‘We all need to rendezvous every week. It keeps us all as a community,’ said Jane Copsey on the In Touch anniversary programme (produced by Cheryl Gabriel). The Radio 4 magazine for the blind and partially sighted has been around for 50 years dispensing advice and encouragement, hope and cheer. Nowadays it’s been cut to just 20 minutes, but at least it’s still in its Tuesday-evening slot, where it’s been scheduled for decades.
Copsey was arguing for the survival of the programme, even though there’s now an online equivalent, called Ouch! Podcasts, downloads, internet chatrooms can all replicate radio but not the experience of listening in as a community, the feeling that, as you are hearing about how someone is coping with the onset of macular degeneration or the fear of a cataract operation, so there will be thousands of others also benefiting from this shared knowledge, shared understanding, shared optimism. One of Jane Copsey’s first reports for the programme almost 40 years ago was recorded from the back of a tandem cycling through Richmond Park. Peter White, the current presenter who’s been blind since birth, heard it and was inspired to believe that anything is possible, no matter your disability.
It’s hard to define or evaluate this notion of ‘a community of listeners’; worryingly so. As the latest round of cuts to the BBC was announced by the director-general Mark Thompson last week, in response to the global economic crisis and the freezing of the licence fee, Radio 4 looks pretty safe. The cuts are being felt elsewhere (especially on local radio, which is another battle to be told). But minority-interest programmes like In Touch are an endangered species, and will always need defending.
Not so many years ago there was a sister programme, Does He Take Sugar? (whose title betrays its origins before the gender battles of the 1970s).