One of Radio 4’s characteristically idiosyncratic gems leftover from another era is ‘Bells on Sunday’, a brief programme broadcast just before the Shipping Forecast last thing every Sunday night – or early Monday morning, if you prefer; for most of us, the day ends when we switch the light out, not when the clock says another day has already begun. Anyway, if half-a-minute of pealing is appealing, this is the show for you. During Lockdown Mk I, when the nation’s church bells were silenced in synch for the first time since the Second World War, the programme continued with repeat broadcasts and you could barely hear the join. Something was definitely missing, though. Even with the absence of traffic enabling the volume to be turned up on the birdsong, the villages that cities briefly transformed into for the first few weeks of that strange period still seemed incomplete without that most quintessential sonic hallmark of the traditional English village, the ringing of the bells.

The nearest House of God to me featured on ‘Bells on Sunday’ a couple of years ago, but not being a church-goer meant I’d never had cause to set foot in it. I hadn’t even seen it up close, for the church stands a considerable distance from the busy main road from which it can be seen; even though I’ve become a virtual annual visitor to the community centre attached to the church when it doubles up as polling station for every election or referendum, this building is not exactly next-door either. Feeling a little stir-crazy the other day, I stepped outside, walked with no destination in mind, and eventually found myself a stone’s throw from the church purely by chance; so, I decided to finally stroll up and take a look. Why not? I always find anything built in the 19th century worth looking at, and believing or non-believing doesn’t really come into it. John Betjeman – who was a believer – seemed to derive pleasure from visiting unassuming parish churches, but he had the option of studying the interior as well as the exterior. I didn’t.

The church building was characteristic of numerous late Victorian urban churches, low on the fancy Gothic trimmings, un-showy but sturdy; it reminded me of those affiliated to some of the early schools I attended. Even someone like me, raised in a relatively secular fashion, has distinct memories of Harvest Festivals and so on forming part of the school year, and we were encouraged to acknowledge them as important, even if our church-going outside of term time was restricted to the odd family wedding. There was a cricket pitch in front of this church that only revealed itself upon approach, and an accompanying sign warning canine visitors were not welcome on account of them leaving distinctive donations to church funds on the field of play. I took a customary walk through the churchyard round the back and couldn’t help lingering on some of the graves; however, I always feel as though I’m intruding upon someone’s private grief if the interred person died within living memory, so I tend to move on to the neglected Victorian headstones where the inscription is crumbling away and wild vines are beginning to drag the edifice into the earth. Yet, that was the extent of my exploration. The church, like so many at the moment, was closed to the public.

It’s ironic in a way for, bar the token triumvirate of christenings, weddings and funerals that draw the punters in, most C-of-E places of worship would serve as ideal examples of social distancing in action. Outside of the big three occasions, general church attendance in this country is fairly pitiful, and buildings designed to hold hundreds often struggle to attract dozens. Maybe the panicky church authorities feared flocks suddenly swelling with those seeking answers in such uncertain times and thus risked being blamed for a surge in infections. Whatever the reason, churches were quicker to close their doors than almost any other institution and did so with a surprising absence of fight. I reckon an England in which the people were deprived of churches as well as pubs would have appalled Orwell. As Eric Blair was aware, both have provided heavenly and earthly bread for rich and poor alike since medieval Merrie England, and both tend to experience a rise in custom during times of crisis because they are needed – and the powers-that-be usually recognise their importance to the people. Not in this crisis, however. The Established Church absolved itself of a role at the heart of the community right at the very moment when it could well have reclaimed some of its relevance.

Having skipped a significant date in the Holy calendar like Easter, the onset of a second lockdown has at least prompted some church leaders to belatedly demand the right to public worship – both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have signed a letter to the Government saying as much; rumours of ‘secret’ church services taking place without permission of the authorities inevitably summons up the spectre of priest-holes and the enacting of clandestine ceremonies risking arrest and imprisonment that were a familiar feature of British life during the religious wars of distant centuries. Even the observance of Remembrance in small towns and villages across the country last Sunday was policed by overzealous officers keeping the lepers away; alas, if only they’d carried Extinction Rebellion banners (or, better still, BLM placards), the parishioners would have been greeted with compliant law enforcers on their knees. Policing by consent of the few as opposed to the many by the PC paramilitaries formerly known as the police force is pretty much generally acknowledged by the public now; but the Church itself has been susceptible to a degree of it of late.

The old image of the trendy vicar seems to have been upgraded so that his latest incarnation is that of a rainbow flag-waving, gender pronoun-using, white guilt liberal Woke curate more eager to position himself as a cheerleader for the latest fashionable causes than doing his duty. A few have been active online, seemingly oblivious to the significance of the sacraments to committed Christians, busily singing the praises of virtual services via Zoom. Not exactly consolation to those for whom the Eucharist is a sacred in-person ritual that cannot be conducted via a screen; but these left-leaning, right-on clergy are so committed to lockdown – and the most fanatically pro-lockdown voices are largely on the left – that they seem to have forgotten what they’re in the job for. Their narcissistic virtue signalling makes them as blind as police and politicians to the fact that fringe issues affecting a tiny minority of people are not major concerns to their core audience; their obsession with these issues is alienating this core audience at a moment when its ongoing devotion in an increasingly secular society should be rewarded.

