Radio Valerie Grove
I am aglow with quiet pride as one of the only two original 1992 contributors to The Oldie who are still en poste – Richard Osborne being the other. Twenty-five years, man and boy. I remember the day I told the editor of the Times, where I worked, that I had agreed to contribute a column called ‘Wireless’ to this new organ which would be called The Oldie. Simon Jenkins (for it was he) frowned. ‘I don’t like to think of you writing for something called The Oldie,’ he said. I was 45 at the time, and he was 48: everyone was so youthful then. Even the founding editor of The Oldie was not yet 55. But as I protested to Simon, this wonderful new mag wouldn’t be about being old, exactly: its unique selling point was that it would refuse to revere the young for their own sake or automatically kowtow to their interests, as even serious newspapers were then so abjectly trying to do. And its readership would be part of the expanding demographic – millions more long-living oldies...
So this is what I wrote, in my opening paragraph in the launch issue:
‘Don’t do it, I implored Michael Green, controller of Radio 4. Don’t go trawling for the Young Listener. It is a pointless, humiliating exercise – as any newspaper that abases itself before Young Readers discovers. Descend to their culture and you just alienate your existing audience, and look ridiculous.’
It is slightly embarrassing to realise that I have been saying this for a quarter of a century. Because few things have changed less than Radio 4, except superficially: in those days, Brian Redhead was fronting Today; there was no such thing as IPM or The Listening
Project. But the youth danger seems now to have abated. We don’t feel threatened with encroachment by those who don’t share our
aged wisdom, our keenness on the past, our devotion to archives, our liking for old books, old songs, and old friends who not only listen to the same favourite programmes but often appear on them.
The Oldie even managed to persuade the BBC to create a programme, Last Word, devoted to the newly dead.
In 1992 I voiced two caveats. One was about Radio 4’s ‘creeping tunesomeness’, in things such as ‘the wincingly named
Tingle Factor’. But these musical halfhours – Soul Music, Tales From The Stave, and the most recent, All in a Chord – are a welcome interlude from the spoken word. The other was that Radio 4 ‘strives too hard to Be Funny’. This is still true. The striving has become more strenuous, and less effective, especially in dreaded sitcoms with studio laughter. Comedy shows Dead Ringers,
The Now Show and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue still keep live audiences genuinely laughing. Among sitcoms the best is still
Ed Reardon’s Week, where the situation, a disgruntled freelance writer railing against contemporary life and the way the young talk (‘So I was like “oh yeah right” and she was like “Hello-ow!” and he was like “Duhhh” ’) is so genuinely comic.
I see that in my first column, I mentioned an on-air spat. Jenni Murray had asked Melvyn Bragg whether he thought all the heroine of his new novel needed was a good rogering. Bragg is now 77 and Murray 66, and both their programmes benefit from the biggest recent change in broadcasting: the iplayer and the podcast. According to the Times, Melvyn’s In
Our Time is the twelfth-most-downloaded podcast, despite competing with wildly popular American sites such as The New Yorker Radio Hour and Stuffyoushouldknow.com. The pod I’ve just downloaded is an excellent One
To One: Julia Bradbury talking to Dr Martin Mckechnie about his challenging life as an A& E consultant. The best essence of the NHS – modest industriousness – summarised.