With a big name there, silence is golden

Share
Related Topics
There was a bit of a fuss on Radio 4's Feedback programme last week, about the two-minute Remembrance silence.

The reason for the fuss was that this silence was observed on BBC TV but not on BBC radio.

And listeners were furious, which is what listeners to Feedback are best at. The BBC head of corporate affairs who went on Feedback to defend the situation spoke so opaquely with so many Birtspeak words that nobody could understand what he was getting at, which is what heads of corporate affairs are best at.

Only I knew the whole truth of the affair.

I can now reveal that the non-appearance of the two-minute silence on radio was entirely due to me.

It came about like this. I have a small, a very small independent radio company, which makes small, very small radio programmes.

Most of them are a minute long or less.

"There'll be another chance to hear that programme on Thursday evening at 8.15pm."

Remember that announcement?

That was one of mine. And have you noticed that when Alastair Cooke's Letter from America goes out in the morning, he starts by saying "Good morning" but if it is the evening, he says, "Good evening"? That's another of mine.

I travelled all the way to New York to record Cooke saying "Good morning" and "Good evening". Very professional performer, that man. Got it right first time. Now, they can slip the right greeting in at a moment's notice.

As you see, my programmes are very short indeed. So when I came up with an idea for recording the two-minute silence, it was the longest programme idea I had ever put forward to the BBC.

"The BBC can't have just any old silence," was my plea. "You've got to have a rather solemn, pregnant silence with a slight cathedral-like echo, and a tiny far-off noise that might just be the Queen clearing her throat. A very special sort of silence...."

In the old days I would have gone straight to a producer with the idea, and chatted it over, but things are different in the BBC these days. I had to submit the whole thing in writing, with a breakdown of the budget, schedule of operations etc. Then, finally, I was called in by a man called Charles.

"I like the idea," said Charles. "However, we think it is a bit down- market for Radio 4."

How can a silence be up- or down-market? It turned out, after a bit of chatting, that Charles was under pressure from someone upstairs to make sure that this was a prestigious silence.

"I could record it on location at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris, if you like," I said.

"Bit noisy."

"A war graveyard in Normandy ?"

"Excellent! A sort of serious wind-swept silence. I like it. And is there any chance of getting a big name attached?"

"Pardon ?"

It turned out that Charles found it easier to get programmes accepted if there was a big name attached. I said I might be able to get someone like Robert Robinson or Sue Lawley to come to the Normandy war grave and be silent while we recorded.

"Excellent! Or if you could get Joanna Lumley, so much the better. I think her name would sell any silence."

I went away and recosted it, and came back with a revised budget. It was getting expensive now, because the silence was being recorded on location in France with a star performer. (I had not been able to get any of the stars mentioned, but Rik Mayall had expressed great interest.) I went back to the BBC. There was no sign of Charles. He had been replaced by Jeremy.

"All commissioning is being done jointly for radio and TV these days at the BBC," he said. "So how would you visualise this two-minute silence picture-wise?"

"There wouldn't be any pictures," I said."It's radio."

"Hmmmmm," said Jeremy."Well, I'm a TV man myself, and the only reason we ever have silence on TV is to let us watch something happening. What would be happening during this two-minute silence on radio ?"

"Well, people would be having their own thoughts, really...."

"Having their own thoughts??" said Jeremy. "Mr Kington, we at the new BBC don't want viewers and listeners to have to provide their own thoughts! That's not giving the licence fee-payer value for money!"

"But the whole point of the two-minute silence...." I said.

"It would all be worthwhile," said Jeremy, "if you came up with another reason for your visit to Normandy. Perhaps you could take out four panellists and have a World War II quiz on location! Yes, something like that...."

It all went from bad to worse after that. Rik Mayall was dropped because they didn't want an alternative-style silence. Then the quiz programme went way over budget, and we couldn't agree with the BBC on a repeat fee for the silence.

When Remembrance Day came, we were still locked in argument and the silence never went out. It's as simple as that.

Luckily, I still have 100 cassettes left of this very special silence, now featuring Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dixon-Wright saying absolutely nothing. If you want your very own copy, just send me a blank cheque....

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Polish Speaking Buying Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Superb opportunity for a BUYING...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers personalise...

Recruitment Genius: Key Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A really exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children who fled the violence in the Syrian city of Aleppo play at a refugee camp in Jabaa, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley  

A population bigger than London's has been displaced in Syria, so why has the Government only accepted 90 refugees?

David Hanson
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Ukip on the ropes? Voters don’t think so

Stefano Hatfield
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project