22 November 2009

Penny for 'em

One of the quirks about the way the BBC is funded is the ongoing existence of programming "fossils" - bits of archania that should have disappeared with the advent of decimalisation. While these are harder to spot on BBC TV, they are particularly prevalent on Radio Four, our nation's flagship radio station of intelligence and, for many, myself included, the single biggest argument in favour of the licence fee (well, plus CBeebies). Radio Four bookends the day with two of these fossils: Prayer For The Day at the start and the playing of the national anthem at the end, but in between events such as the shipping forecast appear like trilobites in the Cambrian stratum.

One such relic given a dusting down this week was Thought For The Day, a curious 120 seconds at around 7.45am every day in the otherwise highbrow Today programme. The list of contributors is long and varied, as are their topics. But one thing unites them all - they are all underpinned by a religious theme, and this week the BBC Trust ruled it was not unbalanced for the editorial policy to exclude atheists or humanists in this slot. So for the time being we will continue to be treated to Rabbi Lionel Blue's reminiscences, Ann Atkin's deranged high Anglicanism and the Reverend Whatisface from the Church Of Making Up The Numbers on how mowing the lawn this week reminded him of St Paul's letter to the Ephesians.

One curious counter-argument that seems to have some currency amongst those who give a toss (and I realise this is of modest concern to many), is that by opening up Thought For The Day to the non-religious, audiences will awake to Richard Dawkins hectoring them for buying an Easter egg. The idea seems to be that, while Christians, Jews, Muslims and, presumably, Jedi Knights, can talk about any subject as refracted through their world view, those without a religion are one-dimensional, and all they can do is bang on about why they don't believe in God. I'm sure even the dullest humanist could improve upon some of the glib non-thoughts posited this week that included Rhidian Brook on why "Love, not money, makes the world go round".

Instead of getting sucked into a reductive argument, I propose a new slot to replace this particular fossil: Joke For The Day. Every day, a comedian would be invited to do a short routine, one-liner or favourite joke. It would turn TFTD from being the point at which people switch the kettle on to being the highlight of the entire Today programme. It may even bring in a younger audience who might then stick around to hear some current affairs, and it would certainly provide more useful content to the listeners. Then at least we would get a chance to hear something that was intentionally funny.

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