The secret fear of BBC bosses - we won't miss their shows

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The Independent Online
SOMETHING strange happened to me yesterday morning. I turned on Radio 3 just before 8am and, instead of hearing yet another of the pop tunes by George Gershwin or Leonard Bernstein, which these days substitute for challenging music on the BBC's classical music channel, I heard - the weather forecast.

Normally, the weather forecast on Radio 3 consists of a few mumbled words, generally in a Jean Brodyesque Scots accent, at the end of the odd disconnected sentences which comprise the Radio 3 news bulletin.

But this was a proper weather forecast, with all kinds of technical stuff about drizzle and high winds.

It was, in fact, as I soon learned to my amazement, the Radio 4 weather forecast. Due to industrial action, Radio 4 and Radio 3 were being merged.

Now, to some people, the loss of the full output of not drizzle but drivel on Radio 4 might be regarded as a deprivation, even a bereavement.

The print journalists who listen to their stories of that morning being regurgitated - generally in three-minute capsules - on the Today show or the World at One (prior to those journalists then regurgitating the regurgitations in their newspapers' editions the next morning), may feel that interruption of Radio 4's full schedule is snatching their livelihood away from them.

Those denizens of middle England why rely on Radio 4 for their information about the state of the body politic may be rendered tongue-tied during coffee breaks in the common rooms of minor universities. They may even have to think up opinions for themselves.

Alastair Campbell (whom God protect) with one fewer target to rage or snarl at, may feel a momentary sense of loss.

Politicians allowed to sleep unhindered rather than be roused out of their beds at an idiotically early hour in order to allow themselves to be rendered inarticulate by interruptions from self-important (and self- indulgent) interviewers may suffer withdrawal symptoms.

Who, with "MP" after his or her name, can survive for long without stumbling downstairs, in pyjamas covered by slacks and sweater, to a radio car whose enormous aerial conceals equipment so fallible that, in the end, the interview may have to be conducted over the phone?

Not me, chumps. I never, ever listen to Today and its clones. I hear enough boring, pointless chit-chat when I reach the House of Commons.

Instead, I read the New Yorker over my cornflakes.

The predominant majority of the population do not listen to Radio 4's flagship programmes because they do not even know they exist. Quite a lot of people are unaware that there even is a Radio 4. Some, heaven forfend, may not even be aware of the existence of John Humphrys. Their lives proceed in comparative tranquillity without Radio 4 so much as impinging on their consciousness.

The BBC strike, far from causing inconvenience to most of the public, will not even be noticed by the great mass of the population. That is really why the Broadcasting House bosses are so upset by this industrial action. Their secret fear is that even more people will get used to doing without the BBC's allegedly indispensable core services, and that the justification for the regretted poll tax known as the licence will diminish further.

As for me, I would like to think that this desirable trend would continue and, indeed, accelerate. Why not merge not only Radio 3 and Radio 4, but Radio 1, Radio 2 and Radio 5 (alive or dead) as well? That would reduce, exponentially, the scope for broadcasting stream-of-consciousness tosh of all kinds. It would cut the BBC down to size. Sounds like a topic worth discussing on the Today programme.

The author is Labour MP for Manchester, Gorton.