After hearing a piece on the Today Programme (8th Feb) about how BBC Radio 4 had fewer listeners in the North and served a predominantly white, aging and London-based audience, I spent the next hour listening with a critical ear to the remains of the Today Programme and the following two programmes. Two things stood out: firstly the fact, that of the thirty or so voices heard for the duration most, if not all, had either London or educated RP accents, which located everything said in the South of England. Secondly, and not unrelated, is the radio programme maker’s craft of painting pictures; and how, when petrified into cliché, this positive has unconsciously become a negative. Phrases like ‘Fleet Street‘ instead of ’The British press‘ and ’The Westminster Village‘ instead of ‘the politics industry‘ are obvious examples. On the Today Programme, Big Issue’s John Bird, in a piece about charities and their public profile, used ‘Oxford Street‘ and ‘the City of London‘ to describe ‘Window dressing‘ and ‘financial backing‘ respectively.

I’d never before given any thought to such subtleties as the regional bias of short-hand visual imagery in radio and I can see how it might take a while to even explain it to the slower ones, let alone tactfully expunge it from Radio 4 parlance. There is however a far more obvious and pertinent example of slack, that has become endemic and that I have given a lot of consideration to recently. The regional slur, like its close relation the racial slur, perpetrates offensive stereotypes and, if you were seeking further evidence, alienates the regional listener. That Glasgow is peopled with drunken psychopaths, Liverpool with work-shy petty thieves, Norfolk with inbred yokels, Newcastle with unsophisticated paupers etc, is the stuff of much third–rate comedy. The fact that old-guard alternatives like Jeremy Hardy, Paul Merton or even Charlie Brooker on a good day, choose to parody the phenomena, albeit with subtly nuanced irony, does not then make the original material acceptable. The problem for Radio 4 is that nowadays everyone wants to be a comedian, and by allowing such subject matter to be picked up and sloppily repeated by any wannabe satirist or celebrity moron with a mic clipped to their lapel, and then broadcasting it to the nation, BBC Radio 4 is as culpable as any other outlet of encouraging the rampant lowering of standards and of course alienating the provincials. The only way to eliminate it from the airwaves immediately is, of course, a healthy dose of good old-fashioned political correctness.

Tony Allen Feb 2011