Terence Blacker: 'Thought For The Day' has had its day

Share
Related Topics

The soundtrack to our lives contains certain noises which exist primarily to reassure the more vulnerable citizens of middle Britain that old values and traditions live on. The shipping forecast, eager middle-class voices singing "Jerusalem" on the Last Night of the Proms, the Queen's Speech: the content of all these things is unimportant beside the fact that they still exist. They are little comfort blankets of sound. It is time to admit that one of these aural symbols of national continuity has well and truly outlived its usefulness. Radio 4's Thought For The Day has got to go.

There was a time when the calming tones of a vicar, Sikh or rabbi, saying nothing in particular but in a soothing, pastoral tone of voice, provided a welcome contrast to the bustle and aggression of the Today programme. Now it seems unbearably patronising, a throwback to the bad old days when tweedy Establishment types took it upon themselves to tell the nation what to think and believe.

Everything is wrong with Thought For The Day. It interrupts a programme of issues, news and discussion at precisely the moment when it is hitting its stride, thereby annoying (and probably losing) many listeners. On Today, views are challenged, often ferociously, by its presenters, yet for those three minutes, some vaguely religious opinion – often rather mediocre and vapid – is given the floor, unchallenged. The general standard of argument is so low that the slot often seems like a sort of celebration of non-thinking. It comes as a shock when a big hitter, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks or Clifford Longley, makes a worthwhile point. It is, of course, quite absurd that only those who happen to be marketing a religious faith should be allowed as contributors. The BBC should be reminded that there is such a thing as a thinking non-believer, that an agnostic or an atheist is every bit as qualified to speak of moral and ethical matters as anyone else. The argument that religious views are not represented elsewhere on the Today programme is patently unsustainable.

Yet, oddly, the problem is not that this pause for thought is too long but that it is not nearly long enough. Three minutes of lightweight, uncontroversial waffle in a golden age of controversy is simply irritating.

Never in our history has there been such a general clamour of opinion all around us, in the press, online and in public debates. Everyone now has a point of view and is eager to express it. Yet, extraordinarily, the BBC responds by persisting with a feeble, virtuous sound-bite of sincere nothingness at a time of peak-hour radio.

We need more and better thoughts for the day on Radio 4, away from the ghetto of news and interviews, released from the straitjacket of a three-minute broadcasting slot. There is surely space in the schedules for a programme in which new, interesting and sometimes outspoken new voices debate the big issues behind contemporary events – a more inclusive, more daring Moral Maze. There is a wild and savage jungle of opinion and thought growing rampantly in our early 21st-century culture. In response, each morning at the same time, Radio 4 offers a very small, neat, carefully tended suburban garden. It is not enough.

Strewth, meet a Pom who doesn't even whinge

The Australian press has welcomed a double miracle. Firstly, a 19-year-old English student has managed to survive by eating grubs and mosquitoes after getting lost for 12 days in the remote Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Then, the boy's father turned out to be that rarest of things, a Pom who does not whinge.

As it turns out, the whingeing may soon be coming from Australians, and with some justification. Hardly had Jamie Neale and his father Richard Cass been reunited before both of them signed up with a local agent for celebrities, Sean Anderson.

Jamie has a good survival story to tell, says Anderson, who anticipates bids from newspapers for his new client's story. School visits could be organised in which survival skills could be taught. There might even be a diet book. The search for the wandering student is said to have cost the Australian taxpayer about $100,000. Mr Neale and his father have offered their very sincere gratitude.

A sinister tale of political over-correctness

There is something very peculiar about a society which rewards those who write stories to entertain and educate the nation's children by requiring them to buy a certificate confirming they are not paedophiles. It is hardly surprising that normally relaxed and modest writers for children, among them Philip Pullman and Michael Morpurgo, are refusing to visit schools under these humiliating and insulting circumstances.

When authors are obliged by the Government to buy licences of acceptability before they are allowed to talk to their readers, something distinctly sinister is going on.

* That very contemporary phenomenon, the celebrity divorce, is posing all sorts of legal problems. Adjudicating over the divorce proceedings of the Earl and Countess of Spencer, a judge has decreed that the new spirit of openness in family courts should cover public figures as well as "those who live their lives in tranquillity and anonymity."

Then there is the burning question of "brand divergence". Because, like everything else in the world of the famous, a celebrity marriage is a marketable product, and the question of who wins custody of the brand image can be as sharply contested as issues concerning children or even property.

Such things matter, as Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills could testify. Sir Paul, well and expensively advised on the public relations side, remains a cuddly national favourite.

Mills, however, who fired her publicity team, has been cast into the outer darkness.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
 

If Renee Zellweger wants to look different, who are we to question it?

Boyd Tonkin
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker