`You forgot to blame me for the death of Lord Reith'

Despite the loss of DJ Steve Wright and the axing of `Anderson Country' , Liz Forgan, MD of BBC Radio, argues that the network is in rude health

Just as Radio 1 looks to be emerging from the worst of its turbulent recent history, the station loses its best-known voice, Steve Wright. Then Radio 4 axes Anderson Country, a key part of plans to broaden the network's appeal. Time, on the face o f it, to ask the boss what is going wrong.

Nothing, insists Liz Forgan, managing director of BBC network radio. Or at any rate, nothing to warrant the "crisis at BBC Radio" speak doing the industry rounds this week. "I would utterly refute any suggestion that there is a generalised problem. Thereis generalised vigour and energy, I think, in response to change."

Since her big money transfer from Channel 4 nearly two years ago, Ms Forgan has been dodging flak: she has faced violent criticism and petitions over Anderson Country; the decision to suspend normal play on long wave Radio 4 for Test Match Special; and the uprooting en masse of the Gardener's Question Time team to the national commercial station, Classic FM.

Radio 1 has, meanwhile, displayed all the adhesive quality of Teflon, losing more than 4 million listeners after the radical shake-up of its output and line-up in autumn 1993, and contributing to BBC radio's share of listening falling below commercial radio for the first time last October.

"You forgot to blame me for the death of Lord Reith," she adds with a smile.

Ms Forgan's main interest outside work is singing soprano in churches with a chamber music group. At the office, praising the Corporation comes first.

"I was born listening to Radio 4. I came to the BBC because I love the way BBC radio is, not because I hate it and want to destroy it." And she means it. In fact, Ms Forgan is arguably the corporation's most articulate ambassador - an excellent politician and intellectually rigorous. Her defence of the BBC's radio strategy is robust. Take Radio 1. In autumn 1993, Matthew Bannister, the station's controller, set in train an overhaul of the schedule that led to the departure of ageing DJs Dave Lee Travis,Simon Bates and Gary Davies - and a growing emphasis on speech and youthful vigour.

With more live music, new bands, factual and comedy output, many would contend Radio 1 is more lively, intelligent and distinctive. But not everyone.

Some decline was inevitable, but the scale has alarmed many at the BBC.

Their anxiety was hardly allayed last autumn when Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, said, in direct reference to Radio 1, that as audiences fell then so the case for the universal licence fee diminished. But Ms Forgan argues:"Success or failure for Radio 1 can never be measured solely in terms of numbers . . . it's to do with quality as much as quantity.

"Don't forget that Radio 1 is still twice the size of its nearest rival. Because it's supported by the licence fee, it's free to be more ambitious in what it offers that young audience than commercial radio can ever be - in terms of range of music, experimenting with comedy.

"It's actually in extremely good shape. It has a real sense of forward momentum."

Ms Forgan denies that decisions to end the attempt to integrate news into a drive-time slot, or replacing Danny Baker's Sunday morning show with an oldies format represent U-turns in strategy. Instead, they are "fine-tunings". A similar distinction between strategy and execution applies to the changes at Radio 4. There has been a concerted effort by Michael Green, controller of Radio 4, to make the network more appealing to younger people.

Getting more regional accents on air became the convenient shorthand, although Ms Forgan insists she has never "declared an affection for lovely Brummie accents".

The Brookside-isation of the Archers with more challenging storylines, comic innovation in On the Hour, the feisty post-breakfast debate of Start the Week and Moral Maze, and the transplanting of Woman's Hour to coffee-time all represent successful attempts to invigorate the schedule while remaining true to Radio 4's programming integrity.

However, it was Anderson Country, probably the most reviled programme in radio history, that came to symbolise the apparent mugging of the station by a bunch of cultural hooligans.

Ms Forgan believes that the programme was a "triumphant success" as demonstrated by "rock solid" listening figures. Judging from last week's events, the problem was not the programme, but the presenter - the laid-back Ulsterman Gerry Anderson - and his drawly delivery.

On why the BBC has lost ground to commercial radio, Ms Forgan says it's "not because we're not producing terrific radio stations that people love . . . you can't move from a virtual monopoly to a position of having 150 competitors without losing market share."

Ms Forgan believes increased competition has purged the medium of its "patronising backwater" image in favour of something "fizzy and exciting".

Perhaps. But the question remains, how many listeners can the BBC lose before it stops being interesting and is accepted as a problem?

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor


Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all