|When Lord Reith set the direction for the entire BBC organisation following the grant of Royal Charter he summed up the aims of the organisation in just three words; to inform, educate and entertain.
No part of the BBC does this better that Radio 4 and many people regard this radio station as the jewel in the crown of the entire corporation. No other broadcasting department of the BBC (whether that be television or radio) covers such a range and diversity of subjects. Within a few hours it is possible to go from in-depth political analysis, to making cheese in a Welsh village, roaring with laughter as the “Flight of the Bumble Bee” is played on a Swanny Whistle or transported back to ancient Rome for an episode of the latest detective drama.
Is it any wonder that once discovered Radio 4 becomes a friend for life.
While it still holds firm to the Reith ideal of entertaining, many regular listeners over the last few decades will have undoubtedly noticed a considerable reduction in this area. The most obvious example of this was the removal of Saturday Night Theatre.
While Radio 4 still produces regular drama, the range of productions is considerably limited compared to only a few years ago and the time devoted to them is also much reduced. This leaves many people who valued these productions as their main source of entertainment nowhere to go. While the new digital station BBC7 aims to close this gap, for many people it falls someway short.
Radio 4 no longer feels it has a responsibility to entertain its audience in the same way as television does. While for some people this may be a good thing, it does leave a large number of its audience dissatisfied. Ken Whitmore who wrote many entertaining and original dramas for the radio station no longer contributes. He finds the reduced regime too restrictive. In his words “there are no more Big Occasions”.
BBC television would not dream of leaving its schedules unaltered over the Christmas period, and there was a time when Radio 4 would follow suite with the schedules changed to recognise the extra time people have available over the period. Every evening over the holiday period, a 90 minute drama would be broadcast. These would often be part of a series of linked dramas such as “Murder for Christmas” or “Christmas at the Wells”. Besides these plays there was a serial that ran throughout the week and many other treats. In recent years the only concession Radio 4 makes to the season is to broadcast an extra long afternoon play on Christmas Day!
Christmas wasn’t the only time when Radio 4 would adjust its schedules of offer special radio seasons, but it is perhaps the best example of how the network has changed.
Where does this leave us ? When it puts it mind to it, no part of the BBC can entertain better. It is still unique amongst radio stations worldwide, it is rightly loved and cherished by its listeners. Its just that those of us who have known it for a little while, know it can do a whole lot better.