The politicisation of certain branches of the Church of England (mirroring some in the Church of Rome) has been to the institution’s detriment during this crisis – indeed, something of a missed opportunity to reconnect with those beyond the devoted flock. Confronted by padlocked gates rendering sanctuary off-limits, the non-church-going public might simply conclude that these stone temples which no English hamlet is complete without actually do just exist to host christenings, weddings and funerals; and competition from registry offices and (more recently) tacky hotels is placing the wedding function under threat as it is. Therefore, if these ceremonies are severely regulated under the new rules and can take place elsewhere anyway, there’s no real need for churches to be open, is there? What else are they actually there for? At times like these, such questions should have been answered by the Church itself; and yet it has blown it. Amen.

And on the subject of religion…

Scottish Football Results from Johnny Monroe on Vimeo.

© The Editor


Probably eligible for some disability benefit considering how many times it’s shot itself in the foot of late, the BBC has belatedly woken-up to smell the roses and has surmised it needs to act – and fast. How much difference a new DG can make to stop the rot is debatable; chances are his appointment has come too late in the day, but at least he appears to have hit the ground running. The roll-call of faux-pas made by the senior national broadcaster over the past couple of years is too comprehensive to go into here; but in an exceedingly short space of time, Tim Davie has reversed the ill-judged decision to mute the lyrics of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ on the Last Night of the Proms and has announced his intention to shake-up the corporation’s undoubted left-wing bias when it comes to its comedy output; he’s also declared that any high-profile BBC employees expressing a personal political opinion on social media will be reminded of the BBC’s commitment to impartiality before receiving the axe. Gary Lineker, beware – regardless of how virtuous renting out one of your spare rooms to an illegal immigrant may well be. For some reason, the old Harry Enfield sketch of a middle-class couple adopting a pet Geordie springs to mind, but there you go.

The Beeb has been controlled by the London-centric Woke elite for far too long, but Tim Davie’s appointment at the expense of the unremittingly useless Tony (Lord) Hall is no smooth transition. The new Director General has to confront a system that has seen the Oxbridge intelligentsia serve as recruitment material for the corporation for decades; all the talk of ‘diversity initiatives’ and diverting license fee funds into such idealistic schemes overlooks the fact that colour is not the issue – despite what the career-secure historian David Olusoga might say – but diversity of thought, opinion and class. Like the Labour Party, the BBC is not reflecting the views of those who continue to financially support it across the country, but instead obstinately echoes the enclosed bubble of the M25 clique whose insular outlook dictates the nature of its networked programming.

When it comes to comedy – one of the first targets addressed by Tim Davie – talk of left and right can be somewhat misleading in that many who are the butt of jokes on the likes of ‘Mock the Week’ wouldn’t necessarily regard themselves as on the right, anyway; sure, to the opportunistic North London-based Woke comedians that constitute the panellists on such shows, anyone who voted Leave or viewed the prospect of a Corbyn Government with dread is to the right of Hitler, but out in the real world the smug superiority of these unfunny hypocrites is regarded with indisputable contempt. The viewers (or listeners) aren’t as stupid as the programme-makers assume and can see through the patronising and condescending attempts at indoctrination via entertainment that the powers-that-be have been attempting for years. This is why campaigns along the lines of ‘Defund the BBC’ are gathering pace and why viewing and listening figures for shows aimed at educating the ill-educated masses are failing to set the ratings alight.

It’s worth remembering that the first electrifying rush of ‘Alternative Comedy’, with the likes of ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’, ‘The Young Ones’ and ‘Blackadder’, aired when Bob Monkhouse, ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and Little & Large were still in production at the BBC. Forty years ago, the corporation was genuinely inclusive enough to encompass all concepts of comedy. This is something that has been lost along the way; perhaps the changing landscape of broadcasting over the last couple of decades has persuaded the BBC that the way forward is to become a niche broadcaster catering for one specific audience. However, this neglects the fact that the majority of the viewers and listeners that still broadly support the BBC belong to generations that remain loyal to the television set and the wireless; the youngsters the Beeb seems intent on fruitlessly courting tend to tune-in via different, less antiquated devices. This is why sacrificing one of the corporation’s few redeeming channels, BBC4, in the new DG’s overhaul would be a mistake; most BBC4 viewers, I suspect, still watch it on the telly rather than on the iPlayer. Ever since becoming an online-only incarnation, BBC3 and its appalling output (to anyone over 50) has completely suited its teen and twenty-something viewership with the unwatchable likes of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and so forth; but these are not products of loyalty to a particular broadcaster, and those who look forward to such trash will not do so if it’s only available via the TV. They’ll just find it elsewhere online. There’s a lot of it about.

Unfortunately, the arrival of any new Director General spouting grandiose statements that he intends to make sweeping changes to the BBC evokes memories of Alan Partridge’s nemesis Tony Hayes and his ‘evolution, not revolution’ maxim – to which Norwich’s most famous son responded with ‘I evolve, but I don’t revolve’. The threat of throwing out the baby with the bathwater is always present and Tim Davie needs to make sure the work that undoubtedly needs doing doesn’t damage the few remaining vestiges of what makes the BBC so unique at its best. Last night, I watched Ravi Shankar’s daughter Anoushka deliver a mesmerising performance at the Proms – the kind of performance it’s inconceivable to imagine any broadcaster other than the BBC transmitting – and it reminded me just how vital it is that the BBC survives against all odds.

