For Radio 4 yesterday, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. On the one hand, the latest Rajar figures showed the station is attracting its largest audiences for a decade. On the other hand, the day also brought the sad news of the death of Norman Painting, who provided the voice of Philip Archer, on the station's much-loved drama serial, The Archers. Radio 4 has a unique position in our national life. The station is treated like a mildly delinquent child in many homes: cherished and scolded in equal measure.
Many millions could not live without institutions such as The Archers and Desert Island Discs. And yet its output can just as easily provoke fury. The decision of producers to scrap the 5.30am "UK theme" three years ago was a small national scandal. Perhaps the authorities should look for ways to introduce the station into citizenship ceremonies. For what surer indication of "Britishness" is there than the ability to get exercised by Radio 4?