Goodbye to the B-flat brigade, and good riddance

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
OUR long-awaited improvements to Radio 3 are now well under way, and attracting, I may say, some glowing reviews. "An excellent piece of re-jigging, dusting down some dreary old classics to present a lively, relevant, thoroughly go-ahead atmosphere for the young at heart" comments my young friend Petroc Trelawney in the brand new Radio 3 factsheet, "Music to Relax To".

Personally, I've loved the classics ever since I first heard The Black and White Minstrel Show many moons ago. But I believed then, as I believe now, that too much prominence in the Classical Canon is given to what one might call the Gloomies - those Classical Composers who, through no fault of their own, looked at the dark side of life. I'm talking, of course, about the down-in-the-mouth B-flat-minor brigade, the Mahlers and Beethovens of this world, those Weary Willies to whom one longs to cry out: "Cheer up, it might never happen!"

For rather too long, Radio 3 had been content to plough the deepest darkest furrows, sending its listeners into fits of doom and gloom. Small wonder that so many people were deserting Radio 3 for my merry chums on the excellent Classic FM, where a few chirpy bars of Mozart (but never the Requiem, if you please!) would be interspersed with a little something to take your mind off the music - an enchanting advertisement for a Saga holiday, perhaps, or a marvellously Irish "quip" from Mr Henry Kelly, or perhaps a delicious recipe from The Crafty Cook for something a touch exotic.

"Wallace! How's tricks?!" It was my old friend John Birt elbowing his way towards me through assorted big-wigs at a BBC reception to honour my 35th year as its principal commentator for State Occasions. Earlier, they had been replaying my justly famous Home Service commentary on the Wedding of HRH Princess Anne to Captain Mark Phillips, in which my stately technique of reversing all the key phrases ("Out of the carriage steps the Princess, in her manner radiant, to be welcomed by we, her people, amidst flags waved and banners unfurled...") has never been bettered.

I enjoyed a very pleasant chat with John, on a strictly confidential basis, in which he told me how he was sick to death of the elitist approach of Radio 3. "It's all so long and so ... so ... so ... classical!" he complained, "If I hear another Symphony, I think I shall scream! The way they go on, you'd think they'd never even heard of Chris de Burgh!"

Of course, I couldn't have agreed more, and between us, over rather too many prawn vol-au-vents, we plotted the ideal show on the new-look Radio 3, full of anecdotes, "light-hearted jingles", marvellously rich English colloquialisms, record requests, traffic news, cookery hints, celebrity interviews, horoscopes, top tens, share prices, comedy, racing tips, chat, chat and more chat - all interspersed with cheerful, upbeat music you could dip into and - rather more importantly! - out of. Little did I realise then that "The Wallace Arnold Much Less Music Show" every weekday between 11am and 3pm would play a key-part in his proverbial shake-up.

Within less than a month, my Radio 3 show has done much to boost morale at the ailing station. No longer are the staff forced to slog their way through great muddy stretches of Shostakovich and Schoenberg (dread word!). Instead our famous "Guarantee on 3" promises the listener "never more than 90 seconds of any one composer at any one time".

Popular among my growing band of listeners, too, is my ability to present a friendly, welcoming line in chat - not to mention having great fun giving the composers a bit of a leg-pull! "Coming up next," I said only yesterday, introducing a snippet from Wagner's Ring Cycle - "and as old Dickie Wagner would be the first to admit, every cycle needs a good ring if it's going to alert pedestrians to its presence!!!" Similarly, I cracked an immortal jest when introducing a lovely little melody from Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice. "With Wimbledon fast approaching, I suppose we're only lucky it's not 'Death in Tennis'," I said - and was it just my imagination, or did I hear 200,000 listeners rocking with warm-hearted laughter?

A final word to those self-confessed snobs who snipe at our much-acclaimed improvements. No, we have not "Dumbed Down", whatever that may mean: for those wishing to listen uninterrupted to a full-length piece of classical music there is our ever-popular "Andrew Lloyd Webber Half-Hour" every Tuesday at 7pm, with a very brief News Update in the interval at 7.15pm. And as for those who claim we no longer play anything "innovative" or "challenging" (dread word), might I just point them in the direction of Kiri te Kanawa singing a selection from Showboat next Sunday morn? Case dismissed!

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