Voice from Jamaica divides Radio 4 listeners
His voice has appalled and delighted Middle England's Radio 4 listeners in equal measure. And Neil Nunes, the continuity announcer whose Jamaican accent caused the controversy, is finding life in the front line less than appealing.
The BBC - described by Greg Dyke when he was director general, as "hideously white" - is acutely sensitive about a row with overtones of both political correctness and racism, and is so concerned about inflaming passions further that it has refused to disclose any details about Nunes or release his photograph, although one has been obtained by The Independent.
Nunes, who is British but was brought up in Jamaica, has said he does not wish to talk about the controversy.
A heated debate has begun on the BBC's online forum, with almost 200 contributions, divided almost between those who approve and those who do not. One of the strongest critics said: "We wish to hear intelligent speech on Radio 4 and we wish to hear it well-spoken ... We wish to hear British English, in all its varieties, including received pronunciation. We do not wish to hear the English language spoken by accents from other parts of the globe." Other messages praised his voice for its clarity. "How refreshing, at last, to hear tones which aren't white, Anglo-Saxon and Little England," said one.
Mark Damazer, the controller of Radio 4, defended Nunes' appointment and dismissed any suggestion of tokenism. "The entry path to Radio 4 has no racial, demographic, geographic or sexual dimensions," he said. "He's a black Briton, just as I'm a white Briton and other people are Asian Britons and so on... he's a perfectly appropriate voice to have on Radio 4."
Nunes supplements a pool which also includes familiar names such as Harriet Cass, Corrie Corfield, Brian Perkins and Charlotte Green, although they primarily read news bulletins.
The radio critic Jane Thynne said Mr Damazer's intervention suggested the station would stick by Mr Nunes. "They can't sack a black continuity announcer simply because Middle England has complained. But if his pronunciation doesn't improve, he is likely to be shifted to less obvious evening slots," she said.
Radio 4 has a history of fervent listener opposition to any innovation, such as the recent decision to axe Fritz Spiegl's "UK Theme" which starts the station's programming each day.
'How refreshing to hear tones which aren't white, Anglo-Saxon and Little England'
"BBC does stand for BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation, doesn't it? Do we really have to listen to this American drawl every time we hear an announcement?"
"Radio 4 should be white, middle class, Middle Britain's station, or are we to be marginalised at every turn to accommodate 'multicultural diversity'. Isn't that what Asian Network and the like is for?"
"The BBC is a politically correct, patronising, arrogant institution! ... This Caribbean guy has a lovely voice. Unfortunately the BBC is using him as a 'token black'."
"A lot of Little-Englander comments flying around here ... how refreshing, at last, to hear tones which aren't white, Anglo-Saxon and Little England. Open your minds and your ears!"
"His voice is wonderful!! It reminds me of Sir Willard White, [the opera singer] who has the most magical voice in the world. I cannot believe some of the covertly racist remarks that have been made about him."
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