Radio 4 shouldn’t be a bore… BBC bosses demand more joy

Radio 4 shouldn’t be a bore… BBC bosses demand more joy as they tell producers station ‘doesn’t all have to be hard work’

  • Radio 4 is looking to make the station more appealing to younger listeners  
  • Bosses have warned producers of depending on predictable ideas and voices  
  •  The station should avoid relying on ‘familiar’ ‘ideas establishment’ ‘ and aim to ‘widen the range of people whose thinking we take seriously’

It is regarded as the BBC’s intellectual powerhouse, famed for its serious and high-brow content.

But it appears bosses at Radio 4 are looking to inject more fun and positivity into proceedings, after telling producers it ‘does not all have to be hard work’.

Programme-makers were told that the station needs more stories ‘which bring joy and optimism to our audience’.

In a briefing document for producers, bosses also warned of depending on predictable ideas and voices, saying the service now needed to give ‘a platform to exciting new thinkers’.

The station should avoid relying on ‘a familiar ‘ideas establishment’ ‘ and aim to ‘widen the range of people whose thinking we take seriously’, the document said.

Radio 4’s output is famous for cerebral shows such as historical discussion In Our Time, presented by Melvyn Bragg, and high-brow talk show Start The Week, presented by Andrew Marr. Other well-known shows include the Today programme, Woman’s Hour and Desert Island Discs.

A 2018 photo shows Melvyn Bragg at the Southbank Sky Arts Awards in London. Radio 4’s output is famous for cerebral shows such as historical discussion In Our Time, presented by Melvyn Bragg, and high-brow talk show Start The Week, presented by Andrew Marr

Commissioning editor for Radio 4 factual Richard Knight said the station wanted factual programmes that ‘have the potential to be really popular’ on its online service BBC Sounds. The BBC is trying to broaden the appeal of its content to younger audiences.

He told staff: ‘We are also a place for delight, beauty, wit and hope. Factual output does not all have to be hard work. Perhaps none of it should be.

‘And I would like to find more stories which bring joy and optimism to our audience. I hope you’ll think hard about who your idea is for and why you think that audience might want or need it.’

He added: ‘We should also widen the range of people whose thinking we take seriously. Let’s not rely on a familiar ‘ideas establishment’ or wait for others to validate someone’s views before we judge them ready for Radio 4.

‘I would like us to give a platform to exciting new thinkers, deserving of the exposure, before others do.’

Mr Knight added that he still wanted Radio 4 to have the ‘confidence to tackle the biggest and most difficult stories’ with ‘ambitious agenda-setting journalism’.

Elsewhere, one executive said they were ‘yet to be convinced’ that improvised comedy works on the radio, with the exception of its Austentatious programme. 

Andrew Marr (left) and Will Walden are pictured in London in a 2015 photo. The BBC is trying to broaden the appeal of its content to younger audiences

Andrew Marr (left) and Will Walden are pictured in London in a 2015 photo. The BBC is trying to broaden the appeal of its content to younger audiences

They added that they do not want any more ideas with impressionists, spoofs or parodies of broadcast shows.

Nor does the station want any new ‘literary parodies’, chat shows, panel games or satire.

In a request for Sunday drama ideas, Radio 4 said there was a value in doing classic dramatisations ‘straight’ – particularly if they were great works which ‘shine a light on how we are living now’.

A BBC spokesman said: ‘We’ve previously said Radio 4 will place a greater focus on civilised debate and finding positive solutions to today’s biggest issues, as well as making sure we do more to reflect all of the UK. Our current affairs and factual programming will continue to be world class.’

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