Thursday, 17 November 2011

four months (& counting...)

It's 4 months ago, today, from the time I first read about the BBC's intention to cut the Short Story on Radio 4 - the 17th of July, a Sunday.

Since then, and since the setting up of the petition (Monday 18th) I've been online every day (except for 7 days recently when I essayed a 'holiday'). Mainly I've been tweeting quotes from the people who signed the petition, including those by actors & authors who, with experience of radio and of many other entertainment media, have commented with great concern (or disbelief) at the threat of these cuts.

The cuts are no longer threats. The cuts have been enacted. If you look at the radio pages in the Radio Times, now, stories have stopped being central to the afternoon schedule.

A friend recently sent me the response she'd had to an email to the Controller of R4 about the loss of the short story. The response continued to assert that the cuts  were "from 144 to 104" and therefore were really very small.

Really? From approx 260 short story slots per year on Radio 4, as recently as 2008, to 104, is actually a major cut.

We are now promised an 'average' of 2 a week from April 2012. Until last week there were 3 on weekdays, plus a Sunday repeat slot (3+1=4). Until 2009 there were 5 on weekdays, plus a repeat slot (5+1=6). That's a cut of slots for new writing from five, to three, to two, and a cut to the overall number of listener slots on R4 from six, to four to two.

I think that's right, but it's confusing, because the BBC keeps chucking in somewhat vague details about 'new' stories - employing the word 'new' in strange ways; eg, in 'new strand', on 4Extra, where it doesn't actually seem to mean 'new stories.'

The Controller mentions Afternoon Plays as part of the station's commitment to 'new writing' - which is wonderful, of course, for committed playwrights. But it serves to confuse the issue yet again, as if all forms were the same form.
I'm tired of this number-wrangling, obfuscating, call-a-spade-a-pretty-new-trowel stuff. 
I could go on (and on and on) blogging & tweeting about this issue, attempting to explain it succinctly, persuasively, to use better and stronger analogies and metaphors (see earlier posts) - I could... but.

It's taken 4 months to get it into my head, properly, that my opinion - as a listener, as a writer, as an actor, as a licence-payer - must be quite irrelevant to the BBC.  As are those of the 9,000 people who've shared theirs via the petition over the last 4 months. So I'd only be talking to myself, or the person who stumbles across this blog...(hello, thanks for visiting).

My over-riding sense about all this, 4 months on, is: what a shame - what a shame that the BBC doesn't use this challenge as an opportunity to engage with and learn about its audience, and feed that back into the way it decides to use our money.

And what a shame that the important idea of consent - implicit in the contract between broadcaster & listener - seems to be disregarded.

The Society of Authors, Equity & The Writers' Guild will - soon, I hope - have further discussion with the BBC about the impact of these cuts and the meaning of the BBC's charter, which speaks of its duty to "to foster creativity and nurture and support UK talent across a wide range of genres." Of course, if I were the BBC's Director General, I too would probably attempt to delay further meetings in order to say 'Too late, fait accompli, I'm afraid.'

On a personal note, I'm aware that the intensive months of campaigning (at a pitch some have described as obsessional, lunatic, detrimental to my wellbeing, etc) have - yes, certainly - taken their toll. I haven't had time to think about my own work. Haven't had time (or peace of mind) to write any fiction. [Insert sound of Vincent Price-like hollow laughter here. Ed.

So - I'm not for a minute giving up on the possibility that logic and reason might prevail - but I'm no longer waiting with my ear to the wind for the screeching sound of the BBC doing a sudden u-turn as they understand the error of their ways.

If I'm a little less visible for a while, it will be in order to encourage the muse. This is not adieu, it's 'a tout a l'heure'.

Just as I finish typing this, through the letterbox comes a review copy of the paperback edition of an award-winning first novel, plastered with quotes and garlands of praise. The author is someone I follow on Twitter. But not, so far, someone who's demonstrated generous fraternity by signing to support the petition. I feel the inclination to ask, remind, nudge, suggest, sink my terrier teeth gently into that author's sleeve and shake a little. It's surprisingly hard to stop thinking as a campaigner, once you've begun.

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