For the Love of Radio 4: An unofficial
Summersdale Publishers £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT292
IF YOU have a friend or relative who is a dedicated Radio 4
listener, then look no further for a Christmas present. For the
Love of Radio 4 is 235 pages of history, anecdote, analysis,
information, and gossip about his or her favourite radio channel.
It should be enough to satisfy the most besotted enthusiast (and
there are many of them).
This is a book to dip into endlessly rather than read from start
to finish. The format makes that easy: short chapters on different
elements of Radio 4, and scores of boxes with odd bits of
information under the recurring title "A Little 4 Thought". There's
just enough history, fleshed out with plenty of fascinating stories
and eccentric characters.
Radio 4 was born on 30 September 1967, descended from the
original National Service of the BBC (from the 1920s) and the Home
Service, from the war years. A few programmes have survived its
metamorphoses, among them the Daily Service (oddly omitted
from the book's list of long-running programmes - more than 80
years old). The station, under its various names, has provided a
home for some of the nation's best-loved institutions: among them
Farming Today (77 years old), Desert Island Discs
(72), Any Questions? (66), Book at Bedtime (65),
Today (57), and Thought for the Day (44 - but
previously known as Lift Up Your Hearts and Ten to
Eight, going back over seven decades).
Radio 4 listeners are, on the whole, resistant to change. Move
or drop a programme, and a BBC channel controller will feel the
full fury of middle England. Familiarity, with a bit of style and
well-crafted content, is what listeners look for. A former
Controller of Radio 4, Monica Sims, argued, however, that its real
secret was serendipity, the quality of surprise. Leave the radio on
in the car, and the next programme - which might be a play, or
about archaeology, art, music history, politics, or books - will so
capture your attention that you find yourself sitting in the car
park waiting to hear the end.
Radio 4 listeners are well served with serendipity. It is almost
certainly unique in the broadcasting world, a radio channel that
actually broadcasts programmes rather than "programming". For
the Love of Radio 4 has a chapter on Religion and Ethics, but
also chapters on Test Match Special, Woman's
Hour, Drama and Comedy, Arts, Culture and History,
Gardeners' Question Time, and The Archers - and
several dozen more. Simply to list them is to demonstrate why there
is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. This is radio
without records, phone-ins, or obtrusive personalities. It seldom
shouts at you, and never insults the listeners' intelligence.
Amazingly, it survives and even flourishes. Its devotees call it "a
good listen". They will enjoy this book.
Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of
Oxford, and a former Head of Religious Broadcasting at the