Ironically, considering it shifted the majority of its television output to the hideous ‘Media City UK’ white elephant in Salford in order to demonstrate its commitment to the regions, the BBC has summarily failed to uphold one of its traditionally strongest advantages over the competition ever since. All it seems to have done is export the enclosed London mindset to the provinces, no different from ex-pats patronising English themed bars in Spain. The effective cancellation of the multi-region ‘Inside Out’ series, in which local news stories are delved into with far greater depth than the 6.30 regional magazine shows will allow, has exposed how the Beeb has struggled to define what distinguishes it from Sky or ITV. Such programmes appeal to the precise audience the BBC needs to hang onto during Tim Davie’s regime; if it doesn’t, the arguments for its special treatment as a broadcaster will become even harder to defend.

As for the radio output, I do wish Davie would give Radio 4 a kick up the arse. The once-unmissable comedy strand of the station has become a platform for the worst excesses of Woke ‘humour’ of a kind that only provokes a titter amongst those who produce it; moreover, whilst I have no objection to general ‘diversity’ in voices heard on R4, how refreshing it would be for that word to include a wider spectrum than merely those who adhere to the Identity Politics dogma based entirely on ethnicity, skin colour and sexuality. Then there’s the current affairs issue, something that has caused the likes of ‘Newsnight’ and ‘Question Time’ to haemorrhage viewers this past year – your humble narrator included amongst them. Yes, there is a hell of a lot that needs doing; but Tim Davie appears to have made an encouraging and positive start. He might be up against the entire weight of the ‘W1A’ class at Broadcasting House, though someone has to at least try to take them on – otherwise, there is no justification for the BBC at all.

© The Editor


For those in the know, there are a couple of memorable stories from the original ‘Star Trek’ series and the Jon Pertwee era of ‘Doctor Who’ in which Captain Kirk and the Doctor follow the same path by slipping sideways into parallel universes – ‘Mirror, Mirror’ and ‘Inferno’. What is now an over-familiar sci-fi trope still seems fresh and novel in these interesting twists on the respective formulas both programmes tended to rely on; the unnerving encounters with darker incarnations of regular cast members are one intriguing element – and the usual good guys are invariably evil when this freak occurrence takes place; just in case the viewer doesn’t twig quick enough, Spock is gifted with a sinister beard and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has an eye-patch and a scar. However, it is the world these characters inhabit that provides the most fascinating aspect of the adventures.

The Enterprise looks roughly the same, but in this dimension it is a warship belonging to a brutal intergalactic empire, whereas the version of Britain Pertwee’s Doctor finds himself in is a militaristic fascist republic. Both stories play upon the ‘what if?’ factor, pondering on possibilities had global events taken a different turn; and, of course, these events were still fresh at the time ‘Mirror, Mirror’ and ‘Inferno’ were produced (1967 and 1970), when the world was less than 30 years away from the collapse of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy – warnings from recent history transplanted to an alternative present.

I only thought of these two classic examples of two classic series at their best because I keep noticing those movie posters you see pasted on the sides of double-decker buses. Normally I tend to roll my eyes when greeted by any sign of the latest multimillion-dollar dump Hollywood has decided to take on the world’s cinemagoers; but the current ones are catching my eye on account of them not being quite right. Whereas they usually change with such rapid regularity that one rarely sees the same poster on a bus for more than two weeks running, I recently realised the movies being promoted via public transport at the moment were either released way back in February – and have therefore already been forgotten and wouldn’t normally still be there – or give a release date in April/May that never actually happened due the lockdown.

It’s an extremely minor equivalent of suddenly slipping into a parallel universe, but seeing posters for movies still unseen that declare they were premiered at the nation’s picture houses on dates when they weren’t is a weird one, akin to the disorientating differences a character in a genuine parallel universe experiences. Well, it’s as close as I’ve come, anyway. That’s what happens when you queue outside supermarkets situated on a main road and aren’t distracted by a Smartphone screen. I can quite easily pass the minutes by simply pretending I am indeed in a parallel universe where buses don’t lie and those movies did indeed premiere as planned, showing now at a cinema near you; and then I contemplate the queue and the two-metre separation between each person in it and realise this universe is probably far stranger than a parallel one as it is.

Actually, the movies being plugged on those buses may end up representing an even greater financial disaster than they ordinarily would if they had been released and failed to break even at the box-office. Yes, many will be swallowed up by a costly black-hole courtesy of the pandemic, though lockdown aside, the fate that awaits the majority of the over-hyped bilge vomited out by Tinsel Town is generally down to the clueless halfwits behind them gambling everything on what the public will take to. It happens across all creative industries, of course – movies, TV, publishing, music; a hit suddenly appears from nowhere that the people running these industries didn’t predict and then there’s a rush to repeat it in order to capitalise on the success, a rush that swiftly tests the patience of the public with the new craze. There may be an entire army of experts employed by movie studios, TV companies, publishing houses and record labels who reckon they can both anticipate and manipulate what the public will or won’t buy, but the truth is that few ever accurately do. Even if I take my own humble example when it comes to this here blog, it’s near-impossible to guess what will provoke a response and what won’t.

Access to Winegum stats is a behind-the-scenes privilege of ‘Petunia’; they not only inform me in which countries on the planet I’m receiving the most views – India and Cambodia make regular surprise appearances alongside the more expected nations – but they also let me know which posts are pulling the punters in; and there are some vintage ones that keep appearing in the list with such regularity that I’m often baffled by their appeal. Yes, I’m well aware there are certain topics I might choose to write about that I pretty much know in advance will appeal to a particular Twitter audience because they happen to be a pet subject with a passionate crowd who Tweet a lot; equally, when Twitter isn’t especially interested, I may receive an above-average flurry of comments on the post itself without attracting a single retweet.

