Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Listening To Radio Four- Part 1

I was thinking to myself the other day how my interest in such things as literature, theatre and comedy have been influenced by BBC Radio Four. Most people, as they grow from adolescence to adulthood, listen mainly to what is commonly known as 'pop' music, and the form of delivery for this is via radio. In the 1960's we had pirate radio, such as Radio Caroline, which operated illegally from just outside the mainland of Great Britain. I do have a slight connection to this station (but only slightly, I may add.) Radio Caroline was broadcast from a ship which was anchored in the North Sea just off the Essex coast near where my family spent it's summer holidays, at Frinton-On-Sea. You could see this ship clearly from the promenade at Frinton, where we rented a beach hut for the two weeks at the beginning of September each year. One year there was a mighty storm at night and the ship on which Radio Caroline was broadcast from came adrift from its anchorage and ran aground on the Frinton beach. It made the headlines in the national newspapers over the next week of or two. In 1967 (or thereabouts) the then Labour government, under Harold Wilson, made pirate radio stations illegal, apparently because they were supposed to interfere with broadcasts for the lifeguard service. Radio Caroline (and other similar pirate stations) were put out of business and the good old BBC was tasked with creating a replacement radio station, which was to be called, rather unimaginatively, Radio One (because the remaining BBC radio stations were to become Radio 2 (formerly The Light Programme), Radio 3 (formerly The Third Programme), The Home Service became Radio Four. No doubt it was the obvious numbering of these stations that gave them their names, so to have a new station called Radio One was logical. I've not actually been a particular fan of 'pop' music, preferring classical music, but I do enjoy some bits of pop. I think if I have to have any sort of pop radio station on I prefer Radio 2, because, frankly, I can't stand commercial pop stations such as Heart which is awful. The adverts are really appalling and seem to play to the lowest common denominator. It was better when it was Chiltern and Horizon. They've just made it into a sort of mush, basically for financial reasons. Terrible. They must think their audience are really dim or something, the tone of the presenters.

Why am I mentioning all this? I suppose because when I was growing up I tended to listen to Radio Four. My parents always had it on in the house.  My father had to listen to the weather forecast because he was a farmer and the weather was important to him, particularly at harvest-time.) It was probably the main source of news and always seemed to be on at lunchtime. We had an ancient radio in the kitchen at Malting Farm, kept on a shelf high up on a wall, which took a time to warm up before it worked (I think most things needed 'warming up' in those days, before transistors became popular and replaced valves in things. The television we had, a black and white model, took some time to warm up. A good many years before the introduction of colour in the early 1970's.)

Radio Four must be unique. It's an all-speech channel. I can't imagine a commercial version because I don't imagine the audience figures are particularly high, so it would never survive on advertising alone. It broadcasts a wide range of material across such things as documentaries, arts, media, light entertainment, comedy (light entertainment covers panel shows and sitcoms and sketch shows.) as well as soap opera (The Archers would fall into this category. It's supposed to be the longest running drama or soap in the world, running for something like 65 years. In fact, it's one year younger than me.)

I got hooked on adaptations of books which were (and probably still are) broadcast on Radio Four. For example, some of Daphne Du Maurier's novels. which lead me to read many of them, particularly 'Rebecca' and 'Jamaica Inn.' I think I'd written them off as being somewhat female-orientated (which perhaps they are, to some extent.) but then, once I'd read them, I discovered that there was far more to them, particularly 'Rebecca' which is really gripping and has a mystery about it. She does atmosphere and character really well. Definitely page turners. The books have been adapted for both radio and television, and of course 'Rebecca' was famously made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock, with Laurence Olivier in the role of Max DeWinter. She also wrote another, the later novel which was called 'The House On The Strand' which was done well on the radio. There's something about a radio adaptation, you have to concentrate more than with a visual medium. There's no way you can get away with the scenery dominating, flashy camera-work etc with a totally aural adaptation of course.
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