PETER MORTIMER on the real problem with Auntie: she can’t tell the time!
THE chattering classes’ discussions on plans for a new BBC charter have, as usual, missed the main point and, as usual, it is up to Yours Truly, writing from the windy North East outpost of Cullercoats, to redress the balance and thus ensure the survival of democracy.
I speak of that bastion of broadcast journalism and probably the country’s leading radio programme, Radio 4’s Today, which each morning between 6pm and 9pm leads millions of listeners into the new day with its unique mixture of entertainment and erudition.
Against Today, breakfast TV programmes seem frivolous and unchallenging which is, of course, their intention, geared as they are towards people who have nothing better to do. People who listen to Today normally do have things to do. They have work to go to.
I am Today’s biggest fan and, occasionally, its harshest critic; not only because of an irritating tendency to announce an item only to discover the radio link has broken down, nor its occasional old fogey ‘Bah! Humbug!’ attitude towards new media.
What I speak of is the inability of the announcers (and I shall deliberately NOT single out individuals here, for there is evidence of mass culpability) properly to simply read the time.
Reading the correct time to Today’s audience of around eight million, many of us hastily pulling on trousers and lathering up the shaving foam, or checking the toast, stirring the porridge, finding the school exercise books and hunting for the car keys is a task of huge national significance.
This is not an audience pleasantly spending an afternoon listening to the latest radio drama, nor a late night listenership snuggling up to sip cocoa to the staccato strains of the shipping forecast. For such people (and I am often one of them) time is NOT of the essence.
No, I am talking of the world’s most time-conscious audience, we working people who have cleverly honed the twin skills of absorbing Today’s challenging content while counting down the minutes to our departure for office, factory or shop.For such an audience, hearing the BBC presenter declare that “the time is now twenty two minutes past eight” when the time is actually twenty two minutes past seven is close to catastrophic, signalling a national trail of non-existent trains and buses, broken appointments and missed meetings. Such incorrect announcements (and they are made regularly!) results in an entire nation – or at least the working section of it – gripped by panic.
Tens of thousands of households where occupants run screaming through the rooms in search of ties and sock and shoes in a vain attempt to recover that lost hour. Worse still, in the case of someone faced with missing a life-changing job interview, suicide may be contemplated.
Throughout all this, the announcers remain supremely unaware of their catastrophic blunders, which they fail to correct. Surely someone in the studio should be charged with flagging up these temporal blunders and having presenters correct them on air as soon as possible? Where is the producer when all this chaos is being created? Is anyone at the BBC actually listening?
The solution, a means of ensuring that announcers, however distracted or myopic can fail to read the correct time, is not too difficult. BBC studio clocks, invariably the traditional round-face variety with second hands counting down to the next item, should be partnered by digital read-outs with the single task of providing the time on air: even the most dunderheaded announcers would find it difficult to misread or incorrectly announce, when visually prompted, “The time is now 8:34. . .”
This, then, is my proposal for Item One on any new BBC charter, a measure that will have much greater influence on thousands of people’s lives than the specific make-up of the corporation’s board. Time, as they say, is of the essence. So we SHOULD get it right!