At last, a chance of some BBC feedback
Monday 10 February 1997
I hope you don't mind my writing to you openly like this, but the last time I wrote to you at Feedback you never got my letter.
Feedback is the splendid Radio 4 programme on which you, Chris Dunkley, allow radio listeners to fulminate at each other and at the BBC (and sometimes shower praise). (Sorry if this sounds a bit like Sue Lawley ... "So, Chris Dunkley, what's your next record ...?")
Occasionally, when enough complaints accumulate, you will wheel in a bigwig to defend the BBC (and sometimes admit blame). It would be nice to think that Feedback also caused the BBC to think again sometimes, though I don't remember this ever happening.
Now, though I love the BBC dearly, I am maddened by some of its decisions, and I am above all maddened by the way Jazz Notes has been shifted to a remote ghetto.
This programme goes out most weekdays and presents half an hour of excellent music, reviews and interviews. Unfortunately, although it used to go out at a reasonable time, it now goes out at 12.30am on Radio 3, when most people including me are unconscious. Although Nicholas Kenyon, Radio 3's boss, has never admitted this, the only reason for choosing this time must be to lose listeners so that he can turn round later and say, "I'm afraid jazz listening figures are going down, so it's hardly worth broadcasting as much as we do." No other reasons bear scrutiny.
I had been toying with the idea of writing to Feedback about this when a stroke of luck gave me a good reason to do so. I had managed to tape an edition of Jazz Notes to listen to later, a solo concert by the wonderful Scottish pianist Dave Newton, as I remember. I listened to it and found a curious thing. Somewhere in the middle of his pianistics, a voice suddenly broke in announcing that a great new record was coming right up ...! Not part of the Dave Newton recital, I realised, but Radio 2 being broadcast by mistake on the Radio 3 frequency. It only lasted 10 seconds or so, but still, it was a cock-up by any standards.
And I had it on tape. So I smugly sent the tape off to Feedback, saying that if Radio 3 was going to put out jazz at a time when only burglars and foxes were listening, they might at least try to broadcast it properly - or didn't they think it mattered if nobody but burglars and foxes were listening? I wrapped it up safely, marked it Feedback at PO Box 2100 in central London and sent if off.
Six weeks later I had the tape sent back to me by the Royal Mail saying that there was no such PO box number. This was plainly ridiculous. So now I had another letter to write, a letter of protest to the Royal Mail, complaining that they did not deliver my letters of protest to other people.
After a lot of head-scratching, the Royal Mail told me that there was a now defunct PO Box 2100 out in east London somewhere, and my package had probably been rerouted there and then rerouted back to me. It was, they said, a case of human error. They were very sorry, but too bad.
I was very sorry too. I had missed my chance. I am now sorry every week that I don't write to Feedback. I was even sorrier this week, because there were some things on Feedback that I liked a lot. I liked the man who wrote in and said that until the Today programme gave up its addiction to fake confrontations, it would be unlistenable. I liked the way BBC representative Ian Gardhouse rose to listeners' complaints that Darius Guppy shouldn't have been allowed on Midweek with a magnificent address on free speech (without actually saying that Radio 4 listeners can be a prissy, namby-pamby lot sometimes).
And I liked the woman who objected to a BBC announcer saying The Mall as if it rhymed with "all".
What I didn't like was when you, Chris Dunkley, commented that it was odd that Mall was the only word in English ending "-all" which didn't rhyme with "all". I didn't like this because it set me off trying to prove you wrong.
This sort of thing can waste hours. You know how you say to yourself, "There must be another word not rhyming with "all"! And you go crazy trying to think of one. I've been going crazy trying to think of one. Fall, stall, thrall, gall, wall ...
In fact, I had given up when my wife said to me: "I think today I shall ..."
"That's it!" I cried. "Shall!"
"What about `shall'?" she said.
"Doesn't rhyme with `all'!"
"No," she said. "It doesn't. So ...?"
"So I have something to write to Feedback about."
" How about `shall'? And why is Jazz Notes on so late?"
I would have written using a stamp and envelope, but that doesn't seem to work, so I hope you don't mind me writing like this.
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