BBC Short Story Slashing!

It really is BBC Lunacy.

Oh, I know. There are so many aspects of the BBC that call for the searing satire of a Swift, and yet here I am, a mentally meandering crime hack, doing my best with one aspect only.

Which?

The latest changes to the Radio 4 schedule, of course.

Ok, so it may not be as earth-shatteringly important as, say, the institutional bias against anything right wing or conservative, the dislike for anyone who dares support a country pursuit or, worse still, a field sport, but even so, the recent changes have had a dreadful impact on the writing and acting arts in the country.

What has happened?

A little while ago it was announced by the BBC’s omnipotent head, Gwynneth Williams, that she’d be taking a squint at the schedules. She wasn’t happy with them.

The schedules were a mish-mash, it must be admitted. Until the back end of the last century, the mid-day news ended at 13.40, with a fifteen minute slot for a soap, then a five minute run up of weather and interesting snippets before the news at 14.00. That was all tidied up a bit. Instead, we had a half hour news show, then a half hour quiz show. Mastermind, Round Britain Quiz, or something similar. It did actually work.

Of course we had some news programmes in the schedule. There was Today, which runs from 06.00 to 09.00. Then the World At One, which had the 13.00 to 13.30 slot. And PM, from 17.00 to 18.00. Oh, and the Six O’Clock News. That ends at 18.30. Which is good, because then there was the Ten O’Clock news, with another forty five minutes of reports from round the world. Oh, and let’s not forget the five minute slots on every hour between these necessary programmes.

So, that’s three hours first thing, half an hour at lunch, one and a half at five, and another forty five at ten. That is five hours forty five minutes. Oh, but with the five minutes at nine, ten, eleven, twelve, two, three, four, seven, eight and nine – and eleven – another fifty five minutes. So six hours and forty minutes in total.

At the same time, Radio 4 has been fortunate enough to have some superb readings of short stories.

We used to have five a week. One each weekday. That was nice. There were short stories specially commissioned for the BBC – which is pretty much the only shorts that were commissioned anywhere. The number of magazines catering for this very difficult art form have dwindled over the years.

So, of course, it was entirely natural that when Gwyneth Williams decided to change things slightly, she should decide that the area of slack that needed to be cut was – you guessed it! Short stories. Instead of the shorts, there would be an extra – yes! – fifteen more minutes of news!

The joy throughout the nation is almost palpable at this brilliant, ingenious decision. Who on earth would complain about increasing the news quota to a total of nearly seven hours every day? Clearly those who didn’t appreciate it were mere dinosaurs.

OK, I cannot manage that sarcasm for any period. Because the decision shows such woeful incompetence and lack of intellectual rigour. There is no point listing any of the many arguments against this. It’s a risible decision. And the only conclusion must be, that because the studios are there, the presenters are paid on salaries, and so are the journalists, the cost of an additional fifteen minutes of news is probably cheap. Whereas having a few good writers costs a little more. It cannot be more than a little, but it’s probably more.

So, now from a day of about eighteen hours of broadcast, well over a third are devoted to news. The station that used designed for all those who wanted to listen to good drama, for those who wanted challenging broadcasts, has gone. In its place there is an insipid mess with rolling news taking up ever more time.

It is shameful. The Controller (nice 1984 style of title there) said on Friday, that she couldn’t consider one hour plays, because to extend ‘drama to an hour is a demanding listen’, as though most Radio 4 listeners need to be cossetted and protected from too much scary stuff like that. After all, no one has the attention span necessary, do they? The poor old darlings.

Her manner, to me, was at best patronizing. You can hear her here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01756jk#synopsis – see what you think.

