Are you receiving me?
When James Boyle took control of Radio 4, two things were clear: he was going to make changes, and every hint of change would cause panic in the outside world. Here, he publishes his private diary and medical bulletins on the road to D-Day
Monday 04 August 1997
October: On my first day at Programme Review Board the Radio 4 audience reach touches a historic low - under eight million. I begin to investigate and go searching for the audience research officer for Radio 4. He is in another building. I want him with me. David Bunker becomes a member of my team - in an office next to me. Do I mind if he takes a holiday to North Vietnam before he transfers? Good job I am not superstitious.
November: Iain Marley joins my team. He worked with me in Scotland. He will be the strategist. I feel he ought to look sinister; instead, he shows skill and charm - when he can take his mind off Celtic FC and the league championship. Before moving house to Purley, his wife takes a weekend break in New York, where she develops appendicitis and finds herself in hospital. Iain flies to NY. I lose my strategist for two weeks.
December: The team is assembling. Jagdip Jagpal becomes chief assistant. She is a solicitor. I recruit five commissioning editors to deal with the workload: Caroline Raphael, Mary Sharp, Jane Ellison, Elizabeth Burke and Fiona Couper (job share) and Andrew Caspari. Bill Mossman, my senior finance manager, teaches me the word "bunce". He is a big, bluff man and is joined by Michael Davis, whose voice is extraordinarily gravelly. There is a Reg and Ron feel about the finance team. It all says "Yes" to me. During the interviews for the editors jobs, I am harbouring the worst cold I have ever had. Other Controllers have a drinks cabinet; I have a medicine chest.
Christmas: My eldest son arrives from New York via Paris with his girlfriend, a Southern beauty from Atlanta. They are engaged. The wedding is to be in July - around the time I intend to unveil a new future for Radio 4.
January: I recruit a marketing manager from Mars! Vanessa Griffiths has been marketing ice-cream products.
Any Questions? is being broadcast from Lasswade, East Lothian. At the audience "warm-up" they shout me down on the subject of cricket on long wave. Any audience in full flow is a sobering experience.
February: We are assembled as a team and begin to review the schedule and design a new commissioning process. When it becomes know that this work is in hand, women drag children off the street, old ladies cross themselves and men dive behind the livery stable. The long process of consultation begins. Now I know how Gary Cooper felt about the townspeople of Hadleyville.
A common question to me concerns running Radio 4 and the matter of stress. Now that it is mentioned, I begin to feel twinges in my chest. But there is real tension in the new team as they adjust to me and their new jobs. We are moved to temporary offices while our own are refurbished, and tempers fray.
March: My editors and I are to tour the London Departments, the BBC centres around the country, and the independent producers to discuss Radio 4. The question is, should we distribute any research? Received wisdom is that any such material will go straight to the press. I ignore that thought. It is always better to begin in hope and trust.
April: Producers have responded enthusiastically and we now have a sizeable volume of thought on the schedule, the inherent problems and the likely solutions. Audience research is under way. It is the biggest such project ever launched in network radio. I also take the team to confer with the Voice of the Listener and Viewer committee. I begin the work of shaping the data into a schedule for the future.
My team assembles in a central London hotel to work solidly for three days. As we arrive in the crowded foyer, I happen to notice that every single person is a press photographer. I close my eyes. Please. Not a "Radio 4 team binge in hotel" story. Rising panic. Getting into the lift, I notice two members of Wet, Wet, Wet. My heartbeat returns to its usual rate, but that is not necessarily good. We try ideas for three days. At the eighth attempt to shape data and advice into the schedule there are signs of success - but still a long way to go.
May: We are heading for the first test; the Radio Directorate strategy conference, where all five BBC radio networks will unveil plans. Matthew Bannister postpones to allow R4 to complete work. We are now at the 20th version of the schedule. The wedding is looming. My wife has shouldered all the preparations, but the plan is clear. The family will fly to Scotland on 23 July. My work is to go before the Governors on 24 July.
Despite universal support within the BBC, I now sense impatience. This restiveness is articulated in the press. At one point I snap and, breaking my own rule, write to a journalist who incenses me. Mistake - as my colleagues in the press office had warned. Muggeridge said it all: "The first duty of the press is to sell newspapers."
June: The schedule is examined, revised, tweaked ... and reaches version 40. I become increasingly irritated by sniping in the press about "delay" at Radio 4. My colleagues and I work till the small hours.
