Early-bird medley may still rule the airwaves, hints Radio 4 controller

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The Independent Online

A faint glimmer of hope is in sight this weekend for the most unlikely campaign of the year. For, it seems, the curious medley of British melodies broadcast at 5.30am each day on Radio 4, threatened with the axe in a blithe statement from the BBC, may after all be saved for an anxious nation.

Mark Damazer, the station's controller, who said on Tuesday that the tune "clearly has served its purpose", seemed to indicate in an interview with The Independent on Sunday that all is not yet set in stone.

"At the moment we have not done it," said Mr Damazer. "It is therefore a kind of hypothetical in the sense that it has not even happened yet and therefore I won't speculate in any particular direction about it."

He went on: "Clearly a significant section of the Radio 4 audience who listen at that time in the morning are bruised... The tune lingers on for quite a while."

Seasoned listeners to the statements of BBC top executives have recognised in Mr Damazer's words the beginnings of, if not the actual tones of, a retreat.

The object of the campaigners' affections is a medley composed by Fritz Spiegel of parts of "Rule Britannia", "Danny Boy", "What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?", "Greensleeves" and "Scotland the Brave". Supporters have included many of the hard core of farmers, early risers, insomniacs and conservationists who listen to the radio at that ungodly hour, plus Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr Damazer may yet silence the tune, but, for now, it seems that he has offered his opponents some hope. Not for the first time, a Radio 4 controller has run into trouble when he attempts to act on his discovery that a station aimed at a mature, intelligent audience attracts insufficient numbers of teenagers.