But for me, the subject matter is more or less secondary to whether or not I personally consider the post a well-written one that makes its intended point as perfectly as I can manage it. There have been times when I’ve put one out and I look at it again and reckon I was too tired when I wrote it or I rushed it when I should’ve taken a bit more time and improved the prose. And then I find it keeps surfacing in the list of most-viewed posts, perhaps two or three years after it was published; just because I might not rate or care for a post doesn’t mean I’m necessarily in the right; if somebody out there likes it, in a way that’s all that matters. Indeed, there are many posts I rate extremely highly and think read just as well today as when they were written; and yet nobody else took to those ones. It’s completely random sometimes.

There’s quite an early one about corporal punishment called ‘The Back of My Hand’ that simply won’t go away, and one I wrote about the trans issue – specifically in relation to children – called ‘Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha’ has been achieving as many views over the past couple of months as anything new I’ve written. I’ll concede that I think the latter is perhaps as good a piece as anything I’ve written on that subject, but I still can’t quite understand why it continues to reel ‘em in. But that highlights my point, I suppose; you really can’t guess what’ll impact and what won’t. I’ve written books I (and others) thought would make my name and they never did – ‘Looking for Alison’ being the prime example.

I seemed on the cusp of recognition with that when I was interviewed for Radio 4’s ‘iPM’ show at the time of the book’s publication, and I recall after the interview I had a free cab-ride home laid on for me by the BBC. I exited said taxi without paying a penny and had a brief sense of what it must be like to be Alan Yentob. It’s easy and understandable to decry ‘how the other half live’ and, let’s face it, we all do it; but even the tiniest glimpse into that world makes one realise how easy it is to fall into its luxurious embrace. I know why there were cries of outrage over author Neil Gaiman travelling all the way from New Zealand to Scotland, but I equally know if I were in his position I’d have probably done the same. Why not, if you can afford it? Maybe there’s a parallel universe where we all can…

© The Editor


The final moments of the BBC Home Service took place during the final moments of Friday 29 September 1967; David Dunhill, the announcer, made reference to the soon-to-be Radio 1 DJ (and soon-to-be disgraced) Chris Denning having just appeared on BBC2’s ‘Late Night Line-Up’ wearing a T-shirt bearing the words ‘Death to the Home Service’, yet Dunhill assured listeners that the process of rechristening the following day would be akin to being ‘like a bride on the eve of her wedding; we go on being the same person, we hope; but we’ll never again have the same name’. It was a fittingly cosy analogy and one that seemed entirely in keeping with the image the Home Service had in the public imagination – one that typified everything antiquated and irrelevant about BBC radio to the generation tuning in to the pirates.

It wasn’t merely the addition of Radio 1 to the mix and the rebranding of the established three stations that spelt the death-knell for the Home Service; the imminent onset of BBC local radio would also rob it of one of its traditional functions. With the outbreak of the Second World War, the BBC had merged its National Programme and Regional Programme radio stations and the result of the marriage was the Home Service, based in London but peppered throughout the day with regional opt-outs from either Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow or Belfast – depending where you were listening. This hallmark of the station survived the birth of Radio 4 until the countrywide spread of local radio made it redundant; the last such opt-out on Radio 4 was in Devon and Cornwall as late as 1982.

After the war, the reorganisation of the BBC’s radio network that saw the arrival of the Light Programme removed many entertainment shows from the Home Service, though the station continued to host the likes of ‘ITMA’ as well as ‘The Goons’. In fact, for all its reputation as a carrier of serious news programming, the Home never entirely lost its entertainment elements, with adventure serial ‘Dick Barton’ especially appealing to young listeners who had their own show in ‘Children’s Hour’; sitcoms such as the long-running ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ and ‘The Men from The Ministry’ even lasted into the station’s incarnation as Radio 4. Factual mainstays that could also be classed as entertainment like ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ and ‘Desert Island Discs’ survived the transition too and are still with us, as are news and current affairs institutions such as ‘Today in Parliament’, ‘The World at One’, ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ and, of course, ‘Today’.

As we have already seen with Radio 2 and Radio 3, many of the changes that occurred when the BBC stations were renamed were essentially superficial. For one thing, daytime Radio 4 was lumbered with its most unwanted inheritance from the Home Service during its early years, BBC schools broadcasting. Glancing through the musty pages of a Radio Times issue from November 1969, just two years into Radio 4, the station’s morning and afternoon schedule has schools programming from 9.20am till noon, then following ‘Listen with Mother’ at 2.00 there’s a further hour of it – an arrangement that’s all-but inconceivable to a modern-day R4 listener. This state of affairs frustrated more than one Radio 4 controller, though the schools service ironically provided my main contact with the station in the 70s.

By the beginning of the 1973/74 term, schools (as well as adult education programmes) had switched to Radio 4’s VHF wavelength; at a time when most in long pants were still listening on Medium Wave, it freed-up the schedules at last and facilitated the transfer of ‘Woman’s Hour’ from Radio 2 to what seemed to be its natural home. The next big change came in November 1978, when all four national stations shifted around the dial; Radio 4 swapped places with Radio 2, moving from Medium to Long Wave. The change also marked the beginning of 4 as a truly national station with the end of all-but a tiny few regional variations and the debut of the late lamented ‘UK Theme’ to open proceedings every morning; meanwhile, the Shipping Forecast sailed into a more conducive harbour at the same time.

