John Walsh: Is the BBC a hotbed of passion?

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The Independent Online

I'm old enough to remember when Sir Robin Day presented The World at One on Radio 4, and regularly signed off with, "…and a very good afternoon, especially to you." Listeners wondered why he injected such a personal, intimate note. Eventually, someone pointed out that Sir Robin's breathy valediction was directed, each day, at Sue MacGregor as she sat in a neighbouring studio preparing to introduce Woman's Hour.

That the irascible knight had a (sadly unrequited) crush on the lovely Ms MacGregor came as a surprise because Radio 4 fans, on the whole, could not imagine the Radio 4 voices having crushes on anyone, or indeed sex with anyone, let alone with each other. All that common sense and decorum. It would be against nature.

As of yesterday, we know better. In a speech, Caroline Thomson, the BBC's outgoing head, urged her successor to make the corporation "outward-looking", a virtue easier to attain by people in Salford than people cooped up in London with 10,000 others, "when they all eat and drink with each other, and marry each other, and have affairs with each other, and so on".

This conjured up the image a vast mead-hall where the staff of Panorama, Crimewatch and Gardeners' World are eating scones and drinking gallons of BBC tea with hundreds of extras from serialisations of Bleak House. Suddenly, you can't hear the pleasant voice of the continuity announcer Corrie Corfield without wondering if she's Up To Something. Or speculating about the stern-voiced dominatrix on the Today programme. Suddenly, nobody at the Corporation is above suspicion. Is the teatime TV newsreader having a raging affair with a question-setter on University Challenge? Is the expert on Watchdog in a ménage à trois with his opposite numbers on Moneybox and You and Yours? Does the assistant producer of Antiques Road Trip nurse a secret passion for Ed Grundy? Is the canteen at BBC TV Centre a hotbed of marital dispute at lunchtime, with meals punctuated by cries of "Go to her then, you bastard!"? Gosh, I hope so.