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DAVID BLUNKETT Found Invaluable Company In Radio 4 – Until It Was Hijacked By The Left

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All my life I have relied on the radio and especially on BBC Radio 4. From my student days, through my political career and to this day it has been my favorite source of news and entertainment.

The House of Lords will debate the future of the BBC next Thursday. I won’t be able to attend, because I’m chairing another meeting: but if I could, I’d be loud in my praise of the Corporation.

But I would also have some sharp criticism. Radio 4 is so committed to tackling multicultural diversity, gender issues and identity politics that it forgets about inclusive inclusion.

People who live outside a small class of wealthy professionals with rigid, correct 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, your views are unlikely to be reflected. The BBC seems to ignore the obvious fact that ‘B’ stands for British – and its job is to broadcast across the country, not just a few fashionable streets around Islington.

Radio 4 is so determined to tackle multicultural diversity, gender issues and identity politics that it forgets about inclusive inclusion

Listeners in Looe, Lerwick and Lowestoft also want to be informed and entertained, with programs relevant to their lives. And while I’m all for my attitude to be challenged, I’m tired of feeling too old, too provincial or too traditional when I listen to Radio 4.

Every aspect of the station now seems obsessed with preaching against me. Even The Food Program spends most of its time criticizing British palates for being too fixed and monocultural.

When Radio 4 thinks the food on my plate should be co-opted into the culture wars, I almost wonder why I’m even bothering to turn it on. When I do, the station gives me more and more of a reason to grumble.

That is never more true than when I listen to the comedy shows. What I want is a good laugh and maybe some one-liners that I can share with friends. What I get are stand-up comedians vying to parade their justice.

Too many contributors to The News Quiz and The Now Show believe that poses are mandatory and jokes are optional. From some there is no irreverence or mischief, just mocking.

Others do deliver blowouts, but these are far apart between stark speeches on government policy. By the end of half an hour, I feel like I’ve had to work too hard for a few chuckles.

I miss the wickedness of The News Quiz as it was with Alan Coren and Linda Smith, when politicians of all stripes were honest and none of the panelists cared about looking virtuous.

Too many contributors, like The Now Show, believe that poses are mandatory and jokes are optional

Too many contributors, like The Now Show, believe that poses are mandatory and jokes are optional

And while the jokes were hit and miss, the end of the week on a Friday night was a regular treat—with punchlines that came so quickly that if you laughed at one, you missed the next.

That kind of show has disappeared from the air, very often replaced by self-indulgent and self-centered programs that only interest the presenters.

When Tim Davie became Director General in September last year, he told his staff that his priority was to ensure that BBC output ‘represents every part of this country’.

It was the right message, but it’s not happening. Instead, we listeners are apparently expected to care only about the current obsession with cultural politics, and to limit laughter to lawful subjects.

Common sense tells us that won’t work. The more the BBC strives to be direct, the more the rest of us will turn off.

I fervently hope that Radio 4 will recover quickly. After all, the station has been a cornerstone of my life, even back when it was still called the Home Service.

One of my earliest memories is of my mother picking me up to waltz through the front room of our Sheffield house to The Archers theme music when I was just four years old.

David Blunkett found company on BBC Radio 4 as a blind man, but now condemns the station for the wakeful turn it has taken in recent years

David Blunkett found company on BBC Radio 4 as a blind man, but now condemns the station for the wakeful turn it has taken in recent years

Of course, I’ve loved the show ever since. That happy, sweetly dated tune always fills me with warmth. I listened loyally, even during the early months of the lockdown, when the storylines fluttered terribly.

It is an important part of our national heritage, as well as my family history. When the first of my four sons was born in the 1970s, I was trying to do my share of childcare — and I remember being stunned that babies thought they could cry during The Archers.

I did what my mom did, waltzing around the room with my little boys, humming the tune as I tried to listen to the dialogue.

I was recently asked to name my favorite Archers episode and I picked one from that time: when a young Shula Archer (Judy Bennett) went frisky one summer evening with her friend Simon from the local paper. At first she scolded him for being a liaison in the middle of a cornfield – ‘Simon! Farmers hate people like you who trample it!’ — and then she wondered if he had a picnic blanket in the car.

“I don’t think the National Farmers’ Union is too concerned 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. Although it was Simon who first suggested the handkerchief, Shula took control and demanded a rug. It’s a perfect illustration of how good drama can respond to social change, without trying to dictate it.

This is the latest scathing attack on the Corporation in recent years for alleged bias and wakefulness

This is the latest scathing attack on the Corporation in recent years for alleged bias and wakefulness

But every Radio 4 drama I’ve heard lately hasn’t gotten this. The scripts are didactic, the characters speak to me and the storylines feel like propaganda. I am not entertained, I am culturally re-educated with all the subtlety of a steam hammer.

The news presenters are no better. They begin to preach – and often end with screeching.

This is not a new trend. I first noticed it as Minister of Education over 20 years ago when I warned that standards were slipping.

“I fear that a lifetime of fun is being replaced by second-rate and poorly produced dramas that try too hard to be smart and too often seem to reflect a quota to be met,” I wrote in 1999.

At the same time, I warned that listeners hated the barrage of trailers advertising the upcoming features. It pleases me that I was right on both counts – the standards have been lower for 20 years and those trailers are more annoying than ever.

It is a great shame that the BBC did not listen to our complaints at the time. We who criticize the Beeb are invariably the biggest fans because we are the ones who care enough to speak out.

Younger, more fickle listeners don’t bother pointing out problems — they just shut down and listen to podcasts instead. Aunt is often her own worst enemy: she shuts her ears to those who want to give constructive criticism.

So let me give some advice. Please, Radio 4, think of your patient – but often exasperated – audience that has stood by you so loyally all these years.

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