Saturday, April 22, 2006

Will Radio 4 be less tuneful after tomorrow?

BBC Radio 4 logoAccording to the BBC’s history, since 1973, Radio 4 has played Fritz Spiegl’s specially commissioned UK Theme at 5.30am each morning, when Radio 4’s programmes take over from the overnight World Service content.

Fritz Spiegl (1926–2003) was an Austrian whose Jewish/Catholic family fled Vienna to escape the Nazis. Fritz and his sister were sent to England. As well as composing UK Theme, he regularly appeared on Radio 4.

Early risers have enjoyed snippets of
  • Early One Morning;
  • Rule Britannia;
  • Londonderry Air (also known as Danny Boy) combined with Annie Laurie;
  • What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor? combined with Greensleeves;
  • Men of Harlech combined with Scotland the Brave;
  • some more Early One Morning;
  • ending with a full orchestral version of Rule Britannia over which a solo trumpet plays the Trumpet Voluntary.
Quite a lot to squeeze into a piece exactly five minutes long. Ingenious.

Tomorrow morning – Sunday 23 April – is the last time UK Theme will be broadcast in its 5.30am slot. Mark Damazer has explained that from Monday 24 April, it will be replaced by
"a pacy news briefing, read by one of Radio 4's fine team of news readers."
Now many a morning, I've been in my car on the way to an airport when UK Theme has been playing – but never once have I been tuned in and heard it. For me, Five Live wins at that time of the morning, with mildless business news to keep me awake on the roads.

Apparently the loss of UK Theme it’s a crisis. Society in general, and culture in particular, will evidently be poorer after tomorrow. Since the announcement in January, Radio 4 fans have been up in arms, writing letters of complaint. MPs have raised Early Day Motions and even raised the subject in Prime Minister’s Questions – is this a good use of our elected representatives time and energy?

Album art for UK Theme single releaseAnd can you believe it … the piece was re-recorded by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and released as a single on 27 March. Due to the level of pre-orders, the single entered the UK Singles Chart at number 29 and led to an on-air explanation of the campaign by the presenters of the Radio 1 Chart Show! By the second week of its release, it had dropped to 39th in the UK Singles Chart. In its third week, it sunk to 75. (Still available on iTunes.)

It you’re reading this post 5.35am on Sunday 23rd, don’t despair. You can still hear what’s missing at 5.30am. But to get the full experience, promise me that you’ll set your alarm clock for 5.30am and then get up and listen to it at the link so thoughtfully provided by the BBC.

(I feel a Freedom of Information question coming on – asking the BBC in a month’s time how many people they stream UK Theme to at 5.30am in the morning!)

I, for one, won't have my alarm set for the morning.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

I'd never even heard of it until all the fuss about it being scrapped. But it just seems to be change for change's sake. Radio 4 controllers have a history of tinkering with the schedule - this was simply Damazer's turn. At least a future controller, looking for his own five minutes of fame, could reintroduce it.