BBC gardener calls it a day: Clay Jones to leave Radio 4 panel after 17 years

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CLAY JONES, the loam and gravel-voiced presenter of BBC Radio Four's long-running Gardener's Question Time, is to leave the programme after 17 years.

He said yesterday that he had decided to retire after suffering a mild heart attack five weeks ago. His announcement follows speculation that a shake-up of the programme is in store, after it is taken over by independent producers next April.

Mr Jones, 70, who has appeared in more than 850 editions, said: 'I have told the BBC that I wish to retire now, quietly, with the dignity that the programme engenders in the minds and hearts of its faithful audience.' It attracts 1.25 million listeners.

Stefan Buczazki, of Stratford on Avon, is to succeed Mr Jones as chairman. Dr Buczazki, a long-standing member of the panel, remembers being told, as a child, to keep quiet after lunch on Sundays so that his father could listen to the programme.

Gardener's Question Time began life in 1947 as How Does Your Garden Grow? on the Home Service. It has retained its slot at 2pm on Sunday for 30 years. This will not change when it is taken over by an independent company. The BBC has also promised that Gardener's Question Time will continue to tour the country, perhaps visiting garden centres as well as village halls. It wants the programme 'livened up a little' to appeal to a younger audience. One independent company suggested John Noakes, formerly of Blue Peter, as chairman. Independent producers insist it is the BBC that wants a change in panellists.

Mr Jones, of Chepstow, Gwent, said last night: 'It's been a great pleasure and privilege to have been part of a national institution.'

Dave Lee Travis, the Radio 1 disc jockey who announced on- air last Sunday that he was leaving the station when his contract ended in October, has made his last broadcast for BBC. Johnny Beerling, the station controller, said an interview he had given the Sun newspaper was in breach of contract.