On Radio

Sack the lot at rotten Radio 3

BBC Radio 3 is drowning in a puddle of self-willed mediocrity

This article is taken from the October 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

There is no point in sugaring the pill: Radio 3 has a death wish. A station which exists to serve high culture, without apology or embarrassment, is drowning in a puddle of self-willed mediocrity. There should be a clear-out, bag and baggage, and a fresh start under new stewardship.

A few preliminary questions.

Why does Tom Service, the butler at Waffling Hall, waffle so much? Is he paid by the word? Why does Kate Molleson speak like a little girl? Why does she think listeners need to be given notes, coated in quasi-academic jargon, seconds after the music has evaporated?

Why does Georgia Mann treat Essential Classics as an audition for Blue Peter? Why does she breathe so heavily, like a nurse ready to administer an enema?

Radio 3 stalwarts were spreading marmalade on their toast and filling in the first line of the crossword, she was togged up as if for an all-nighter at Wigan Casino

Why does Sarah Walker continue to pronounce Beethoven’s surname incorrectly? (It’s one word, not two, Sarah, and you ignore the ‘h’). Why does she talk so much about herself? Not many people want to hear how her cat escaped through the loft.

Why does Katie Derham burst into peals of unnecessary laughter in almost every sentence? Why can she not say “orchestra”? Why is everything “incredible” or “amazing”? Why does Tom McKinney, their man in the north, pronounce Sir John Barbirolli as “Barbiroley”? Why do the continuity announcers so frequently stress the wrong words (“doing a Myrie”)? Can they not read a script? Why do so many presenters affect faux-northern and prolier-than-thou voices? And why does Ian “I’m from Bairsnsley” MacMillan keep turning up like a bad penny?

At 9.15am on 1 September, Georgia Mann invited listeners “to tell us how you like to party”. At an hour when Radio 3 stalwarts were spreading marmalade on their toast and filling in the first line of the crossword, she was togged up as if for an all-nighter at Wigan Casino.

The following evening, she introduced a (ragged) performance of Beethoven’s ninth symphony at the Proms. This offered a chance to describe Chineke!, the orcheshtra (Katie Amazing) of non-white musicians, as an ensemble notable for “an energy associated with pop concerts”.

Hey, kids, this classical music rocks! Consider the Proms, part of the BBC’s fiefdom. Each summer it chucks in one more concert linked to a well-known television show, and adds a few more performers from the world of popular entertainment.

This summer’s “Sarpong Special” was a tribute to Aretha Franklin, a gifted if overwrought singer, whose best moments came in the Sixties. In time there will surely be a Limmie and Family Cookin’ Prom: “he’s a walkin’ miracle … woo-oo …” One for groovy Georgia.

Speaking on BBC4 at last year’s Proms, Tom Waffles suggested the idea of genius was rooted in outdated notions (racist, sexist, “classist”, etc …) about dead white European men. Yet that tradition remains a historical fact, beyond argument, and underlines the whole purpose of Radio 3.

If folk at the BBC don’t understand that purpose, and clearly they don’t, they should be dismissed; as Bobby Robson once said, the tooter the sweeter. What’s happening is (for once the word is merited) tragic.

He presented the poems out of curiosity rather than love, so the tone was flat

Simon Armitage’s fortnight-long assessment on Radio 4, Larkin Revisited, was only a partial success. The part that worked belonged to the immortal Philip, whose poetry will always survive attempts to belittle him. The other part, when Armitage invited guests to explain how the poems worked, was vin ordinaire.

The omnipresent MacMillan docked Larkin a point for using the word “louts” in Going, Going. Twerp. It’s a wonderful word. Joelle Taylor, whose butch lesbian subculture rhymes, C+nto & Othered Poems, recently won her the TS Eliot Prize, thought Larkin’s world was too “narrow”. A pop journalist with straw in his hair misunderstood Love Songs in Age so completely that a doctor ought to have checked his pulse.

The main problem was Armitage, who makes Eeyore sound like Dr Pangloss. He presented the poems out of curiosity rather than love, so the tone was flat. “You’re talking about one of the supreme poets in our language,” you wanted to shout. “Who cares about the adolescent effluence of a dunce who thinks Larkin would be “‘no-platformed’ at a Poetry Slam?’”

So the final score read: Armitage 0, Larkin 10. That’s not a bad result for the lad. Few poets living or dead would get past that chap.

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