Editor-At-Large: Young, gifted... and ignored by Radio 4

The BBC's main spoken word station fails to reflect the diversity of Britain – or even the variety in the white middle class
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The Independent Online

Woman's Hour presenter Jane Garvey moans that Radio 4 is "too middle class". Talk about stating the bloody obvious: the station sums up everything that Middle England stands for. Smugness personified.

Nothing wrong in that as long as you take care to receive information, ideas and input from the real world outside the cosy (generally white) confines of the BBC. If I was locked in a room and forced to listen to a diet of Libby Purves being bright and interested on Midweek, followed by an edition of Woman's Hour in all its mind-numbing worthiness with Ms Garvey or Jenni Murray talking about menstruation, followed by Money Box Live with that irritating bloke going on about pensions, and then (the real icing on the cake) that dour Winifred whatshername on You and Yours (more stuff about pensions for pensioners) for more than a single day, I think I would top myself.

Don't get me wrong, I regularly listen to Radio 4. I adore The Archers, rarely miss Eddie Mair on PM and tune in to Front Row. I was addicted to the recent serialisation of Lionel Shriver's novel We Need to Talk About Kevin – exemplary stuff; it reduced me to tears. Sadly, these gems are more than offset by ghastly, unfunny shows at 6.30pm, dry-as-dust book programmes, and there's the enigma of Fi Glover and the appalling Saturday Live. Overall, far from being the jewel in the crown of the BBC, Radio 4 is dangerously close to becoming marginal.

We are a nation that has become predominantly middle class – even John Prescott is in the club. But if you listen to Radio 4, you'd think that being middle class meant being white, and middle aged or elderly. Now, I am white – and getting on a bit – but I want to be shocked, entertained, thrilled and moved by radio, not lulled into slumber. What about all the other versions of the middle class across the land? Mark Damazer, Radio 4's controller, admitted last week that more has to be done to represent "the full range of voices" in the UK – a massive understatement.

Lenny Henry gave a speech recently complaining about the lack of black faces in broadcasting, claiming that little has changed since the days of Alf Garnett. He's absolutely right, and nowhere is whiter, and more narrowly defined, than the output of Radio 4. Jane Garvey might be complaining, but hiring her from Radio Five Live was no solution to the problem. Woman's Hour is hardly the mouthpiece of the underclass or multicultural Britain. Black women get on if they've written critically acclaimed books or run charities for deprived kids.

The same bias is true of Radio 4's current affairs output. Nine times out of 10, when blacks or Asians get on Today it's because they're social workers or community leaders talking about knife crime or potential terrorists. Why are there are no black presenters on any of the main Radio 4 current affairs programmes and only one black continuity announcer (hired only in the past 12 months) on the channel?

Finally, there's the received wisdom on Radio 4 that most listeners are middle aged with the same set of values. My generation – the baby boomers – is redefining what it is to be a pensioner. We spend more time on the internet than any other group, travel and are curious consumers of every kind of culture. Yet Radio 4 constantly portrays the elderly as obsessed about money and health issues. Time for Mr Damazer to offer more challenging fare, please.

HRH puts his carbon footprint in it

Prince Charles wants us to know that he is doing his bit for the environment. The other week he gave a speech by video link, and now he's come up with an extraordinarily inventive way to reduce his carbon footprint. You and I might try to achieve this by cycling a bit more, using the train instead of short-haul flights, trying not to drive everywhere. We might shove waste in a compost bin, refuse plastic bags in shops and worry about how many air miles those gorgeous little vine tomatoes we bought at Marks & Spencer have travelled.

But Charles is in a different league when it comes to saving the planet. He is about to embark on an official tour of the Caribbean. (Imagine the options offered to our king-in-waiting. After all, the Commonwealth stretches far and wide. To paraphrase the words of Mrs Merton: "Just what was it that attracted you to a trip to the sun-kissed tropical islands of Tobago, St Lucia, Montserrat and Jamaica at the height of the holiday season to discuss climate change, Your Royal Highness?"). HRH plans to bunk down with Camilla on a massive luxury yacht, 'Leander', which has more than 10 guest bedrooms (all en suite), a helicopter pad, a large swimming pool, lavish dining room and staff quarters for 22 crew and two chefs. Renting the boat is described by the palace as "a cost-cutting exercise involving a 40 per cent reduction in carbon emissions".

I once took tea on the 'Leander' owner's previous yacht – a vast gin palace with glittery carpet up the walls. There's no way you can run a motorboat of this size off solar power or wind, and speaking as someone who has often stayed on all the islands Charles plans to visit, it's pretty disgusting he can't stay in any of the excellent eco-resorts that have sprung up all over the Caribbean. He's not even employing one local member of staff.

Many of the people he will be visiting, particularly in Montserrat, which was devastated by volcanic eruptions, will be hard-working folk living in small wooden houses. What kind of ludicrous out-of-date image is Charles projecting, coming down the gang plank in a blazer with Camilla, like something out of a 1950s Terry-Thomas movie? The man is a prat and, to add insult to injury, we're paying for it all. I notice he didn't think a wind-powered sailboat was an option – probably not posh enough.

Watch out for male knees, the down side of our early spring

On Friday, I cycled along the seafront from Whitstable to Herne Bay in glorious sunshine and very little breeze; not a cloud in the sky, and so warm there was no need for gloves or a hat.

Whatever happened to winter and prolonged periods of cold weather? According to experts at Kew Gardens, we've lost a season. Temperatures are so mild that hawthorn is expected to flower at the end of February, two months early. Daffodils are in bloom a month earlier than 20 years ago and tortoises have woken from hibernation. Spring used to start on 21 March, but now the Met Office has rescheduled it to the first of the month.

The early blooms are welcome, but one unpleasant side effect of our non-existent winter is a plague of repulsive house flies. Another, the sight of a large man walking in London last week wearing shorts.

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