinsky's "The Firebird". When it ended on R3, the announcer told an amusing story about how Debussy reacted to it: "Everyone's got to start somewhere," was what he apparently said, and he had a point. And what did the presenter on Classic FM say afterwards? He said, "The FIREbird!", in a tone of screamingly insincere enthusiasm, the way you say "spinach!" when handing a child, who is not at all sure he likes spinach, a plate of spinach.

What is it with people? Why do they prefer to have their intelligence insulted by the moronic cosiness of Classic FM? Why do they like to have ad breaks which are longer than the snatches of music played between them? Do they really like to hear radio adverts for PEPs, mobile phones, and (most desperately of all) radio adverts? I have a horrible feeling they do, especially the ads for PEPs. All this says to me is that if Classic FM is really the preferred listening of our captains of industry, then this country is never going to hover very far above the pan.

Meanwhile, in Borsetshire, the black-hearted, twisted scriptwriters continue their sadistic mission to vex us with annoying characters. Last week George Barford, Yorkshireman, ex- copper, gamekeeper, and general pain in the neck, was trying to get poor William Grundy to stay on at school. Grundy, who has not yet discovered drugs but is getting by on surliness, made the mistake of referring to an unspecified "she". Which meant that George got to use one of those lines which have done more than Elvis to drive a wedge between young and old in the West: "Who's she? The cat's mother?"

You would have thought George had more sense than to say something like that. The last time he gave a young person a lecture - Clive Horrobin, as I recall, the subject being the difference between mine and thine - he was thrashed to within an inch of his life. As this really is the only language he understands you would have thought the lesson had sunk in. But no.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
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
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
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.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    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