Gardeners' radio team sows the seeds of change: Horticulture experts who left the BBC rather than be split up are blooming in pastures new. Michael Leapman reports

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The Independent Online
IT WAS springtime for Stefan - and Daphne and Fred and Sue - as the old Gardeners' Question Time team, victims of BBC Radio's out-with-the-old crusade, bloomed afresh for Classic FM as the Classic Gardening Forum.

A seasonal sense of renewal was in the air at Woolpit village hall, a few miles east of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, where the first programme of the new series was recorded, for broadcast on 2 April at 2pm.

'For the first time in years I actually get up looking forward to coming and doing the programme,' Daphne Ledward said as the four team members, after tea in the Old Rectory, sat in a tiny ante-room before facing the 250-strong audience.

Sue Phillips agreed: 'Classic FM is a small station and everyone involved is positive and highly motivated. It's not like working for the BBC where you felt that you were just a tiny part of a huge organisation, and nobody cared.'

Stefan Buczacki - now called the presenter rather than the team chairman, because he thinks it sounds less formal - said that Classic FM was even putting them in better hotels than the BBC during their monthly travels around the country.

But it was not for want of in-room hair dryers and mints on the pillow that they had defected en masse: it was because the BBC wanted to break up the team and bring in new voices, whereas the Famous Four believe they are an ensemble or nothing. 'We are all friends and that comes across in the way we react to each other,' Mr Buczacki said. 'That's what people like about us.'

Members of the audience confirmed it. 'I feel I know them,' Ann Heather, an usher, said. 'You know what jokes they are going to make and what tomatoes they're going to recommend, and that's what I like about them.' One way the panel strengthens the bond is by making frequent references' to their own and their team- mates' gardens.

At Woolpit (population 1,800), the sense of familiarity extended to the questions the villagers asked. Unlike in the old GQT, most of these are not submitted in advance but come spontaneously from the floor.

In another of the few variations from the GQT format, classical music will be played between questions. It will be inserted into the hour-long programme in the studio later.

The BBC would not allow local societies to charge for admission, but Classic FM has no such inhibition, and the evening raised more than pounds 700 for repairs to the medieval church in Woolpit.

Technically it was the first of a new radio series: but it was the renewal of a ritual that, 47 years since GQT began, is now as much steeped in the traditions of village life as the church appeal fund, the pub and tea in the Old Rectory.

(Photograph omitted)

Anna Pavord, page 37