It had taken a decade for Radio 4 to emerge from the long shadow cast by its predecessor, but it appeared to have finally managed it; by the 80s, more listeners were beginning to tune in to FM, which accelerated the relocation of schools broadcasting to the new Radio 5 in 1990. Perhaps the last lingering legacy of the Home Service remit had been dispensed with at last. The FM and LW versions of Radio 4 only temporarily go their separate ways today with ‘Test Match Special’ and ‘Daily Service’.

For my generation, and the generations after, names like the Home Service, the Light Programme and the Third Programme have a quaint, monochrome magic to them, belonging as they do to a lost, post-war 50s world that disappeared before our time. Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4, on the other hand, have always sounded contemporary. All four stations predate me by just a couple of months, so it’s no wonder. Of the four, I cannot deny Radio 4 is my preference and has been for around a decade, though I acknowledge it can be far from perfect.

There’s a tendency to over-egg the ‘right-on’ pudding on occasions; equally, whenever those hideous words ‘The Kardashians’ threaten to gatecrash the environs of ‘Woman’s Hour’ or ‘Front Row’, I switch to Radio 3. Radio 4 produces many superb programmes on pop culture (Saturday evening’s ‘Archive on 4’, for example), but there are already enough – more than enough – media mouthpieces for the afterbirths of Reality TV without R4 following suit. It’s supposed to provide an alternative with a brain rather than half of one.

After Radio 2, Radio 4 is the most listened-to station in the country, which is impressive considering what a radical counterpoint it can be to the overabundance of what the Americans refer to as Top 40 stations. The thought that the erudite interlude of ‘In Our Time’ can attract more listeners than some waffling wanker on Crass FM – the sort of white noise that serves as the in-car soundtrack of taxi-drivers – gives one hope that all is not lost. Fifty years old today, Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 appear to have provided a cradle-to (not quite) grave listening experience for my entire lifetime; and that lifetime would have very been different without them. Many happy returns.

© The Editor


Considering this maritime nation’s greatest nautical hero was a man who has been rebranded a ‘white supremacist’ by an attention-seeking, box-ticking, virtue-signalling f**kwit writing for the Grauniad (and sod removing statues – let’s just move on to burning books, eh?), the racist Royal Navy has nevertheless occasionally set sail with some remarkable characters whose influence has remained with us. Take the 1831-36 voyage of HMS Beagle, containing a young chap name of Charles Darwin (who redrew the map of the planet’s evolution), a hydrographer called Francis Beaufort (who devised the scale by which we still measure wind speed), and captained by one Robert FitzRoy, who effectively invented an institution which is celebrating its 150th anniversary – the Shipping Forecast.

FitzRoy essentially founded the Met Office in 1854 when the Board of Trade entrusted him with the collection of weather data at sea; this was long after his association with Darwin and a decade after his stint as Governor of New Zealand. His governorship had only lasted a couple of years; FitzRoy was recalled by London when he had defended native Maoris against the illegal purchase of land by settlers. Ah, yes – typical colonial. His concern for the regular disasters at sea due to ignorance of forthcoming weather conditions, particularly the 1859 sinking of the Royal Charter off Anglesey in a storm (500 lives lost), prompted FitzRoy to develop charts to second-guess the climate; he described himself as a weather forecaster, and invented the term in the process.

Utilising the latest technology, FitzRoy’s predictions were compiled via the telegraph; twenty-four land stations wired him daily reports which he then incorporated into his embryonic Shipping Forecast. The Times began printing them in 1861, and though the forecasts were discontinued following FitzRoy’s suicide in 1865, the fishermen of England regarded FitzRoy as someone who had saved countless lives, and their demands resulted in the resumption of the Shipping Forecast in 1867. Bar a couple of World Wars, it’s been with us ever since. As belated recognition of FitzRoy’s achievements, the famous sea area of Finisterre was renamed after him in 2002.

Early pre-World War One radio transmissions included marine weather forecasts featuring gale and storm warnings, though the Shipping Forecast’s association with the radio proper began on New Year’s Day 1924, barely a year after the first BBC broadcasts. The waters around Britain were divided into thirteen different regions and the bulletins appeared twice-daily; in 1949, the expanded roll-call of the 31 regions we’re familiar with today first appeared on the Light Programme, due to its long-wave signal (now occupied by Radio 4) being the clearest that can be received around the British Isles, regardless of the conditions at sea. The only changes to the line-up since then have been the aforementioned renaming of Finisterre, Heligoland changing to German Bight, and the introduction of North Utsire and South Utsire. Otherwise, it’s as you were.

Although the Shipping Forecast is now broadcast four times a day on Radio 4, it’s the final (or first, if one is being pedantic) broadcast at 0048 that most listeners are familiar with. This is the ‘director’s cut’ edition for dedicated night owls, complete with the coastal weather stations, the inshore waters and ‘Sailing By’, the opening theme tune and virtual sole survivor of old-school BBC Mood Music that can still be heard on the airwaves. ‘Sailing By’, with its languorous strings and soporific evocation of gentle, rolling waves, prepares the hundreds of thousands of landlubbers whose reason for tuning in couldn’t be further from the forecast’s purpose for the hypnotic recital to come.

