Miles Kington: A shrinking world killed the drawings in 'Radio Times'

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The Independent Online

At the weekend I was browsing through a book published by the BBC way back in 1981 called The Art of Radio Times, a big format hardback which gave you a generous helping of some of the artists who had made the Radio Times such a treasure house of good drawing over the years. Nowadays, of course, there are no drawings at all in the magazine and younger readers must wonder what the hell I am on about, even referring to art and the Radio Times in the same breath. The fact that for many years every cover of the Radio Times was hand-drawn must seem ludicrous to them.

To make sure, I also browsed through the current Radio Times, bravely thus still entitled even though radio coverage was squashed into a cramped corner by television listings years ago. There were 252 pages in the book called The Art of Radio Times, and easily that number of drawings as well. There are just over 160 pages in the current Radio Times, and no drawings at all.

Well, that's not quite true.

They have reproduced the front of the contemporary souvenir programme of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten RN, and it is a quite richly drawn cover for your 2/6.

So, there is one drawing in the current Radio Times.

Done in 1947.

Well, this is the way the world goes. Radio coverage shrinks. The world of drawing shrinks. The old world vanishes ... But what am I on about? Nothing ever quite vanishes. After all, the cover of the very same Radio Times is devoted to a Victorian classic, "Cranford", and not just the cover, but – quite cleverly – the next two pages as well, so that if you fold out the cover you get a huge single photo over three pages showing all the major players from Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins down through the ranks, with everyone standing in front of a Victorian architectural background so authentically detailed that it comes as a shock to see, at the end of the third page, a modern chap up a ladder ignoring all the actors and getting on with lashing down the last corner of what is, after all, a painted backdrop of Victorian houses...

And there's another touch of old-time reality on the Readers' Letters page, where Mr Chris Elshaw of Headley Down in Hants writes to ask for the return of The Brains Trust. Or rather, the end of programmes such as Question Time in which three out of the four panellists are always mouthpieces of the three main parties, and it is left to the fourth stray person to express any non-partisan view.

Mr Elshaw had recently seen an Oxford historian called Dr Maria Misra on Question Time, whose sharp, fresh, well-thought out opinions had actually got Mr Elshaw's mind thinking, instead of his prejudices waggling. Time to get rid of all politicians, he suggested. Time to dust off The Brains Trust, stick some batteries in it and see if it still works.

You don't have to go that far back. I gave up Question Time (and Any Questions) years ago, partly because the Dimbleby brothers were presiding over marionette shows in which the strings were being pulled from afar from some Central Office, partly because I can remember a time when Any Questions wasn't a party political charade, a time when the panellists weren't asked the dreary weekly questions about nuclear Iran, unrest in Pakistan and untrained British workers, or whatever is in this week's headlines, but about real life. I can even remember a panel being asked what they thought about the state of folk music today. A question for which the panel was so unbriefed that they came up with a rather interesting discussion in reply.

It might make a good cartoon to be drawn by H.M.Bateman (one of the heroes of The Art of Radio Times). It would be called "The Man Who Dared Ask The Panel a Question Which Was not About The Week's News..." Shock, horror, nervous breakdown of producer. But it would never happen today, of course. Nothing is left to chance today.

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