Bonking replaces Dogger at bedtime

The biggest shock in Radio 4's upcoming season of late night bedtime reading will not be the content (although the odd Martin Amis expletive will have some listeners spilling the cocoa and reaching for the phone to complain), but the fact that the nightly shipping forecast will be moved to accommodate it.

Already dubbed by Radio 4 insiders as the "bonk-at-bedtime", the Late Book will begin after the midnight news on weekday evenings and feature15- minute readings from a selection of contemporary novels, including Martin Amis's The Information, Armistead Maupin's Maybe the Moon, and Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInery. Julian Barnes will also read from his debut novel Metroland.

Despite the nickname, the only genuinely "adult" components will be the odd expletive and some tough, gritty storylines. Jeremy Mortimer, editor plays and readings on Radio 4, said: "There's nothing desperately out of the way in the material. If you go into a Waterstone's or a Dillons and look at the contemporary novel section, you will find most of these novels there, and not in brown paper bags."

Of far more concern to listeners than piffling matters of taste and decency will be the series's impact on the shipping forecast, that nightly source of comfort to the thousands of listeners whose only experience of the sea is likely to be confined to a cross-Channel ferry trip to Calais for some cheap wine.

These people, who generally favour anoraks even on warm days, may struggle to know their German Bight from their Irish Sea, or their Dogger from their Fisher, but the nightly hum of the names is as warming and reassuring as a hot cup of Horlicks.

Mr Mortimer said it would have been ratings suicide to run the Late Book after the shipping forecast, a traditional signal for Radio 4 and its listeners to close down for the night.

Michael Green, controller of Radio 4, emphasised that strenuous efforts would be made to ensure that those who rely on the forecast - sailors, that is - are warned that it will be broadcast 12 minutes later at 0045 hours. He added: "One of the prime considerations in scheduling the Late Book was the timing of the shipping forecast, which not only plays a vital role in the lives of mariners, but is immensely popular with the non-seafaring section of the Radio 4 audience ... many listeners testify to the soothing, not to say soporific effect it has on them."

Leading article, page 12

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