New Radio 4 chief wants children to 'Listen with Mother' once again

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The Independent Online

A children's radio story time, similar to the much-loved Listen With Mother, is to be brought back by Radio 4 under plans by the new controller, Helen Boaden, to rejuvenate family listening.

A children's radio story time, similar to the much-loved Listen With Mother, is to be brought back by Radio 4 under plans by the new controller, Helen Boaden, to rejuvenate family listening.

The stories "will be single-voice readings, not radio dramas", Ms Boaden said yesterday, unveiling her first programme schedule since taking over from James Boyle - who cut children's dramas only three years ago.

Ms Boaden is targeting the "Harry Potter" generation of children and said she hoped that eight- to ten-year-olds would be attracted to the new programme, which will be broadcast on Sundays at 7.15pm, after The Archers. "I don't expect to recreate Listen with Mother but I believe we should give children some exposure to speech radio that is explicitly aimed at them."

The magazine programme, which will start next spring, will also include games, competitions and an internet aspect. "It is an experiment," Ms Boaden said. "We will run it for at least a year to see if we can win an audience."

The policy reversal is a gesture to those who have accused the BBC of squandering an unrivalled expertise in children's radio programming. Children's Hour, which began in 1922, only a few weeks after the BBC was born, reached its peak in the mid-Fifties, when audiences of more than a million listened to the stories, quizzes, plays and music.

The new slot would, insiders said, be perfect for a radio version of Harry Potter. The author J K Rowling has, however, insisted that any broadcast of her works must be unabridged, while the BBC has in the past argued that it should be both abridged and dramatised. A BBC spokeswoman said yesterday that no agreement had been reached.

Ms Boaden said the new schedule was intended to bring about a period of "consolidation and calm, not radical reform".

The emphasis appeared to be on tradition, with Ms Boaden announcing the extension of Gardeners' Question Time from 30 minutes to 45 minutes. In a little disguised swipe at television garden "makeover" programmes, Ms Boaden said: "There will be no decking, no pebbles, no instant plants. All that garden decorating has a place, but Radio 4 does it differently."

Similarly, next year's Reith lecture is likely to appeal to more traditionally minded over-thirties rather than fashionable twentysomethings. Tom Kirkwood, professor of medicine and head of the Department of Gerontology at the University of Newscastle, will talk about the ageing process. It is a subject that "will get more and more attention as the 'baby boomer' generation get into the reality of ageing", Ms Boaden said.

She also announced a raft of dramas, including Emma by Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh's Scoop. On afternoon plays, Ms Boaden said: "There should be stronger narratives," she said, "... and more compelling detective stories."

The playwrights Harold Pinter and Alan Bennett will appear in their own works. Pinter will appear in A Slight Ache, while Bennett will star in Forty Years On.

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