Anyone who has listened regularly to Radio 3 over the decades — not to mention the Third Programme, which Radio 3 replaced in 1967, and which provided an incomparable musical education for many of us — can’t have failed to notice the change in style and standard of presentation. Listening to any radio announcer from 50 years ago is bound to cause hilarity: carefully read scripts, un-emotional delivery; all told, quite like the Queen’s Christmas broadcast. It would be ridiculous to expect no change in the way that the music, and the occasional talks, not to mention the regular poetry programme — a northern camp Thursday-night regular — are presented.
Nowadays even the golden voice of Patricia Hughes might be regarded as comic, and I can’t imagine any listener turning on the radio for the sake of the announcer as well as the music they are ‘presenting’. The question is: need things have gone so far; need we have to endure the matiness and simulated breathless enthusiasm that is now de rigueur for concert and opera announcers?
The last excellent presenter was Rob Cowan, who for whatever reason left Radio 3 and moved to Classic FM. He didn’t lack enthusiasm, might even be thought to have too much, but his knowledge of the catalogue of recordings, past and present, was incomparable, and to listen to him introducing his often recherché favourites was invariably educational and often fun.
The tone these days is quite different, though the varieties of irritation and downright rage they induce vary. On Essential Classics, from 9 a.m. to noon, there is a fortnightly alternation between Suzy Klein, tolerable and a bit bossy, and Ian Skelly, co-author of a book with Prince Charles and reminiscent of old-style uncles, cracking semi-jokes and chuckling at them afterwards, though it’s unlikely that anyone else is.