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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Demise of Radio 4 UK Theme. Disaster or Damn Good Idea?

As a chronic insomniac I know the routine well. At 1am, after Sailing By, the Shipping Forecast and the national anthem, BBC Radio 4 closes for the night and changes into BBC World Service for four and a half hours. Then at 5.30am, Radio Four re-opens, with the UK Theme - a medley of folk songs from the four regions of Britain - and goes on to start the day.

While I have slight nostalgic attachments, occasionally, to the aforementioned UK theme, it usually fills me with horror. It either serves to just rub in the fact that it's 5.30am and I'm still not asleep, or it means that any early morning waking (typical in depression, apparently) is particularly bad.

Either way, if I hear the UK Theme it means I've not slept, or I've slept really, really badly.

And to add insult to injury, the piccolo solo within the theme is really out of tune which, as someone who used to be a reasonably good flautist, is irritating and annoying.

So when, earlier this week, I woke before the theme, heard it, heard Farming Today, and was listening to the Today programme, and the screen on my digital radio told me that at 8.20am the controller of Radio 4 was going to be interviewed about his decision to scrap the UK Theme, I was quite excited.

Revenge on the evil waker-upper and symbol of appalling sleep! Ha! (Surely if the theme is abolished, so will insomnia be...?)

So, sure enough I was still awake at 8.20am. Beginning the discussion with an interview with the widow of Fritz Spiegl, the composer of the theme, was certainly an emotive start, but the interview which followed explained that the theme was 33 years old, somewhat dated, and because it lasts over 5 minutes, they thought that that time could be much better spent with news, and a look forward to what was happening that day.

I do admit a certain sad nostalgia by this point, at the prospect of the 5.30 herald being spoken word rather than duuuh duh duh duh duh daa, but overall my joy at the very living symbol of sleep deprivation being abolished overrode any vague sadness.

So, imagine my surprise when a friend sent me a link to savetheradio4theme.co.uk. They have a petition, apparently signed by over 6000 people. The theme's demise was even brought up in Parliament yesterday!

Now, I am an avid Radio 4 listener. Anyone who knows radio 4 knows that this is a kind of identity thing in many ways. But I also am glad that April will be the last time I should hear that herald of dawn and misery. I can love the station, but hate the theme.

And the fact that many of those who are campaigning to keep the theme, are doing so on the basis of Gordon Brown's splurging about patriotism and nationalism being marvellous, just makes me even more shaky.

So, I love radio 4, I resist most change there, but let the UK theme go. Let me have future insomnia nights without hearing an out of tune drunken sailor, or sickly Danny Boy, or any of the other pieces that make up the almost-6-minutes of let's rub in how badly she's slept. Please!

However, scrapping Home Truths too... now that's another matter.

9.38am - Edited to add: You can hear the Radio 4 UK Theme online, by clicking here. That bloody piccolo!

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5 comments:

Garry said...

I've got mixed feelings about it too. On the one hand, I've been through the insomniac horror you describe, (though sometimes it sort of heralded the morning, and that, ironically, enabled me to sleep); on the other, I remember driving home from nightshift to it, and it was great, time for home, a can of beer, a herbal cigarette and bed - whilst the rest of the world was getting ready and going to work.

I'd never noticed the dodgy piccolo - non musician that I am.

But it'll be good to see the back of home truths. It would be great to say goodbye to Woman's Hour, You and Yours, AND the bloody Money Programme, too. And don't get me started on Shop Talk.

Joy said...

Noooooo... they can't chop it! What else will there be to run through my head on continual loop in dull moments at work if I've not awakened to Men of Harlech??

Anonymous said...

I don't care about the radio 4 theme tunes, but like your blog and have linked to you at http://johnnyvoid.blogspot.com

feel free to delete this off topic comment, but couldn't find anywhere on your page to contact you

see ya
johnny

Anne said...

Broadcasting House this morning asked Billy Bragg, Maggot from Goldie Looking Chain, Belle and Sebastien and the superb Stiff Little Fingers for an alternative theme - its a bit louder, and a lot more energetic! Not sure if it is something to wake up to/despair to but it's a lot more to my taste.
I think the thing that makes me despair in the early hours are BBC2 traffic reports - something about them reminds me of travelling for up to 24 hours in a coach without any sleep, overpriced motorway services 'food', and generally feeling unwashed and cold and miserable. Those were the days before cheap flights...

incurable hippie said...

Garry - we must keep woman's hour and you & yours! I vote to instantly get rid of the Money Programme, Front Row and Gardener's Question Time!

Joy - LOL!!

Johnny - cheers for the link :)

Anne - strangely, as I was reading your comment, The Food Programme was talking about food at motorway service stations - spooky!!