Ra­dio Va­lerie Grove

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

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.

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