The leg-pull theory of history explained

LAST WEEK, I mentioned one of the great mysteries of our time, namely the way that you can listen to a weather forecast on the radio, especially on Today, and not have the faintest idea afterwards what it said about the weather in your area.

This week, I have received a letter from a Mr Donald Gould, who confirmed that the same thing happened to him, and indeed to the presenters of Today themselves, because not so long ago John Humphrys had admitted on air that he also found it hard to take in the weather forecast, and had added, "Maybe it's just me...".

Mr Gould is not happy with this. He thinks that some very clever operatives have discovered a linguistic technique for appearing to tell us everything while telling us nothing, and are using the Met Office as a test run for this new device. If we can learn to accept a weather forecast that conveys nothing, in other words, we will learn to accept other messages that mean nothing.

It is at this point that I part company with Mr Gould, who is clearly of the persuasion that favours conspiracy theories, whereas I am among those who tend towards the cock-up explanation of the universe. Not that I think the weather forecasts on Radio 4 are the result of a cock- up. Much more do I favour the third alternative, the third way, the third explanation, namely, that someone, somewhere is having us on. Yes, the leg-pull theory of history.

You don't often hear about the leg-pull theory of history. It has turned up in the field of crop circles, where those who don't believe that crop circles are made by Martian arts-and-craft people tend to think that they may be created by hoaxers up from Southampton. It occasionally turns up in the newspaper world, where some stories turn out to be fakes fed to gullible editors. Indeed, the famous headline "Small Earthquake in Chile, Not Many Dead" started life as an effort by newspaper sub- editors to relieve ennui by inventing the most boring heading to a story...

And I think that may be behind the opacity of so many weather forecasts. I think the guys and gals at the weather centre are having a little joke at our expense. OK, says someone, a small prize for the most baffling weather forecast of the week! And they all beaver away at it, until they hear the heavy tread of unsmiling chief prefect Bill Giles coming down the corridor.

It would explain a lot of other things on BBC radio, anyway. It would explain why so many Radio 3 programmes finish late ("Well, I'm afraid we've rather over-run, what with the two encores and the standing ovation...") and why so many Radio 3 programmes end early ("Well, the passing of Lord Reith leaves a large gap, so here's a record of some Chopin..."). It's all because there's a Radio 3 Unpunctuality Contest somewhere.

It would also explain a lot on Radio 4, where some very odd things go on. For one thing, there are endless quizzes on that station about such unlikely subjects as business, science, antiques, history, classical music, natural history... It can't be that James Boyle really thinks that people want quizzes on science or business. It must be that his producers are having a private joke competition to see which is the most unlikely topic they can get a quiz commissioned on.

There are also many comedians on Radio 4 doing straight-faced jobs on straight programmes. Simon Fanshawe, for instance, recently presented a series looking at famous books of reference, from Wisden and Roget onwards. Now, Simon is a nice bright bloke, but I can't believe that he is the best person available to present a series about reference dictionaries, any more than Arthur Smith is the most apt person to accompany Arthur Scargill to Cuba or the late Ronnie Scott to New York on a sentimental journey, as he did recently. Another competition, I fancy, for The Producer Who Gets the Most Unlikely Comedian into the Most Unlikely Niche on Radio 4.

And the music on Radio 4! The only explanation is that there really must be a competition among producers to have the most useless music insert in any Radio 4 programme that doesn't actually need music at all.

Well, I'm sorry, but we've run out of time so we must go back to the studio at this point... Continued tomorrow...