The BBC should promote high standards of spoken English
Sir: The impact of broadcasting upon the use and development of language is unparalleled in human history. For this reason, and given its pre-eminence as a broadcaster both nationally and internationally, the BBC has more influence on spoken English than any other single body. And yet the BBC appears reluctant to acknowledge this fact or to accept responsibility for the influence it has. It prefers a neutral stance: "not to preserve any specific form of the English language but to reflect its fluid and ever-changing nature", in the words of BBC Information.
Like it or not, however, the BBC is an active participant in, and not a mute observer of, the process of linguistic development. The syntax, vocabulary and style of those who speak in its name do matter, and matter as never before. Ian Bruton-Simmonds, author of Mend Your English, suggests that the BBC appoint a language adviser, supported by a network of unpaid monitors. He presented this idea recently in a public lecture under the joint aegis of the Queen's English Society and The Churchill Society London. Although invitations were issued to members of the BBC to attend the lecture, none was accepted and no one from the BBC has commented on the idea.
We call for a considered response from the BBC to this proposal and a statement of policy on the wider issue of the Corporation's role in promoting a high standard of spoken English.
CHRISTABEL BURNISTON, Founder and President of the English Speaking Board
Professor Sir MICHAEL DUMMETT
Dr PETER FORD
Dr BERNARD LAMB
Dr JOYCE M MORRIS, Patron, Queen's English Society
Lord TEBBITT of CHINGFORD
Drugs are needed to treat depression
Sir: The prejudice against people taking drugs for mental illness is sheer hypocrisy ("Prozac Nation UK", 30 March). Where else in medicine are people not encouraged to take medication? As a depressive, endless people still ask me in pitying tones, "Are you still having to take those pills?"
It is obvious that antidepressants are often quick fixes for GPs with only four minutes per patient. This is part of lack of services available from GPs. However these figures indicate a serious epidemic of depression.
In many cases those who may not need antidepressants receive them too easily, while those who are seriously ill never get them or the help they need at all. Studies of the use of antidepressants in communities in Europe have shown a dramatic reduction in suicide rates when they were judiciously used.
Prozac and similar drugs have been around for years now, and we know they are not quite what they were cracked up to be. But they have proved remarkably safe.
Clinical depression has as high a mortality rate as any other life threatening illness. I suggest that the concept bandied around that treating depression with medication is somehow wrong is part of the continuing stigmatization of the mentally ill. While antidepressants should not be a panacea for the worried well, they have proved vitally important in the treatment of a devastating illness.
Director , The Sir Robert Mond Memorial Trust
Sir: We accept that there are concerns about the new SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) drugs for treating depression. But what are the alternatives - the old antidepressants which have their own debilitating side effects, or psychotherapy which, while an ideal complement to medication, is scarcely available in the NHS?
We are disturbed that yet more alarming stories about the newer medications will frighten the many thousands who benefit from them. Our worry is that if patients go away empty-handed from the doctor's surgery, or are made afraid to seek help, then their depression will go untreated and they will be at increased risk of taking their lives. One in six people with severe depression will commit suicide. It is untreated depression that is the real killer.
Sir: I heartily agree with Dr Roger Kingerlee (Letters, 31 March) that the over-prescription of antidepressant medication is to be deplored from every angle, especially as it constitutes collusion with denial of the problems underlying depression.
However, I do not consider this over-prescription to be "the nation's collective choice" as Kingerlee suggests. I see it as a denial, based on the false assumption that the cost of tackling the underlying issues can be avoided by this widespread use of "happy pills", and an avoidance of providing the necessary amount of psychological therapies on the NHS. In the long term, money spent on increasing psychotherapy provision would be likely to reduce NHS medical cost as well as enhance general well-being.
A constructive compromise would be for the NHS to support the expansion of the existing voluntary counselling services, which at present are far too thin on the ground, by sharing the cost of referring NHS patients to these services.
Clinical Director of Raphael Counselling Service
Sir: I am a nurse consultant to the Council for Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction (CITA), which was set up in 1987 to help those addicted to benzodiazepines, tranquillisers and sleeping tablets. Now in 2004 we are finding a huge new area of work with SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) antidepressants such as Prozac, Seroxat and the others in this group.
Many of the people we speak to were not depressed in the first place but now have the problem of side effects from the drugs and great difficulty coming off them.
There is no longer any criteria employed by doctors to determine whether or not a patient is depressed, so an antidepressant is just prescribed anyway - I fully agree that a great shortage of counselling or therapy is a big part of the problem.
A prescription is so much easier for the GP but often subjects the patient to more problems than they start with. These prescriptions should be reserved for the truly depressed, not just those feeling temporarily low.
Council for Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction
Sir. Your article on Prozac fails to mention one major point. As a GP I recognize the increased use of antidepressants. The number of patients presenting with mild to moderate depression has increased markedly over the past few years. The opportunities for counselling within my practice are limited, like most practices.
