DAVID BLUNKETT loved Radio 4 – until it was hijacked by the Left
Radio Woke is beyond a joke: As a blind man, DAVID BLUNKETT found priceless companionship in Radio 4 – until, he says, it was hijacked by the excruciatingly unfunny and hectoring Left
- The former Home Secretary says that BBC Radio 4 forgot about entertainment
- Blunkett says that Radio 4 has now forgotten about most of the country
- He says that many presenters on the Corporation’s radio output now thing jokes are optional and posturing is mandatory
All my life, I have relied on the radio, and BBC Radio 4 most of all. From my days as a student, throughout my political career and right up until today, it has been my favourite source of news and entertainment.
This Thursday, the House of Lords will be debating the future of the BBC. I won’t be able to take part, because I’m chairing another meeting: but if I could, I’d be loud in my praises of the Corporation.
But I’d also have some stern criticism. Radio 4 has become so determined to address multicultural diversity, gender issues and identity politics that it forgets about all-embracing inclusion.
People who live outside a narrow class of well-off professionals with rigidly right-on opinions, almost all of them in London, no longer feel included by the station.
If you’re not part of the self-proclaimed metropolitan elite, you are unlikely to hear your views reflected. The BBC seems to ignore the obvious fact that ‘B’ stands for British — and its remit is to broadcast to the whole country, not just a few fashionable streets around Islington.
Radio 4 has become so determined to address multicultural diversity, gender issues and identity politics that it forgets about all-embracing inclusion
Listeners in Looe, Lerwick and Lowestoft also want to be informed and entertained, with programmes relevant to their lives. And though I’m all for having my attitudes challenged, I’m fed up with feeling that I’m too old, too provincial or too traditional when I listen to Radio 4.
Every aspect of the station now seems obsessed with preaching at me. Even The Food Programme devotes most of its slot to criticising British tastebuds for being too staid and monocultural.
If Radio 4 thinks that the very food on my plate must be co-opted into the culture wars, I almost wonder why I bother switching on at all. Increasingly, when I do, the station gives me another reason to grumble.
That’s never more true than when I’m listening to the comedy shows. What I want is a good laugh and maybe a couple of one-liners I can share with friends. What I get are stand-up comedians competing to parade their righteousness.
Too many contributors to The News Quiz and The Now Show believe that posturing is obligatory and jokes are optional. From some, there’s no irreverence or mischief, just sneering.
Others do deliver shafts of wit, but these are widely spaced between grim harangues about government policy. By the end of half an hour, I feel I’ve been made to work too hard for a smattering of chuckles.
I miss the wickedness of The News Quiz as it was with Alan Coren and Linda Smith, when politicians of all stripes were fair game and none of the panellists cared about looking virtuous.
Too many contribitors on the likes of The Now Show believe that posturing is obligatory and jokes are optional
And though the jokes were hit-and-miss, Week Ending on a Friday night was a regular treat — with punchlines coming so fast that if you laughed at one, you missed the next.
That sort of show has vanished from the airwaves, replaced very often by self-indulgent and self-centred programmes that interest nobody but the presenters.
When Tim Davie became director-general in September last year, he told his staff that his priority was to ensure BBC output ‘represents every part of this country’.
It was the right message — but it isn’t happening. Instead, we listeners are apparently expected to care only about the current obsession with cultural politics, and to confine any laughter to permissible subjects.
Common sense tells us that won’t work. The more the BBC strives to be right-on, the more the rest of us will switch off.
I fervently hope Radio 4 soon rights itself. After all, the station has been a cornerstone of my life, back even to the days when it was still called the Home Service.
One of my earliest memories is of my mother picking me up to waltz around the front room of our house in Sheffield to the theme music from The Archers, when I was no more than four.
David Blunkett found companionship in BBC Radio 4 as a blind man but now slams the station for the woke turn it has taken in recent years
Of course, I’ve loved the show ever since. That jaunty, sweetly dated tune never fails to fill me with warmth. I listened loyally even through the first months of lockdown, when the storylines flailed terribly.
It’s an important strand of our national heritage, and of my family history, too. When the first of my four sons was born in the 1970s, I tried to do my share of the childcare — and I remember being aghast that babies thought they could cry during The Archers.
I did what my mother did, and waltzed with my infant boys around the room, humming the tune while trying to listen to the dialogue.
Recently, I was asked to name my favourite Archers episode and I picked one from that era: when a young Shula Archer (Judy Bennett) got frisky outdoors one summer’s evening with her boyfriend Simon from the local paper.First she scolded him for suggesting a liaison in the middle of a cornfield — ‘Simon! Farmers hate people like you trampling it!’ — and then she wondered if he had a picnic blanket in the car.
‘I don’t think the National Farmers’ Union worries much about the edges of cornfields,’ was Simon’s response.
I loved the innocence of that scene, with its echoes of Cider With Rosie, and also the delicate way it reflected the growing influence of women’s liberation. Though it was Simon who first proposed the hanky-panky, Shula took control and demanded a rug. It’s a perfect illustration of how good drama can respond to social change, without attempting to dictate it.
This is the latest scathing attack on the Corporation in recent years for perceived bias and wokeness
Yet every Radio 4 drama I’ve heard lately has failed to understand this. The scripts are didactic, the characters lecture me and the storylines feel like propaganda. I’m not being entertained, I’m being culturally re-educated with all the subtlety of a steam hammer.
The news presenters are no better. They start off preaching — and frequently end up screeching.
This is not a new trend. I first noticed it as Education Secretary more than 20 years ago, when I warned that standards were slipping.
‘I fear that a lifetime’s pleasure is being replaced by second-rate and poorly produced dramas which try too hard to be clever and seem too often to reflect the need to meet a quota,’ I wrote as far back as 1999.
At the same time, I warned that listeners disliked the barrage of trailers that advertise the forthcoming features. It gives me no pleasure that I was right on both counts — standards have been sinking lower for 20 years and those trailers are more annoying than ever.
It’s a great shame that the BBC didn’t listen to our complaints back then. We who criticise the Beeb are invariably its biggest fans, because we’re the ones who care enough to speak up.
Younger, more fickle listeners don’t bother pointing out problems — they just tune out and listen to podcasts instead. Auntie is often her own worst enemy: she closes her ears to those who want to offer constructive criticism.
So let me offer some advice. Please, Radio 4, remember your patient — but often exasperated — audience who have stood so loyally by you all these years.
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