Matthew Norman: The appalling truth about 'Home Truths'

Radio 4 regulars are screeching nutters who will stop at little to protect what they think is their own

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With no apologies to any of you who affected to enjoy the show (what on earth were you thinking?), the news that Home Truths is to be terminated following John Peel's death brings fresh and timely insight into the Munchkins's emotions on hearing of the Wicked Witch's death.

Doubtless there were those dwelling in Muchkinland's remotest outskirts, or in a Munchkin enclave within the borders of Oz, who'd had no problem with the Witch for years and anticipated none in the future. Yet they, too, danced at the tidings, revelling in a simple sense of joy that the world had become a better place.

This is how I feel at the news that the Dorothy of the piece, Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer, has clicked his ruby slippers together, and declared: "There's no place for Home Truths." Even if I didn't listen very often, the fact that it was there every Saturday morning, churning out that suffocating mix of tragedy and whimsy ("After a report on a mother of six-month-old octuplets dying of lupus in Lowestoft, we'll meet a retired piano tuner in Abergavenny who has mated a finch with a duck ... but don't worry, he's called the lovechild a dinch!!!"), was a general blight on existence.

Some people, on the other hand, really couldn't stand it. A friend reports that, according to his household, the shortest measurable unit of time (far briefer than a nanosecond) is the lag between the first bar of the theme tune becoming audible and the person nearest the radio diving to switch it off.

In 2002, my own wife added a second amendment to the constitution of our marriage (the first, long since defunct, guaranteed instant and irrevocable divorce proceedings should one of us propose the other for the hidden camera section on Noel's House Party). The Second Amendment effects an automatic trial separation should either be caught listening to Home Truths. This is how all godfearing people feel about the show. It's a deal-breaker. We simply couldn't tolerate any relationship, let alone holy wedlock, with anyone who felt the opposite.

As various Sony awards and ratings figures attest, however, there's no accounting for poor taste. Millions of lost souls tuned in religiously, weekend after weekend, to hear John Peel destroy anew a reputation for cynical drollery at the weekend which seemed to grow back, like Prometheus's liver, each week on Radio 1, where he was still introducing students, junkies and overgrown adolescents of all ages to live sessions from the avant- garde likes of Boutros Boutros- Ghali And The UN Touchables.

How Peel could make the transition from his beloved Teenage Kicks to the Middle-Aged Kek that defined this smugfest I will never understand. But he did, and since vast chunks of the audience stayed loyal to it after he died, and was replaced by a rota including the blameless and highly talented Tom Robinson, Mr Damazer will be in for a hard time.

Radio 4 regulars, it must be remembered, are not so much listeners as they are terrorists. Radio is, as we know, a warm medium that inspires warm emotions, but these creatures are the Ultras of what many of them would archly refer to as the wireless, or old crystal set. They are screeching nutters who will stop at little to protect what they curiously believe to be their own possession.

The British, or more particularly in this case the English, middle class is a most bemusing thing. For all that it imagines itself to be cussed, it is the planet's most feckless and malleable societal sub-stratum. Unimaginably bad public transport, of the kind that would have them burning ministerial cars in Paris? Let's just stand on the platform seething quietly for the next 20 years. The PM's taken us to war on a bunch of whoppers? A bit naughty, but he only wants one more term. People are arrested for peacefully protesting under Europe's most repressive terrorist legislation? A pretty poor show, but we'd better not say anything or it'll make things worse.

The English middle class will, out of a combination of indolence and embarrassment, put up with almost anything. Threaten to tamper with Radio 4, however, and it's guerrilla warfare all the way. When one of Mr Damazer's predecessors moved Woman's Hour, the Ultras went berserk, as they did years later when tearing Gerry Anderson to pieces for having a Belfast accent (similarly, they hate Ruth Archer for her Geordie brogue). Once, apparently, when a controller toyed with cutting the news pips from six to five, tanks were sent to patrol the shires (the incident is still covered by the 30-year rule protecting cabinet papers).

You need only listen to Feedback for two minutes to sense the seething viciousness of the Ultra. It's as if all the frustrations and furies repressed in other aspects of life are channelled towards, and given vent over, Radio 4. One can imagine an Alan Bennett monologue in which a fearsome old haddock - one of those Empire-building women of whom PG Wodehouse said "she could open an oyster at a dozen paces with a single glance" - played by Stephanie Cole copes tearlessly with a subtly hinted-at rape, but charges into the local police station to report the use of the plural "stadiums" on World At One.

These people, make no mistake, are greatly to be feared by ambitious BBC executives with eyes on even bigger jobs. Given a free hand, we might hopefully guess Mr Damazer would be wielding his axe over a few other horrors that might be described as outmoded had they ever been anything else. You And Yours, in which weird shouty people daily dredge up idiotic health scare stories and "meither" harmless confidence tricksters, achieves the unlikely one-two of being both tedious and repulsive. Any comment about Midweek with Libby Purves seems superfluous. If you've ever heard it, 'nuff said. If not, I congratulate you.

As for the quiz show Quote Unquote with Nigel Rees, here words really do begin to fail. If there are people out there who actively enjoy listening to unemployed actresses and Arthur Marshall wannabes feigning recognition of incredibly obscure quotations - "Ah yes, Nigel, now this, I suspect, is by the fifth-century BC Ionian poetess Clitoria, a disciple of Sappho ... hang on, hang on, it's coming back to me, yesssss, unless I'm much mistaken this is the opening iambic tetrameter from Clitoria's third Chlamydian Idyll" - that they were handed 10 minutes ago in the green room, that's their affair. I'm not paid to intrude into private grief.

Public grief is what must be anticipated now, though, since a glance at the R4 message boards suggests the Home Truths Defence Volunteers are already on the move. The Ultras will not take it lying down. Mr Damazer has done a brave thing. He will need more courage yet.

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