While the TV chiefs squirm with embarrassment, exposed for misleading the public in the phone-voting scandals, radio has had a brilliant week. Not just an announcement that 34.22 million listeners have been listening each week to BBC radio (let alone all the commercial radio stations, digital and online) but also endorsements from two people not normally mentioned in the same breath. Pete Doherty, the badly behaved rock star, told reporters on leaving Wormwood Scrubs that he’d spent the last few weeks with ‘a lot of gangsters and Radio Four’. Radio Four? Not Radio One? Or BBC6? What a coup for Mark Damazer, Four’s Controller (and his station’s just won Gold at the Sony Awards, radio’s Oscars). The shambolic, baby-faced rebel confessing that he’s been tuning in to the station formerly known as manna for the middle classes.
Meanwhile Harold Pinter revealed in the Guardian how the Third Programme (as it then was) saved his writing career in 1958 after his play The Birthday Party was savaged by the critics and pulled from the theatre after only eight performances. ‘Around the same time,’ he told the paper, ‘an actor friend, Patrick Magee, contacted a BBC radio producer, and said, “You’ve got to give this man a job, since he’s about to give the whole thing up.”’ At that time, there was an active department at the BBC developing play scripts for radio and Pinter was given lots of scope.
Two of those early works for radio, Landscape and The Examination, could be heard last week on Radio Four’s Afternoon Play in newly made recordings. It’s a shame Doherty had been released from jail two days earlier otherwise he might have learnt from Radio Four something about putting words together, about the sheer power of language, about the authority of discipline.