Brian Viner: Country Life

'On BBC Hereford & Worcester, people can promote their own events. This is radio at its best'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Hurrah for Jane Garvey, the Woman's Hour presenter who dared to venture, in the course of a forthright and honest newspaper interview for which she has been absurdly maligned, that one of her bugbears is "people who say they only listen to Radio 4".

I have just written a memoir about growing up in the 1970s in front of the tells, and, on a rollicking night out in the name of research, was reminded by an old school friend (the great thing about writing a memoir is the excuse it offers for getting drunk with old school friends) that his father banned the family from watching ITS in the 1970s on the basis that the commercial channel was "a bit council house". It was a blanket ban, too, not even lifted for World in Action, Weekend World or Aquarium, which as far as my friend's dad was concerned, were reprobate cleverer siblings of On the Buses and Man About the House.

Anyway, it seems to me that those who eschew all radio channels except Radio 4, and then boast about it, are guilty of the same kind of snobbery, even if it is not articulated in quite such Basil Faulty-esque terms.

All this is on my mind because Jane and I (that's my wife Jane, not Ms Garvey) have started waking up to BBC Hereford and Worcester rather than Radio 4, and very liberating it is, too. For years our venerable clock-radio burst into life with the Today programme, until we realised one day, like the little boy who saw through the emperor's new clothes, that too much of it was plain bloody boring. Admittedly, there was the exciting morning I sat bolt upright in bed thinking that I'd just heard James Naughtie talking about a bulging erection, but it turned out to be a combination of my semi-consciousness and his Aberdeenshire way of saying "Belgian election".

Whatever, as soon as the momentous decision to junk Radio 4 was made, we needed to find a substitute. I was all for waking up to Five Live or even TalkSport, but not only does the clock-radio sit on Jane's side of the bed, it also predates me in her life. The unspoken rule in our bedroom is that she's the one who does the tuning.

So for a while, we tried Radio 2, because she likes listening to Terry Wogan in the car on the school run, but at 6.30am we were woken up by Sarah Kennedy, which, with all due respect, is no way to start the day. I'm sure she's a delightful woman, but as a broadcaster she seems to be almost completely devoid of wit. I don't mean to be cruel, but we have talked to our friends Avril and Ian about their habits in bed (you get to know people pretty well out here in the country) and they listen to Sarah Kennedy precisely because she propels them out from under the duvet and into the bathroom safely away from the radio.

Jane and I, however, like to take horizontal stock for 20 minutes, so we are choosy about who we wake up with. I should add here that in the 1990s, Jane was herself a Radio 4 producer, working first in news and current affairs and then, coincidentally, on Woman's Hour. Ironically, some of her Woman's Hour colleagues were a bit sniffy about her decision to take a "career break" when our second child was born in 1995. They felt that she was letting down the sisterhood, though it seemed to Jane that they missed the crucial point: that women's rights weren't about working full-time instead of staying at home with young children, but about the freedom to choose which you did. Anyway, the point is that she still feels a vestigial loyalty to Radio 4, but we're both glad she has finally let go.

All of which brings me back to BBC Hereford & Worcester. The breakfast show is presented by a warm and witty fellow called Howard Bentham, who makes us laugh (and who, if I was running BBC radio, I'd put on Radio 2 before Terry Wogan, but then, maybe Howard prefers to wake up in the sticks).

What also makes us laugh is the daily segment in which people can promote their own events. It is local radio at its best, and it's good to connect with your locality, which is why I have decided that at 6.45am I'd rather hear about Cleobury Mortimer Golf Club's forthcoming murder-mystery evening than any impending Belgian election.