The Reunion, Radio 4
Black and White Towns, Radio 4
Whoever is at the top, Radio 4 continues to do its thing ... and it does it so well
Sunday 18 April 2010
It's curious that the news of Mark Damazer's departure as the Controller of Radio 4 made such an impact because the one thing everybody says – quite rightly – is that Radio 4 is about as resistant to change as North Korea. In that sense, does it really matter who's in charge? There's not very much they can ever do except tinker round the edges, or there'll be riots outside Broadcasting House.
If Radio 4 kept to precisely its current schedules and presenters for the next 20 years, would anybody mind? Or even notice? Which means the interviews to find a successor to Damazer could be very curious. Anything you'd like to do differently? "Good God, no!" Right, the job's yours.
The list of significant moments that have occurred during Damazer's tenure thus far boil down to Kirsty Young taking over Desert Island Discs, the loss of Ed Stourton from the Today programme, and the arrival on Today of Evan Davis and Justin Webb. They all seemed earth-shattering at the time, but somehow we've got used to them, even if Davis persists in doing that annoying and rather disrespectful thing of summing up interviewees' answers for them when they've just finished speaking – as if he knows better than they do what they want to say. Perhaps the new Controller could have a word with him about that.
Much of the debate these changes occasioned hinged on notions of so-called "dumbing down", and very often that debate is completely spurious. People are looking for something that just isn't there, and that was surely the case with the Young appointment. That she got off to a shaky start was nothing to do with where the programme was positioned on the quality/tabloid spectrum and everything to do with her skills as an interviewer, which have improved no end.
Right now, Desert Island Discs is off-air and we have the matchless Sue MacGregor back with The Reunion, a show she marshals with wondrous dexterity and which has a format that is almost DID-like in its simple appeal. It wasn't the neatest planning that the first two programmes in this latest series – about the inaugural London Marathon, and the the fabled TV production of Brideshead Revisited – should both hark back to the early Eighties but, in themselves, they were fascinating.
The era was also well served by Black and White Towns, in which the writer John Harris visited key locations in provincial England and discovered how they had inspired some of the best pop music of the past 40 years. In this most political of weeks this was a surprisingly political programme in which Blur frontman Damon Albarn, who grew up in a suburb of Colchester in the 1980s, nailed Thatcherism and its "false sense of progress" when things that really mattered were being lost. And what matters more than Radio 4?
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