OK, so here’s the final bit. If you listen to this and feel, as I do, that this woman has seriously screwed up, and if you want to support writers and writing, then please get in touch with Feedback and tell them how you feel too. You can contact them from this page http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/feedback/contact/

Of course, from personal experience, you’ll almost certainly not be able to affect the decisions already made. The BBC hates to change the direction of their juggernaut just because they’ve upset or annoyed all their clients, the listeners, but you never know. And Roger Bolton does have a habit of actually trying to take on the Beeb to at least explain their decisions. So, you never know. Perhaps with the Society of Authors and other writing groups contacting them, they may even back down a little. If you want, you can the Society of Authors’ petition here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/noshortstorycuts/

I do hope so. In the last week it’s been embarrassing how the programme has tried to fill the additional fifty percent of their time slot.

So, please, if you have time, write an email to the Beeb and register your thoughts too.

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Comments
10 Responses to “BBC Short Story Slashing!”
  1. It is interesting to see how the BBC has become weighted more and more to news gathering and presentation. Not only do we have the burgeoning of news on R4 as you have described above but there is a rolling 24 hour news channel on the television and R3 has been infected with the news virus between 6.30 and 9 when it appears every 15 minutes. And,as a matter of natural course, with so much news reportage making up so much of the Beeb’s raison d’etre nowadays it becomes impossible to render it without some kind of institutional bias.
    The “News” remains untouched with a plethora of journos, weather “girls” and assorted hangers-on all jollying along as if there’s no tomorrow and garbage such as “Strictly Come Danicng” infects the tv screens (and even gets itself mention on the “news”!). Meanwhile the “cuts” in the BBC’s output falls on just those kind of areas that should be promoted and encouraged but of course when the jobs of those who actually plan the schedules are at stake what do you think they are going to do? They’re going to ditch the outsiders and keep their bums warm on the nice BBC ergonomic seats (with nice final salary pensions).

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    • Thanks, Ralph. Have to admit, I could have ranted on for a lot longer, but thought I’d lose too many readers. The point about the news regurgitating garbage about ‘reality’ shows is just another instance of how low the Beeb has sunk, though, isn’t it? So sad to see such a low-cost station being brought down by incompetent management.

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  2. knotrune says:

    I’d like to see all news and sports given their own channels (oh, wait, they already have been) and thus removed from the regular channels! If I want to watch or listen to such things (which I rarely do) I know where to find them. Meanwhile, the other channels could then be free for better things, like drama and stories! And good documentaries.

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  3. Michael. It is clear that the BBC wants to ensure we are all converted to their way of looking at the world, hence the emphasis on the ‘news’. Surely if we are continually fed the same opinions and outlook of their favourite contributors then we must come to understand the error of our ways in having a different opinion? They do take seriously the Reithian principle of education, just so long as they are the teachers.

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  4. Jack Eason says:

    Here, here Knotrune. Let us all insist that the damned news only appears on one channel – preferably not BBCTV1.

    Regarding Radio4 – BBC numptys – LEAVE IT ALONE!

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  5. “…that she couldn’t consider one hour plays, because to extend ‘drama to an hour is a demanding listen’…”
    What finer evidence of dumbing down is there? Methinks she has forgotten ‘know your audience/customer’.

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    • Too right. Her whole manner was that of a technocrat happily engaged in managing what the silly listeners ought to be allowed to listen without harming themselves. It’s blatantly obvious that the scheme was designed to reduce payable minutes of broadcast and replace them with cheaper, repetitive rolling news. Does she really think her listeners are that dim?

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  6. Alice Taylor says:

    Radio 4 plays and short stories used to be where new writers could cut their teeth in an industry environment – a BBC environment – and then maybe progress onto telly. It’s getting harder now unless you’re born with an Agent to go anywhere with your stuff. It’s all very well sending things into the BBC Writer’s Room along with the thousands and thousands of other unwashed writers out there, but even if your work’s picked it doesn’t necessarily give you air time, you might end up writing for Eastenders instead, original script forgotten. I think the BBC needs to trust new writers a bit more, be a bit more daring and experimental, there are very few places left for us to go to try and get our foot in.

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    • You’re quite right, Alice. And it was especially ironic that they announced these changes during short story week! It’s like David Blunkett announcing ID cards on November 11th!

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