18 July 2011
Posted in Radio
Writers' Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said:
'Here is yet another meaningless cut that will save Radio 4 in a whole year less than the cost of a single coat of paint on the shiny floor of a TV talent show. For six months the BBC has been endlessly “consulting” on its next round of cuts, named without apparent irony Delivering Quality First (DQF), necessitated by the six-year licence fee freeze agreed with the incoming coalition government without any public consultation at all.
'Every time DQF is mentioned we are told that the days of “salami-slicing” under which every BBC service has to deliver the same percentage cut, are over and from now on the BBC will have to concentrate on the areas that no commercial broadcaster is interested in. Short stories, that literary endangered species, would appear to be exactly the kind of material that should be protected.
'The new Controller of Radio 4 has finished her honeymoon period. Now it is time for her to beat down the door of the Director-General and inform him that Radio 4 – and more to the point the listeners of Radio 4 – will simply not put up with any more of this pointless cultural vandalism.'
Update: The Society of Authors has published actions that people concerned about the cut to short stories can take.
Update ( 20 July 2011): In today's Daily Telegraph, in an article called Why Radio is the Ideal Home for Short Stories, Allan Massie largely agrees with Bernie Corbett's fury and argues that if the BBC offers fewer examples of the art of the glimpse, listeners as well as writers will have the right to feel cheated.
Update (8 August 2011): Gwyneth Williams, Controller of BBC Radio 4, revealed a partial climbdown from her plans to axe two-thirds of Radio 4’s short story output when she met Writers’ Guild General secretary Bernie Corbett at the end of July.
There was outrage when a BBC press release stated that 'from next spring, the number of short stories will be reduced from three to one a week on Radio 4'. An internet petition quickly gathered more than thousands of signatures, including many wellknown writers and performers. Williams, however, told Corbett the figures 'were not precise' and that she would be cutting the number from 144 to 102, most of which would be broadcast first on Radio 4 with 'a small number' premiered on digital Radio 4 Extra, but repeated on Radio 4 later. In addition, more short stories from the BBC archive would be repeated on 4 Extra.
Corbett warned Williams she risked a perception building up that Radio 4 would drift away from creative, cultural and literary writing and instead focus on news, current affairs and international coverage. Sacrificing short stories to make room for an extra 15 minutes on The World At One seemed to confirm this view. Williams countered that she was scrapping Americana and would replace it with a new Sunday night comedy.
The change in policy on short stories has failed to satisfy campaigners who demand that the full 150 per year should be retained – pointing out that until recently there were five per week, or more than 250 per year. They also believe that the new slots on Sundays and Fridays are less user-friendly than the mid-afternoon slots on weekdays.