The scandal is why so many people have to see their GP. In previous decades these would have been problems shared within the family or close social network; now often the family is the cause of the strife.
The vicar or priest would have been a source of counselling not so readily thought of in a secular society. Before criticism is laid at the door of GPs, therapists and the NHS, a wider debate should be had on the care offered within the family and society.
Dr RAJ KAPUR
Sir: I have taken a good anti-depressant all my life. I recommend daily prayer and meditation.
Fr BRYAN STOREY
Sir: One imagines Brian Viner to be an intelligent and thoughtful country incomer, so it is surprising that he has not considered the wider impact of the colonisation of the countryside by city people ("A labour camp? Not in my back yard...", 30 March).
When I was a child in the 1960s living in rural Worcestershire, harvest time was still a busy experience for all locals. Even as the doctor's daughter, I worked after school, in the holidays and at weekends picking a wide range of soft fruit alongside itinerants and other locals who were not in paid employment for the rest of the year.
If the local residents can no longer provide a workforce to sustain the seasonal demands of farming the only alternative seems to be to import workers. If they are to be imported it seems unreasonable to insist they have temporary and inevitably inferior facilities. If you don't want foreigners imported, do the work yourself. You may think the pay is derisory; reflect that it is good enough for some people to cross continents!
Sir: That anyone should have to force the UK to clean up a nuclear disaster site as awful as Sellafield ("UK told to clean up nuclear waste", 30 March) is disgraceful, but the fact is that Sellafield is no longer a uniquely British problem.
My research shows that discharges from Sellafield concentrate at the bottom of the Irish Sea, and then resurface on the coast. People living within 800 metres of the Irish sea may then be up to 30 per cent more likely to develop cancer than those further inland, all because of a 50-year-old nuclear waste dump that the Government won't be "rushed" to clean up.
Nuclear power has never been a safe or viable way to provide electricity. The Government should not only fix its latest mess in Sellafield, as per the EU directive, but invest more in clean, efficient, cost-effective, and cancer-free renewable energy.
Dr CHRIS BUSBY
Science and Technology Spokesperson
The Green Party
Sir: Regarding the Spanish monarchy ("A dynasty to look up to", 30 March), may I point out that Jaime de Marichalar, the husband of the Infanta Elena, is not a duke in his own right.
He is in fact a younger brother of the Count of Ripalda and is only a duke by virtue of the fact that Elena was created Duchess of Lugo on her marriage in 1995. Husbands of Spanish women who bear titles of nobility can share the title and in fact the Duke of Lugo is a duke-consort.
If this were the norm in the UK Prince Philip would be king-consort and royal daughters would be given dukedoms in their own right which their husbands would share instead of having to put up with being consort to a title-holder of inferior rank.
Perhaps modernizers of the British monarchy might like to take these points into consideration.
Sir: I have lived and worked in Spain for some years now. When I arrived, I cannot say that I was against bullfighting but I was definitely not for it.
Now, from my time here, I agree in essence with what N Martinez (letter, 30 March) has to say about it. I would add the environmental benefits as well. As in England, with estates maintained for pheasant shoots etc., large areas of countryside are given over to near-natural conditions that benefit many species, including the bulls.
I do occasionally attend bullfights now in the form of the "rejones", bullfighting on horseback, where the horsemanship is superb. The quality meat from the fights, when they are on, I can buy within days at the end of my street. Although facing competition from many sports, I would say bullfighting is still popular in Andalucia. I have to queue quite some time to buy tickets well in advance of the day and seldom get the seats I want.
V J G BROWN
Sir: Tuesday 30 March: "marine 'dead zones' - areas devoid of fish, largely due to excessive use of nitrogenous fertilisers". Wednesday 31 March: "over half a ton of ammonium nitrate fertiliser found at Hanwell ... used extensively in truck bombs."
Makes you fink, dunnit.
Dr P M J BENNETT
Sir: Promote global organic farming and deprive a terrorist of an arsenal.
Sir: Chris Bennett (Letters, 30 March) is mistaken in his belief that the V1 flying bomb was powered by a ram jet. The engine used was a pulse jet, which operated at a relatively low speed, and made a noise like a motorbike as a flap opened and closed, allowing it to proceed with a series of explosions. It was accelerated to working speed using a compressed air ramp.
The ram jet operates at higher speed, and has no moving parts.
MICHAEL K BALDWIN
Sir: My earliest recollection of the brilliant Peter Ustinov was a lunchtime radio programme during the Second World War called Workers Playtime from "somewhere in Britain". He, and other artists, were entertaining factory workers during their lunch break and his act that day was to make a sound like a violin playing something by Bach! Very original, very special and very funny. He will be missed.
Sir: During the 20 years when my home was in India I never saw a red curry (24 March)! What has become "the nation's favourite dish" was served only for Sunday "tiffin" (lunch), usually with friends, preceded by a glass or two of cooling ale. The word curry means "sauce" and traditionally is made of a variety of spices, one of which, "turmeric", gives it the yellow colour.