Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Something Incomprehensible


SUNDAY’S edition of Radio Four’s Something Understood will be the last to be recorded. In future, the BBC will use the slot to repeat programmes from the show’s 24-year back catalogue. The excuse is that the corporation faces ‘significant financial challenges’.

The presenter, 83-year-old New Delhi-based Mark Tully, is understandably upset. ‘I feel sad for everyone behind the programme, and I feel sad because I know a lot of listeners like it,’ he said.

‘They say two things to me about it: that there is nothing else like it on the radio, and that this is what radio should be all about.’

The programme, which goes out at 6.05am on Sundays, explores issues of ethics and faith and is one of the few remaining religious items on the corporation’s schedule. Which could explain why it has been axed. In a Lost BBC post for TCW in February, my wife Margaret wrote: ‘When I read this week that Songs of Praise was being moved from its Sunday evening 6pm spot to 1.15pm, when many people are having lunch and others are still on their way home from church, I knew the writing was on the wall. The BBC’s fatuous excuse for the shift was “to make it easier to find for viewers and to avoid the programme being displaced by sporting events which can often overrun”. Expect an announcement before long that viewing figures are so low that the programme is no longer “viable”. You read it here first.’

Now I have to admit that listening to Something Understood is not high on my list of weekly priorities. But I am sure that Tully is right that listeners derive great solace from his programme. And in any case, how much does it cost to stick an old bloke in front of a microphone somewhere in India? Not many rupees, I wager.

Contrast this with the astonishing £86.7million (and counting – it is already £27million over budget and five years behind schedule) being spent by the BBC on a revamp of the EastEnders soap opera set. What a warped set of priorities they have in London W1A 1AA.

Still on the subject of Radio Four, we have a dear and saintly friend whose Suffolk mansion is a refuge for all creatures great and small. One of her missions is to prepare rescued cats, many of them feral, for domestic life. To that end she has a purpose-built shed in which she plays them Radio Four to accustom them to the sound of the human voice.

Her late husband, bless him, had political beliefs somewhere to the right of Mussolini (not that he would have appreciated the comparison to a Johnny Foreigner). He demanded that she change the radio channel because all that Radio Four was turning the cats into Lefties.

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to

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