Chris Evans - it could take a White Paper to shut him up

There were rumblings of discontent when the controller of Radio 2, Lesley Douglas, brought him back to the BBC last year. But they are as nothing compared with the venom that has greeted her announce-ment that Chris Evans will take over from Johnnie Walker as the presenter of Radio 2's drive-time show from 18 April.

Replacing Walker was never going to be easy. His seven-year stint at drivetime has coincided with a period of dramatic success for the station. Total weekly reach has increased to 13.25 million listeners, three million more than its nearest rival, Radio 1. Walker's own programme attracts more than five million listeners daily. But when the veteran insisted on a lighter schedule, Douglas declared Evans a "brilliant radio talent" and said: "I know he will give the audience a great new show."

Loyal listeners appear to disagree, vehemently. Hundreds have telephoned the BBC to express their anger, and Radio 2's internet message boards have been swamped with protests. One contributor calls Evans "just a gob... he can't entertain and he can't deliver to the listener". Some fans allege their complaints are being censored by the BBC. Others are demanding protests outside Broadcasting House. The Daily Mail - newspaper of choice for many Radio 2 listeners - joined in with the headline "Spare us Chris Evans!" and asked readers: "Will Evans undermine Radio 2's reputation?"

Douglas thinks not. She fought off a challenge from commercial radio to hire him last year. Commercial competitors fear she is right and that Evans will prove hugely popular. But they hope the BBC White Paper - due this week - will restrict the corporation's power to make similar appointments in future.

"In an incredibly competitive market, commercial radio is now facing two versions of Radio 1," says Paul Brown, chief executive of the Commercial Radio Companies Association (CRCA). "One only has to look at the ratings - the difference between BBC Radio and us is Radio 2. In 10 years since it adopted an aggressively commercial approach, the BBC has gained 6 per cent and we have lost 6 per cent. The appointment of a presenter like Chris Evans into the middle of the daytime schedule is highly significant." Brown says the BBC's freedom to make such appointments "impoverishes our capacity to build audience".

The CRCA hopes the White Paper will boost competition by imposing a range of measures to limit the BBC's freedom to make programmes similar to those produced by commercial rivals. The Newspaper Society, representing local and regional newspapers, has similar hopes. Its director, David Newell, says: "The BBC is using public funding to leverage its scale and to create a network of screen-based local newspapers. For the BBC to replicate the print and online content of regional and local newspapers is an unjustified use of licence fee money."

The argument is familiar. But last year many commercial broadcasters and publishers abandoned hope that the Government would accept it when the Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell rejected pleas for "top slicing" - giving a portion of the licence fee to commercial broadcasters for them to make public service programmes. But the state of the advertising market has contributed to a new mood in Whitehall. Sources say Jowell is anxious to ensure that the rest of the industry regards the BBC Trust - the independent body replacing the board of governors - as a genuinely impartial regulator.

Professor Steven Barnett of Westminster University under-stands commercial anger about Evans's new role at Radio 2. But, he says: "To remain at the heart of British cultural life the BBC must remain popular. Once you accept that there still needs to be a popular, distinctive BBC there is no reason why Chris Evans does not fit into that. There is an elephant in the room. How big should the elephant be?" That, in a nutshell, is the question that the BBC White Paper must answer.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003