Radio 4: no time-wasters, please

Ted Harrison thinks Radio 4's commissioning is bureaucratic and misses good ideas ("Even the Queen Mum was spiked", 8 January). Er, no. Radio 4 works with the best BBC producers and independent companies. None has time for japes. They are busy making excellent programmes. Ted received a kindly response: a standard note. That is as much as such time-wasting deserves.

Genuine journalistic scoops tend to come from experienced and serious people who recognise the importance of a story and use another bureaucratic route: the telephone.

Radio 4 receives thousands of genuine programme proposals and they are treated with fairness and seriousness. (Sometimes we make mistakes when handling three or four thousand proposals, I dare say.) Some of these derive from back-of-a-fag-packet conversations in pubs. That's fine. Backs of envelopes and fag packets won't do for the later stages of dealing with programme offers where cash resources, producers' jobs and businesses are at stake. Notice, incidentally, that the back-of-an-envelope theory always involves two males drinking in a pub near Broadcasting House. So much for the brilliant women - and men - who work family hours or live outside London. They, too, are valued by Radio 4 - and they have responded superbly to Radio 4.

The real talent commands in Radio 4. For example, in a brief chat the head of drama sold me a crazy idea involving five continents, a lot of recording equipment and no guarantee of success. I bought it. We later put it on paper, gave the project a name and set a brilliant dramatist on his way to . . . Oh well, we'll find out together on air. Meanwhile, Ted's time-wasting is getting in the way of genuine ideas from very talented people.

James Boyle, Controller, Radio 4
London W1

This article first appeared in the 22 January 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Goodbye to all that boiled cabbage