In Sunday’s Observer Miranda Sawyer insisted the absence from the Radio 2 schedules of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, and their replacement with Richard Allinson and Alex Lester, was proof that the station “has returned to the golf club.”
“All Lesley Douglas’s hard work,” she moaned, “her sharp decisions over presenters and shows, her success at attracting listeners in their thirties and forties, everything: just piddled away.”
Right, so the disappearance of TWO shows, five hours out of a total weekly output of 168, constitutes the immediate evaporation of everything that embodied present-day Radio 2 and represents a wholesale return to some version of the station that existed decades ago and was clearly only listened to by landed gentry in starched spats and cummerbunds.
What a ludicrous argument. For one thing, Ross and Brand didn’t embody the current Radio 2. What did they have in common with Sarah Kennedy, or The Organist Entertains, or The David Jacobs Collection, other than the same frequency? The only thing they embodied was an attitude towards diverse programming. That hasn’t gone away. It’s still there in Wogan’s playlist, in Ken Bruce’s choice of guests, in every minute of Radcliffe and Maconie’s nightly two-hour shows, in the way Evans is followed by Desmond Carrington…and so on.
Secondly, what is this version of Radio 2 that Used To Be? When, precisely, did Sawyer’s ‘golf club’ exist? Throughout its life Radio 2 has always broadcast popular music dating from a greater historical period than any other national network. For much of its existence it was even more diverse than it is now, boasting sport, sitcoms, soaps and magazine journalism.
What was pioneered by Jim Moir, and pragmatically continued by Douglas, was a broadening of the playlist to champion (and break) new artists. With that came, inevitably, new presenters who could talk with authority about those new artists.
Does Sawyer think the station is now going to stop playing all music from after 1990 (a mirror image of the policy purportedly adopted by her beloved Radio 1 under Matthew Bannister, and equally false)? Or sack everyone under 40? Or bring back Richard Stilgoe and Instant Sunshine?*
Her witterings are unhelpful and will do more damage to an already nervous, jittery BBC. It sounds like she wants Radio 2 to fail, so she can be the first to say: told you so.
*Which would, to be honest, be a good deal more enjoyable than Richard “Na Night” Allinson and Alex Lester. Instant Sunshine could replace Allinson, with a kind of leisurely, weekend supplement-style look back at the last seven days in song; Stilgoe would replace Lester, with a Stop The Week-esque revue featuring guests and laughter. Plus you could keep the programme titles that seem to have been adopted by Radio Times (‘Saturday Morning Music Show’). And it would be brilliant.