Middlebrow home of the grooviest tunes around

It's all change at Radio 2. A clutch of star signings are threatening to make it hip. Vanessa Thorpe tunes in

A SUITABLY velvet revolution is under way at Radio 2. It seems the BBC's most laid-back music station, originally designed for middle- of-the-road smoothies who like their broadcast chat delivered at an easy canter, has been infiltrated by a peculiarly mellow brand of fifth columnist.

Neil Tennant of The Pet Shop Boys and piano player extraordinaire Jools Holland are to become the Pete Murray, Ken Bruce and John Dunn of the late Nineties.

So is the station that brings you "Sing Something Simple" suddenly hip, or are the bad boys becoming old farts?

Another member of the groovy new team, comedian and TV film critic Stuart Maconie, feels that it is a question of Radio 2 being repositioned.

"It is because of the way that pop culture has become really fragmented. The people who really love music and spend a lot of money on CDs, the people who like listening to intelligent talk, have been pushed away from Radio 1," he says.

Many of the chocolate-voiced old retainers of Radio 2, men such as Jimmy Young and Terry Wogan, do still loom large in the station's schedules, but the new spring and summer line-up contains a sprinkling of subtle surprises.

Johnnie Walker is still there, Alan Freeman is still there, Roy Hudd is still there, Alan Whicker is still there for God's sake, yet further down the list is the name of the until quite recently hyper-hip Neil Tennant. In an unprecedented approach to the sophisticated end of alternative club culture, Radio 2 has asked him to introduce the Noel Coward Concert, organised by the Red Hot Aids Charitable Trust to coincide with the centenary of Coward's birth.

Jools Holland, darling of all hardcore musos, is also waiting to leap out at you waving his rhythm stick. A man who knows exactly how take his Mojo apart and put it back together in working order, he is to present a new show on Mondays.

"Fifties throwback" Mark Lamarr, the slicked-back stand-up comedian who hosts the BBC TV game show Never Mind the Buzzcocks, may also at last have found his middle-brow niche. No longer sneered at and subjected to ridicule by his mates because of his tastes, he is to present a new rock'n'roll series."It is about time we had more than Rock Around The Clock to represent the most exciting era in pop. I am honoured to have been asked to present it."

Maconie thinks that the slower pace of change at Radio 2 is more acceptable to listeners than the way in which its "adolescent" sister, Radio 1, had its schedules altered, "avoiding the sudden revolution under Matthew Bannister that left blood all over the floors," he says.

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