I am at a conference in Cambridge when a national newspaper claims that Today is to be extended to Sunday in my new schedule. The headline is," Do You Really Want This Seven Days a Week?" The accompanying photograph of John and Jim makes them took demented. The story is wrong.
The Commissioning Editors complete their work and the Strategy Conference is a success. The other networks look equally impressive. We begin to worry about our planned changes leaking out.
July: After the Radio Academy, a Sunday programme prints a story saying that I will "axe 30 programmes". It's a dreadful mish-mash and causes alarm. I ignore it.
Both the fateful day with the Governors and the wedding are approaching. The clock speeds up. I fly to Edinburgh for the weekend. Convinced that I have a malignant lump under my arm.
16 July: I've consulted as many people as I can about the dilemmas for Radio 4 inherent in the research. The schedule is at version 49.
17 July: The BBC Executive Committee: The entire Radio 4 team assembles in my office. Even the editors are laughing nervously. Under my arm is the new schedule. Will the Executive Board be supportive? I walk downstairs. I'm asked to wait in the anteroom of the historic Council Chamber. I have to phone and ask Lindsey to run along the corridor with a pencil and a copy of the Radio Times. I don't know. I thought I needed both. I run over the allotted time doing my presentation. Board members look inscrutable. Two hours later I feel my muscles relaxing.
22 July: A raiding party of Governors led by paramount chief Sir Christopher Bland himself is to be briefed - not on the schedule, but on the process and results of audience research. I receive a rigorous but courteous going over. Matthew Bannister, Director of Radio, and Will Wyatt, Chief Executive of BBC Broadcast, flank me. Was it OK? The Govs seem reserved. I feel as if they know I have some ghastly affliction but are too kind to tell me the truth. The press say, "Radio 4 madman".
24 July: The family is in America; I am in a car heading for Bush House, eighth floor, where the Governors are meeting. Matthew is to reveal the Directorate plan. I am to show how I will protect and secure the future of Radio 4. Will I take this network to be my ... no, the wedding is on Sunday.
I am a pacer. On the eighth floor, when the meeting is delayed by a few minutes. I almost break into a jog. I rewrote my whole presentation at 7am, after many drafts had bitten the dust on the Wednesday evening. This has all been a mistake, look what they did to William Wallace. The Scottish Governor comes limping into sight. Has he been nobbled? It's a tennis injury.
Suddenly time is whirring. I address the Governors on my feet. There is much questioning. Then questioning and more questioning. But there is no doubt about it. The vast work of my staff for six months is appreciated. The Governors support my plan and indicate a quick release to curb speculation. Take me to my wedding.
27 July: We are a father-in-law - and Mary Louise is sensationally beautiful. My three sons are in Cameron tartan; my wife is dressed to turn every head, and does. As I dance, I stand on the feet of the bride's charming and sophisticated mother. She is too gracious to notice - but it must have been painful.
29 July: Interviews, interviews. Talks with producers. Interviews.
30 July: I perform: very badly on Today but better at the press conference and the subsequent producer meetings. I give four demonstrations of the new schedule to large audiences. Each performance is two hours, including many questions. In between, I am photographed by the press. Those printed are designed to make me look like a sex-crazed cleaver killer. In the middle of the day, I am irascible on The World at One. At 2 o'clock I have to collect my laundry and hurry back for the new "show". Everyone tells me that things are going well.
After the final meeting with senior people from concerned agencies I run to Tesco to grab some food before I pack. (On the following two days, I have to give further performances in Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Bristol.)
31 July, 5am: Taxi to Gatwick to catch the Manchester flight. I hear the papers review on Radio 4. The press is giving me a fair hearing. Sue Lynas, Marion Greenwood and Miriam Firth have worked well. Ray Snoddy earns my admiration for retracting his earlier condemnation. There are eight months of communication and listening ahead. I buy all the papers at the airport and I feel much better. But Valerie Grove says it in The Times: I am in fragile health! There. I told you I wasn't well. And I forgot to pat that bloody plinth this morning.
2 August: At the BBC Helpline in Glasgow, I take calls from listeners. All are courteous and clear about their reservations. I receive no berating, but there are problems to be addressed in the coming months.
3 August: The heavyweight press is benign. Paul Donovan, in The Sunday Times, isolates one of the key problems: the complex mosaic of the Radio 4 schedule. When the family returns from America I will be asked, "How did it go?" I think I will say, "So far so good".
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