Jarvis Cocker selected ‘Sailing By’ as one of his eight ‘Desert Island Discs’, describing it as ‘an aid to restful sleep’; but it is the strange names of some of the forecast’s locations that add to the otherworldly air of the mantra that follows the tune. Radio 4 announcer and regular Shipping Forecast reader Zeb Soanes once said of the bulletin, ‘To the non-nautical, it is a nightly litany of the sea. It reinforces a sense of being islanders with a proud seafaring past. When the listener is safely tucked-up in their bed, they can imagine small fishing-boats bobbing about at Plymouth or 170ft waves crashing against Rockall.’

Musicians from Blur, Radiohead and Beck to Wire, Jethro Tull and The Prodigy have either sampled the Shipping Forecast or have name-checked the locations in lyrics; poets have woven these place names into their verse, comedians have parodied them, and they even made a cameo appearance in the sonic tapestry that accompanied the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. To the average listener, either on the coast or hundreds of miles from it, the broadcast paints pictures with words in a manner that serves as a reminder of the uniqueness of radio as a medium. And there are never more than 380 words either.

Despite the fact that seafarers are now more dependent on satellite technology for their weather data, most of them concur that the radio Shipping Forecast still performs a vital function; and in its own esoteric way, it also performs a vital function for those whose experience of the seven seas has been limited to the occasional cross-Channel ferry. Charlie Connelly’s superbly entertaining 2004 book, ‘Attention All Shipping: A Journey Round the Shipping Forecast’, sees the author visit as many of the forecast locations as possible, though it’s telling that there are no photographs of them included. I suppose he sensed it might puncture the individual illustrations of the listener, something even his descriptions can’t manage. And we all know what they really look like in our heads, anyway – and they can never take those away from us.

© The Editor


Amidst the celebratory coverage of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act’s fiftieth anniversary, it is certainly worth being reminded precisely how limiting the freedoms contained within the ‘consenting adults in private’ law actually were, and how these limitations made it easily open to abuse by the powers-that-be. After the Act was passed, it’s surprising to realise that more gay men were prosecuted than before it. Perhaps the understandable precautions that had been crucial prior to 1967 were perceived to be unnecessary once decriminalisation came into force; the illusion of legality blinded many to the numerous areas in which homosexuality remained criminal; it also forced the police and politicians to focus on those areas with renewed crusading vigour in the years thereafter.

A timely reminder of this uncomfortable truth came via Peter Tatchell’s excellent and eye (or ear)-opening Radio 4 documentary, ‘The Myth of Homosexual Decriminalisation’, broadcast on Saturday evening; it documented how 1967 was not so much an end as a beginning, the start of the long road to abolishing discrimination, altering attitudes and achieving an equal age of consent with heterosexuals – none of which were dealt with in the imperfect Act that came into being half-a-century ago.

Scotland, Northern Ireland, the armed forces and the merchant navy – all exempt from decriminalisation in 1967; much anti-homosexual legislation remained on the statue book for decades after 1967 and queer-bashing was a legitimate police pastime well into the 1980s. For out and proud young men today, barely old enough to even remember the last century, all of this must seem insane. The prejudices openly unleashed upon gay men and largely unchallenged by the majority of society combined with the AIDS hysteria (AKA ‘The Gay Plague’) and Clause 28 to create a climate of moral panic that would unthinkable to anyone under, say, 30 in 2017. Perhaps the inability to comprehend how we used to live has played its part in a lack of perspective where those too young to remember are concerned.

The sins of their forefathers for allowing this state of affairs to linger for so long without challenge has undoubtedly fuelled a militant bullishness amongst the young; this reaction demands the law and society in general adopt the consensus they’ve developed to serve as a severe redress to the past. It comes partly from retrospective guilt and is not unlike America’s similar response to historical racism via the slave trade and segregation. At its most extreme, the new consensus is imposed with the same level of illogical fanaticism once employed by those who upheld and endorsed the previous prejudices this consensus reacts against, portraying anyone who is white as inherently racist and anyone who is heterosexual as inherently homophobic.

But the ironic outcome can often seem like less of a striving for genuine equality between the different sexual demographics – which is surely what should be aimed for – and more of a determined campaign to ensure the poacher is elevated to gamekeeper and vice-versa. The new consensus cannot alter the past, but the slightest sign of any attitude bearing a passing resemblance to the past – however mild in comparison – dumps the wrongs of the past on the doorstep of the present. The ‘gay cake’ saga in Northern Ireland a couple of years ago seemed indicative of this mindset; a refusal to countenance that there are many out there for whom homosexuality remains a difficult concept has created a climate of intolerance that excludes debate. If you don’t embrace this consensus, you are a homophobic bigot – end of. ‘Inclusivity’ does not include those who deviate from the script.

The clamour to be seen as endorsing the consensus by political parties and other establishment organisations that maybe weren’t viewed as so gay-friendly in the past resulted in the virtue signalling of the National Trust edict stating volunteers dealing with the public at Norfolk’s Felbrigg Hall (whose last resident, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer was recently posthumously ‘outed’) must wear rainbow gay pride badges. Those who weren’t comfortable with wearing them were to be relegated to the backrooms of the property. The case was taken up by certain Fleet Street tabloids and predictably labelled a right-wing cause célèbre by the likes of the Grauniad; but the sudden reversal of the edict so that wearing the badges is now optional rather than compulsory seems a more sensible compromise that recognises inclusivity should mean what it says.

