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Martin Newell's Joy of Essex: Prune the BBC's exotic garden badly, you'll damage its beauty

PUBLISHED: 17:00 24 September 2017

Broadcasting House. Picture: STEPHEN CRAVEN

Broadcasting House. Picture: STEPHEN CRAVEN


The news broke that, soon, BBC radio may no longer be required to air art shows, religious broadcasts or science shows on Radio 4, writes Martin Newell.

Evidently, OFCOM, the regulatory body, plans to reduce the number of rules enforcing the BBC’s public service obligations from 200 to 20.

In addition, music channels like Radios 2 and 3 will not now, necessarily, be required to present as much new or challenging music as they do.

The suggestions, naturally, have been made that the BBC is “dumbing down” (a singularly stupid expression) in order to compete with, or possibly stifle, its commercial rivals.

So, Auntie’s planning to don the mini-skirt, slap on the lippy and strut out like a raptor in order to capture the populist vote, is she?

BBC radio, despite some strange decisions and recent revelations, remains the best broadcaster in the world.

It can be preachy, fusty and hypocritical at times, we know. Who else, for instance, can you think of that bangs on about diversity and inclusively so loudly, while paying one presenter a telephone number and his female colleagues a tenth of that amount?

Yes, indeed, the BBC can be deeply annoying at times but I speak here as a faithful listener and so regard myself as “family”.

I have always been more of a listener than a viewer.

I watch so little TV, in fact, that it is barely worth me paying the licence fee.

I also feel, however, that even if I had BBC radio alone, it would still be worth the £145.50 per annum that I currently pay.

On a normal day I flit between Radios 4, 3 and 2 like a robin in a spring garden.

There are whole years at a time when I’m an Archers listener. I don’t even know why, because I hate some of the characters: Jennifer Aldridge and Susan Carter for two.

I find Eddie Grundy’s country accent risible. Who else pronounces Christmas as Christmurrss; rolling his rs where none exist?

In fact, a more generalised use of that catch-all country accent, Mummerset, keeps much of the Archers’ rural authenticity fairly tenuous.

Ah, but then there is Peggy Archer, played by June Spencer, whose own voice and character remind me so much of my own late Mum’s.

I also like the sections of the programme which still have something to do with farming, although I’ve yet to meet a farmer who’ll admit to being a listener.

Over on Radio 2 I enjoy listening to Liza Tarbuck, who plays the best records on radio, and to Sara Cox, who actually is a Lancashire farmer’s daughter and once revealed that she knew how to “properly wash down a cow” in order to ready it for an agricultural show.

I have even warmed to the irrepressible Tony Blackburn, replacing Brian Matthew as host of Sounds of the Sixties.

Probably the least hip thing I’ll admit to enjoying occasionally is The Organist Entertains, hosted by Nigel Ogden.

This features sounds of cinema and theatre organs playing popular classics.

It’s guaranteed to have anyone who chances upon me enjoying it exclaim: “What the hell is this we’re listening to?” It demonstrates there is far more to electronic organ-playing than Reginald Dixon at the Blackpool Tower, although, for me, Reg remains king.

Back on Radio 3, usually some time after 8am on Sundays, there’s a wonderful interlude where they blend sounds of the natural world with music.

You might hear the soundscape of an old Gloucester wood, waking to the dawn chorus as a thunderstorm threatens.

That’s when the Vaughan Williams segues seamlessly in.

I only wish they’d try these on Radio 2 in the mornings, instead of having Mr Shouty.

There are presenters who are stunningly ear-friendly: Radio 3’s Elizabeth Alker and Ian Skelly spring to mind.

Neither bawls, while both remember to tell you the name of the artist and the piece they are playing.

This upholds the Reithian pledge “To inform, educate and entertain”.

The BBC, in fact, is great. Some of this greatness is underplayed.

It is rather like a formal-looking house that has paved over its front garden to accommodate a few flashy motors.

Round the back, though, remains radio’s equivalent of a wonderful garden full of valuable botanical strains.

Whenever changes are afoot at the Beeb, it is exactly such stuff whose survival we should fear for.

We could possibly lose one or two of the costlier presenters.

If, however, we start making “efficiencies” in that rich, eccentric and semi-secret garden of theirs, we risk tampering with the very fabric of so much that has made the BBC the envy of the broadcasting world.

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