Dropping off before Malin Head

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The Independent Online
The nation's sleeping habits, or rather going-to-sleep habits, are set for a major overhaul this autumn. According to Michael Green, controller of Radio 4, the late-night shipping forecast, that traditional close to the radio day, is not only a valuable information tool for the mariner, it also acts as one of the most effective sleeping draughts known to modern medicine. We are, apparently, a nation less in the thrall of Mogadon and Tomazepan, than one addicted to Tiree, Finistere and German Bight.

"Many listeners," Mr Green said yesterday, " testify to the soothing, not to say soporific effect the forecast has on them."

Yet, from 2 October, insomniacs will have to wait an extra 12 minutes for their snooze fest. There will be an extra programme on Radio 4: The Late Book, nightly readings from contemporary novels. These are books which, Mr Green claimed, "would not have fitted comfortably into the traditional Book At Bedtime slot".

Which begs the question: what kind of book is deemed unsuitable for Book At Bedtime? After all, two years ago Lady Chatterley's Lover was serialised on the programme, drawing an inevitable post-bag of spluttering complaints (most were less worried about Lawrence's fruitier literary byways than about dozing hours being invaded by cod Nottinghamshire accents). Indeed, a hint of what the BBC felt was the true purpose of its nightly read-in came in Richard Nelson's play Advice to Eastern Europe, broadcast in 1990. At one stage the play's hero picks up a girl and takes her back to his flat. In order to convey aurally what ensued, the sound effects department eschewed the usual grunts and groans and used instead silence, broken only by the squeaking of bed-springs and, in the background, the radio tuned to A Book At Bedtime.

Yet before enraged and sleepless listeners besiege Feedback with complaints that their normal routine is to be disturbed by nightly erotic readings - "A Bonk at Bedtime" - it should be pointed out that the new series will feature work unlikely to top the best-sellers list at the average rain- coat bookshop. Novels by William Boyd, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes and JG Ballard are all scheduled to be read.

The BBC's first choice for The Late Book, incidentally, is Martin Amis's The Information. Which makes you wonder what will happen to the Shipping Forecast? Who, after listening to Amis's mid-life whingeing, will still be awake to hear what the weather is like in Malin Head?

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