Many of the archive recordings of attitudes towards homosexuality excavated for Peter Tatchell’s Radio 4 retrospective were as gobsmacking to hear as similar excerpts of unashamedly racist language from the same era; but whilst these attitudes survive on a smaller scale in private, the cheerleaders for our liberated society still turn a blind eye to one publically vocal section of it. Some of the vilest and most bigoted opinions on homosexuality expressed today emanate from Islam, yet the ultra-liberal left gives Islam the kind of leeway it won’t tolerate in any other faith, let alone secular discourse. Why? Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Muslims have been designated the left’s persecuted pets; they are above and beyond the kind of criticism others are fair game for.

Of course, not every Muslim is virulently anti-gay any more than every Christian or every person without any religion whatsoever; I think most people aren’t really that bothered, to be honest. It’s just a shame the person who retains a problem with the notion of homosexuality – usually down to simple ignorance and lack of education – is lumped in with the genuinely homophobic in a rainbow that has no shades of grey.

© The Editor


Radio 4 listeners are creatures of habit. Different moments of the day are marked by the R4 schedule in clock-like fashion. From ‘Today’ to ‘The World at One’ and from ‘The Archers’ to ‘The Shipping Forecast’, the listeners know where they are and what time it is when a particular voice or theme tune rings around the room. These things may be insignificant to some, but to others they matter. Therefore, whenever a new-ish controller seeks to make their mark by axing a long-running programme or relocating a show to an alien time slot, Radio 4 listeners react in a manner that underlines how much both they and the station itself are regularly misjudged and misunderstood by the BBC overlords.

In 2006, the decision of then-R4 controller Mark Damazer to dispense with the UK Theme, an eccentric medley of traditional British and Irish melodies that had opened the station every morning since 1978, was greeted with a listeners’ backlash that even reached as far as Parliament; an online petition demanding the decision be overturned garnered over 18,000 signatures. It was all to no avail. There were suspicions the theme was dropped because it wasn’t deemed ‘politically correct’, something that could be seen as an overreaction but would also chime with the general opinion of the BBC’s attitude to those segments of its empire that don’t quite fit with the broadcasting business model of the twenty-first century.

Recently, Libby Purves’ Wednesday morning institution, ‘Midweek’, was dispatched to the wireless necropolis after 35 years on air; and now it seems ‘Saturday Review’, another R4 fixture with a lengthy pedigree is also to receive the chop. The latter is a radio equivalent of Mark Lawson’s late BBC2 ‘Review’ series – once referred to as ‘WWF Wrestling for the chattering classes’ by Elvis Costello – and often features infuriatingly smug and pretentious critics that make you want to throw the radio through the window. At the same time, it still provides a service in that plays, books and movies receive exposure on it that they don’t receive outside of broadsheet arts supplements. It’s apparently being dropped due to radio budget cuts.

Radio 4 listeners are passionate about their station of choice because outlets for what is increasingly viewed as niche broadcasting have diminished in the rush to cater for kids or teenagers or a ‘family audience’ that will accept whatever shit is shovelled up for them on a Saturday evening, the kind of surrender to the lowest common denominator formulaic ratings-chasing express that prime-time television embodies. Which other radio station would produce ‘Tweet of the Day’ or ‘Bells on Sunday’? Just because their audience is small doesn’t mean that audience doesn’t count.

Of course, it’s middle-class; it’s white, it’s elitist; the right says it’s too lefty; the left says it’s too far to the right, with Corbynistas booing Nick Robinson from ‘Today’ recently due to that very reason; you don’t hear many regional accents on it – and so on. I might be white, but I’m certainly not middle-class, and I like to hear well-spoken voices on the radio on account of not hearing many of them on the street. Elitism to me is when anyone from a working-class background is advised by their peers to avoid, say, the ballet, opera, theatre, literature, galleries, museums and so forth because ‘they’re not for you’. Inverted snobbery is a greater obstacle to the opening of artistic doors than snobbery from on high, and Radio 4 is one way in. It’s there for anybody who wants more than beer, tits and football. Just listening to ‘The Archers’ for me is an almost radical experience considering the environment I was raised in.

Radio 4, like its television sibling BBC4, sticks to the Reithian principles of informing, educating and entertaining; it’s an oasis of intelligence and illumination with programmes that provoke thought and discussion above and beyond the vocal merits of some bawling, blubbing Gary Barlow wannabe with a sob-story facing a firing squad of judges; there’s more than enough of that for those that want it everywhere else. Yet, for all the odious Tony Hall’s PR waffle about the Beeb’s investment in ‘culture’, the corporation’s most damaging cuts have been reserved for its cultural outlets. Fewer new programmes are being produced for BBC4 now than just two years ago; on many evenings its schedule is clogged-up with repeats; yes, they’re usually worth watching, but the chances are viewers have already seen them several times before.

Increasingly at the post-Birt BBC, the laudable ethos behind the corporation’s creation has been lost and buried beneath the scramble to appease ‘market forces’. One-time genuine alternative BBC2 has been reduced to competing with Channel 4 – another once-great innovator – in how many variations on formats that have been done to death over the last decade can be concocted: the cookery game show/celebrity comedians grouped together and sent on ‘life-changing journeys’ to far-off lands/famous names encouraging ‘ordinary people’ to achieve their dreams/etc. etc. As the old saying goes, this isn’t what I pay my licence fee for.

