The first host was Richard Baker (right); the first programme included items on Wordsworth, Swedish tax reform, pigeons, and cookery with Zena Skinner. Among the early contributors were Esther Rantzen, Mavis Nicholson, Bel Mooney and Monty Modlyn, "the roving microphone", who in one memorable encounter ran into the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and persuaded him to play the accordion.
1971: Kenneth Robinson (middle right), the programme's most regular contributor, began his slot. The pianist and architect-turned-journalist particularly enjoyed directing his acidic comments at women. He reduced Angela Rippon to tears with an attack on her book about horses and provoked Pamela Stephenson to such a pitch that she poured a jug of water down his neck.
1984: The year when Kenneth Robinson went too far. A guest was talking about an agency through which disabled people could meet prospective marriage partners. Robinson chipped in with "You can hear the wheelchairs banging together all night in some parts of the country." He was rebuked by the stand-in host Jimmy Hill (sic); later in the day the BBC released a formal apology.
1986: Robinson was dropped from the programme and gave vent to his feelings on air. Baker bade him farewell; Robinson replied "I'm not going. I've been given three days' notice after 15 years and it's a bloody disgrace."
Mid-1980s: The comic saboteur Victor Lewis Smith spent three years as producer of talk shows, including Start the Week, at Radio 4. Among the stunts that enraged the old guard was his encouraging Ruby Wax to scream (he also hired Arthur Mullard to stand in for Libby Purves on Midweek, the anodyne Wednesday morning slot).
1987: Richard Baker was replaced as host by Russell Harty (far right), who brought a more barbed style.
1988-1996: After Harty's illness and death, several hosts were tried out, including Kate Adie, Sue Lawley, George Melly and Melvyn Bragg. The latter was chosen and took over in September 1988. Bragg took the programme up-market, and recruited a clutch of women journalists to contribute: among his regulars have been Rosie Boycott, Brenda Maddox, Nigella Lawson, Mary Ann Sieghart and Kate Saunders. Rows, however innocuous some of them seemed at the time, have become a trademark under Bragg: among the most notable have been Ben Elton vs Brenda Maddox, Rosie Boycott and Bragg vs novelist Kathy Lette, Armistead Maupin vs Libby Purves, and Bragg himself vs (separately) Joan Smith, Michael Dobbs, William Cash, Tony Parsons and Jean Aitchison, this year's Reith lecturer.Reuse content