Radio - Rachel Cooke

I think of Radio 4 as a kind of club – but I don't much like some of the other members

On Radio 4, a new comedy show has begun. Called Civilisation (Wednesdays, 6.30pm), it is a DIY guide to, well, building a civilisation. The Daily Mail is always telling us that the news stories it sticks on its front page signify the end of civilisation, so this programme sets out to teach us how we can build another. It's a little derivative - it owes a whopping debt to 1066 and All That - but funny all the same. There was a bit in the first episode where a girl tried to contact her dead father using a Ouija board. When she got through, he said: "I'll put your mother on." It also features a comedy professor. I am the daughter of an academic; I love comedy professors. This one is the author of several books, including You're Not a Druid - You Work in Accounts: debunking the occult (volume two). Well, it made me smile.

These jokey anthropological lectures are written and presented by the comedian Chris Addison, who opened the whole thing with the words: "Welcome to Civilisation - or, as it is properly called, Radio 4." Hmm. This was the one line that did not make me laugh. Lately, Radio 4 - or at least the wider community of Radio 4 listeners - has not seemed to me to be terribly civilised at all. Mostly I enjoy the way that radio engenders a kind of Blitz spirit among its listeners; I cherish their daffy devotion to certain shows, and their utter abhorrence of others. When it comes to the station's new continuity announcer Neil Nunes, however, about whom a "debate" (this is a polite way of putting it) still rages, I feel extremely let down. Actually, scratch that. I feel disgusted.

The story so far: Nunes has a voice that suggests that he is black and from the Caribbean - which, I gather, he is. It is a while since a continuity announcer debuted on Radio 4, and the listeners, who think of even mild change the way the rest of us think of bubonic plague, were always going to react. However, they are not only afraid of the new. Let's not be lily-livered about this. Nunes has a delicately modulated voice; he is rather posh-sounding. The listeners have not been presented with an incomprehensibly mashed regional accent. They can understand him just fine. No, this fuss is about his race. The man is black, and some people don't like it.

I'm not going to bother sticking up for his delivery, because Nunes will keep his job; Mark Damazer, the station's controller, has already made this clear. But to those who have complained: shame on you, and all the more so for dressing your feelings up in the genteel disguise of a tremulous cardigan wearer who is just slightly bewildered at this odd new voice. Like many people, I think of Radio 4 as a kind of club. It's depressing to find that I don't much like some of the other members, and still more so to find that the membership committee (Damazer et al) is forced to listen to their feeble concerns.

Perhaps it was this feeling that somewhat reduced

my radio intake this past week, though there were other reasons, too. For one thing, the endless trailers for this year's Reith Lectures, delivered by Daniel Barenboim. For another, the deeply dull return, again to Radio 4, of Great Lives (Fridays, 11pm), the "biography series in which the living are asked to consider the dead". Do you care what Penelope Keith thinks about Morecambe and Wise? Mostly, though, I'm still worrying about the news that the government tried to influence the storyline of The Archers to win publicity for its policies on 4x4s. To act like a tremulous cardigan wearer just for a minute: is nothing sacred?