Tellingly, considering the cuts that have been inflicted upon the best of the BBC, money has been miraculously found to cover the salaries of its senior freeloaders. Thanks to Private Eye, we know that the previous Director of BBC Radio Helen Boaden was on a wage of £352,900 a year, with her deputy Graham Ellis on £212,800. After last autumn’s reshuffle, James Purnell was made Director of Radio & Education on £295,000 a year and Bob Shennan as Director of Audio & Music just about manages on an annual salary of £245,565. But the Beeb can’t afford a 45-minute arts review series once a week on Radio 4. Fancy that!

© The Editor


beyonceJust in case you haven’t caught much Radio 4 this week, let me provide you with some programme highlights. On Sunday morning, ‘Desert Island Discs’ celebrated its 75th anniversary by inviting David Beckham onto the show; on Tuesday, ‘A Good Read’ asked what the favourite books were of Melanie Sykes and Alan Carr; on Thursday, flagship Arts series ‘Front Row’ opened with the news that Beyoncé posted her ‘pregnancy portrait’ on Instagram, one that has apparently become the most ‘liked’ post in that medium’s short distinguished history; the 7.2 million ‘likes’ even exceeded the 6.3 million that ‘liked’ the selfie posted by Selena Gomez (Yes, I know what you’re thinking; I’d ask my daughter if I had one).

‘We would like to share our love and happiness’, declared Beyoncé in the nauseating blurb that accompanied her narcissistic and characteristically humourless image as she cradled the belly carrying the double act whose media careers we’ll have to endure around fifteen years from now. ‘We have been blessed two times over.’ Nice of her to share that with the world, wasn’t it. Judging by the response, it clearly was nice of her; it demonstrates her recognition of just how beloved she is and how the world waits with bated breath for the next earth-shattering bullet fired from Jay-Z’s loins.

If I might be permitted to backtrack a little, when it came to my listening habits at the beginning of this century I believed R&B was the sole cutting-edge sound within pop music, the natural successor to a dying Dance scene that had disappeared up its own backside in the late 90s; I will still argue that the prematurely-late Aaliyah’s eponymous 2001 album is one of the great records of that era, but the era didn’t last long. It used to take around half-a-decade before an era-defining musical genre stopped progressing and started to slide backwards into repetition and cliché, but the pace of life in the twenty-first century has speeded up the process; R&B was a spent force within a couple of years of it being at the top of its game. The pioneers and innovators left the stage and the unimaginative bandwagon-jumping recyclers moved in.

Beyoncé (as a member of Destiny’s Child) was briefly part of R&B at its peak, though only in the way David Bowie was briefly a music hall act during his Anthony Newley phase. There was always a sneaking suspicion Beyoncé was a bit of an R&B tourist and that her ultimate ambition was to be Mariah Carey. Sappy ballads of a kind Michael Jackson at his syrupy worst would have baulked at were a regular fixture of her repertoire, and when she jettisoned her Destiny sisters to embark upon the inevitable solo career, any pretensions to anything other than full-blown showbiz were jettisoned along with them.

Since the demise of Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé has gradually become insufferable – a vain, vacuous diva posing as someone with something to say yet offering nothing more than lyrical motivational poster bilge in snappy sound-bites for the sisterhood. At times, she’s made Jennifer Lopez or Britney Spears seem deeply profound.

But Beyoncé is blessed, for she finds herself in an age when she can bestride a plethora of platforms. There are more outlets for the Beckhams and Beyoncés of this world than their famous predecessors could ever have dreamt of: The entire cultural wasteland of breakfast and daytime TV, MTV, Channel 5, the tabloid press, ‘Vogue’, ‘Vanity Fair’, ‘Marie Claire’, ‘OK!’, ‘Hello’, ‘Heat’, Radio 1, ‘The One Show’, the numerous products they promote and sponsor, and, of course, the internet; their ilk have completely and comprehensively colonised each and every facet of the entertainment industry so that one cannot step outdoors and venture to the local parade of shops without being made aware of their existence.

They’ll be on the supermarket soundtrack as well as staring out from the magazine and newspaper racks; they’ll be in the windows of the Superdrug-type stores advertising their scents; and their look will be worn by dozens of dedicated disciples you’ll bypass getting to the shops and back; then, when you get home and go online, there they are again. Beckham and Beyoncé are watching you, as are all those who followed in their wake.

High Art and Low Art have often collided and the end results have regularly been supremely entertaining. Andy Warhol knew that when he filled galleries with his silkscreen prints of banal household objects over half-a-century ago; and what made Glam Rock so irresistible was the fact that it could encompass everyone from dumb Gary Glitter to erudite Roxy Music. But Low Art has never been more widespread, accessible and available than it is today. It’s bloody everywhere. There’s nothing wrong with Low Art at all; it has its place and that place covers 99% of the globe. To me, it seems only fair that there should also be an alternative, a refuge from its overwhelming dominance – one little corner of the modern world that does not welcome it.

On paper, we have Radios 3 & 4 and BBC4, and I suppose, Sky Arts. That’s more or less it. Not much to ask for, really, yet the edited highlights of this week’s Radio 4 schedule that were contained within the opening paragraph would suggest there is no escape, no relief and no hiding place from something that already owns every other media outlet. Quite frankly, I was always happy to watch David Beckham don an England shirt, but I’ve never had the slightest interest in anything else about him; similarly, I don’t care what books Melanie Sykes or Alan Carr like to read anymore than I care whether or not a 35-year-old woman has a couple of buns in her oven. If I did, I know where to look, and I shouldn’t have to look in one of the few cultural bunkers we have left. Of course, that makes me a Snob, doesn’t it?

© The Editor