Perhaps you have never listened to it. It is still not too late. Could I suggest that this evening you tune to MW 648 - or to a local SW frequency - at 7.30 and catch the repeat of last night's Three Men in a Boat? Jerome K Jerome's comic novel is dramatised by Tom Stoppard and directed by Hilary Norrish, with the classic, subtle clarity we regulars have come to expect from the award-winning World Service drama department. I once sent a copy of the book to a charming, if serious, old American academic who had never heard of it. He started reading it, then wrote a letter of thanks which was qualified by the criticism that there seemed to be little sense of plot. It is fun to think of listeners all over the world gradually realising the pointlessness of plot in the wit and absurdity of that sublime Victorian frolic.
Having found the spot on the dial, don't lose it again. Your life will be enhanced - or my name's Kenneth Clarke. The music department, for example, will inform and delight you with its variety. This last week alone we have heard a tremendous range. Early Versions visited the British Library to learn about the manuscript of the first recorded popular song. On parchment, underneath plainsong notation, alongside a sacred Latin text in red ink, are the black-lettered words of Sumer Is Icumen In, jotted down by some cheery Benedictine in Reading Abbey some 750 years ago. Fascinating stuff, as was the first edition of The High-C Hero, a history of the tenor voice which reminded (or, in my case, informed) us of the fact that tenors used to be the drippy ones in operas; the hero had the fine bass or baritone voice, as Bryn Terfel has today. And there was Terfel, booming magnificently in Concert Hall, demonstrating that he can range from the thrilling terror of Schubert's Erlkonig to the gulping sentiment of a Welsh ballad within half an hour.
And it's not just classical music. A wide spectrum of taste is regularly nourished by the likes of John Peel, Ed Stewart, Dave Lee Travis, Andy Kershaw, Mark Goodier, Sarah Ward and Wally Whyton. And this week saw a new series of Ports of Call, celebrating the music of the islands of Polynesia: there were strong rhythmic chants and dances, mostly, accompanied by nose flutes, conch shells and beaten biscuit-tins.
Music and drama are only part of the story: religion, science and sport are all equally well-covered, and WS current affairs and news broadcasts are unrivalled, as witness John McCarthy's famous gratitude to Barbara Myers for the way her programme, Outlook, saw him through his years of captivity. He is now, himself, an occasional presenter.
At night, in this country, the World Service is broadcast on the R4 LW frequency, which is how many insomniacs first come across it. Its domestic audience is already over a million, and growing, but its wider audience is immense. Every week it teaches five and a half million people English, and has just won the right to extend this to a possible 500 million Chinese. And all over the world, it is valued by lonely, frightened or imprisoned people. From Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Serbia, Nigeria and Angola come letters expressing immense gratitude to the BBC for bringing them reliable truth in districts where bias and propaganda distort facts. A Liberian wrote of sneaking into the forest to listen to DLT at a time when he had been, literally, enslaved and he longed to be encouraged to smile. From a cellar in Grozny comes a letter from someone whose radio is a real lifeline: "Apart from providing us with up-to-date information, you give us those sweet minutes when I can listen to my favourite musical programmes and forget about the reality around us." Ordinary people write to express their gratitude to the BBC for giving them a forum to express their views.
If the voices of ordinary people are not loud enough, there is no shortage of testimony from some extraordinary listeners. From Burma comes the voice of Aung San Suu Kyi: "I know all hostages say the same thing, but the BBC World Service really was a lifeline." Official spokesmen from Palestine and Israel express their trust in its authority, the Dalai Lama thinks it marvellous and Nelson Mandela says that it was the one thing he really wanted during his captivity. If the views of Nobel prize winners cannot be heard by this Government, we must despair of it. The Royal Opera House can acquire pounds 55m of public money, yet, for all the immense good it does, the World Service is to lose pounds 5m.
If you are in sympathy with this argument, you could write to the Foreign Secretary - the Rt Hon Malcolm Rifkind, Room 53, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Downing St West, London W1A 2AL. Your letter would support the cause of truth. After all, as dear old Jerome K Jerome remarked: "It is always the best policy to support the truth - unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar."Reuse content