Nightmare On Elgar Street

Were you to bury your entire face in the wrong end of a French horn – the bell, as it is called – you could scream yourself hoarse while remaining almost completely unheard by those immediately around you. The horn’s capacity to swallow sound is second only to its more conventional capacity to emit.

Since BBC Radio 3’s schedule was overhauled last month, vaguely unsettling people in sensible shoes have been getting extremely worked up. The BBC has thus far impassively swallowed their noisy protests – acting, to its musically educated detractors, just like the bell of a horn. (It would never do to be simply cross, when there is a tenuous musical metaphor that could be deployed.)

The refuseniks have mustered all of the passive-aggressive-but-ultimately-deferential-petition-writing that you would expect from the Radio 3 audience. One protestor has, rather wonderfully, written a two-part play denouncing the changes. The BBC has, just as wonderfully, broadcasted it.

The main crime which led this section of the Radio 3 audience to rise up like a faded balloon clinging to the roof of a long-deserted party is the introduction of a new breakfast programme. The programme broadcasts relatively short, relatively familiar, relatively unchallenging classical music. This is sprinkled with news and listener comment by Petroc Trelawny, a charming, erudite sort of middle-income man’s Stephen Fry. Since taking up the Breakfast mantle, Trelawny has been stingingly denounced by his critics as a “celebrity”. A harsher word is impossible to imagine.

The “Friends of Radio 3” have pelted the new show with criticism that it is “dumbing down”. These friends presumably being the sort of friends who, while sitting in your house and eating your food, imagine that by imparting their sanctimonious direction on how you might live a better life, they are in some way being friendly – as opposed to being tossers.

One Friend of Radio 3 who wished to remain anonymous (perhaps in fear that celebrity Petroc’s celebrity hit squad may hunt him down and strangle him with celebrity viola strings leaving him to die a celebrity death) complained to the Telegraph that “In recent months, the BBC has tried to attract those people who may have listened to Classic FM and want to hear some nice tunes…”

Yes indeed. Heaven forbid that the nation, stirring first thing in the morning with foetal vulnerability, might be confronted with the inestimable horror of “nice tunes.”

For what it’s worth, if anyone at Radio 3 is reading this, I like your new breakfast show.

I also like the extraordinary variety across your schedule. For example, I like the fact that you broadcast two full hours every weekend of early music – the only slots on any station where the listener can be certain to hear deliciously obscure music composed three centuries ago or more.

I like that you are one of the few stations to commission new drama.

I like that you give a platform to emerging talent.

I like the way you promote a treasury of recordings and live performance to anyone who wants to listen.

Damn it, first thing in the morning I also like the headlines and weather dropped discreetly between nice tunes.

So have a cheer Radio 3, I still like you. I like you more than before. As for your critics, please, be not downhearted. To return to where I began, with an audience like yours you will always have to contend with the occasional bell end.

* I would use a more contemporary cultural reference here but, remember, I listen to Radio 3.


Robin Fenwick

Communications Director and public affairs professional, digital specialist, ex political activist, early music enthusiast.
Posted in Music.