“Yours is the only cab I’ve been in that the driver listens to Radio 4”, was said to me once by my passenger. On reflection afterwards I pondered – how could someone be cooped up in the driver’s compartment for 10 hours a day, listening to a daily dish of either the top 20 current hits or the 20 golden oldies that are churned out by London’s commercial stations 24 hours a day – and stay sane?
I was brought up in a time when most families didn’t have a television and weren’t likely to for another decade. Steam Radio, as my father was given to call it, was the entertainment of choice – frankly the only choice. The Light Programme, with Workers Playtime, Listen With Mother and The Archers (still going strong after more than 60 years); The Home Service with its output of informed discussion and news; The Third Programme broadcasting mainly classical music; and the world’s finest broadcaster of unbiased news content – The World Service, who would always boast that the information was sourced by ‘Their Own Correspondent’, and the source was not from some rag bag news agency.
In 1967 to compete with the ever increasing spread of pirate radio and to acknowledge the new wave of what we now called the Swinging Sixties, the BBC took the best of the Light Programme and Home Service to form what was to become the world’s greatest radio station, Radio Four, at the same time starting the fledgling Radio One for a younger audience.
Transistors supplanted the old valve wireless sets which had been manufactured by Bush and Pye and we listened through our trannies (as we called them in the naïve days of the 60s, before the term took on another connotation), and Radio 4’s output of dramas, comedies, quizzes and features have been the background to my working day for as long as I can recall. Any Questions, Does the Team Think?, Brain of Britain, From our own Correspondent, PM, Letter from America, Just a Minute, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue are among programmes that I would prefer to listen to rather than engage in small talk with my customers.
Since that time some of Radio 4’s output has transferred to television with greater or lesser success. Programmes transplanted from Radio 4 to television have included: After Henry; Goodness Gracious Me; Hancock’s Half Hour; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; The News Quiz (renamed Have I Got News For You); The League of Gentlemen; Room 101; Little Britain and many more.
A trip down Memory Lane might be a pleasant nostalgic experience for me, but what has that to do with being a London Cabbie? Well, the British Broadcasting Corporation have decided for reasons only understood by their senior executives and some Guardian readers, that The Corporation, as it likes to be known, was too middle class; too London centric, whatever that might mean; and how can I put this? White. Which I suppose is why my customer exclaimed surprise at finding a London Cabbie who doesn’t listen all day to Talk Sport.
Now the BBC’s production teams are to be scattered to the four winds in an attempt at what Radio 4’s controller calls changing “the general tone of the station away from formality and perceived didacticism towards spontaneity and conversation”, which presumably means dumbing down and moving away from London to encourage people other than middle class Londoner’s to tune in and understand its content. With many of Radio 4’s programmes already having hosts possessing attractive regional accents, and most quiz, debate and documentary programmes transmitted from around Britain I fail to understand the reasons for this enormous upheaval. Is Today in Parliament going to be reported from, say, Bristol? Farming Today could be given a makeover and relate topical news items of interest to farmers in Manchester. Woman’s Hour could talk at length about the causation of man flu. Would The Archers be improved if it were the tale of simple farming folk living in Hackney? And the Shipping Forecast with its sleep inducing 00.48 am broadcast intoning Rockall, Malin, Forth, Dogger etc, might it be improved if its predictions for the weather were transferred to forecasts of The Serpentine’s weather?
But what do I know about how to run the BBC? Nothing I’m only a consumer and licence payer. I do know this, that a rather busy taxi rank alongside Langham Place will, over time, be rather quiet. But at least I’ll be able to listen to The Archers without any interruptions from customers.