Thankful but unhappy

What the BBC could learn from Neil MacGregor.

A History of the World in 100 Objects
Radio 4

So A History of the World in 100 Objects concluded (22 October, 9.45am) with the final artefact, a solar-powered lamp and charger, invaluable particularly to those women previously forced to cook by sulphur dioxide-emitting kerosene. It was typical of the presenter and British Museum director, Neil MacGregor, to end the series, notable for its compassion, thus.

But equally notable is this statistic: not only have ten million podcasts of the series been downloaded so far, but over half of those have been downloaded from abroad, listeners having followed the series on the BBC World Service. Further evidence that the station's influence is profound. The news on 20 October that, from 2013, WS funding will be absorbed into the licence fee, freeing the Foreign Office from having to pay £275m a year to sustain it, led to sombre meetings at the station about the now unavoidably catastrophic cuts it will have to make, while also somehow growing its remit as a "multi-platform outlet".

What does all this mean in real terms? I have already mentioned in this column the confirmed cancellation of both Proms and Wimbledon coverage, drama and World of Music - all announced before this latest tranche of cuts. Even 4 per cent further annual cuts will entail pulling out of certain countries for sure - the relatively uneconomical Burma Service, for instance, now doesn't stand a chance.

Also, many of the arts programmes heard on the WS in future will contain material recycled from other BBC stations. Although this doesn't sound like the worst idea in the world - needs must - it isn't all that easy to achieve. Front Row on Radio 4, for example, is rather too UK-centred to be recycled effectively for a global audience, and many flagship presenters might object to their interviews being carved up later to fit another station's mould.

Still, far better to recycle than be rid of arts programming on the station altogether (I am reminded of the phrase that European refugees adopted after winding up in a place of safe haven: Dankbar aber unglücklich - "thankful but unhappy"), for every effort must be made to stop the shaving back of the WS into a rolling-news channel. As the global success of the History of the World series proves, it is resolutely not just for news that the station is cherished.

Your reviewer woke to a particularly entertaining edition of Good Morning Sunday on Radio 2 (Sundays, 6am-9am). The programme's two headlines at six: a shark attack in California, and Nick Clegg wanting to listen to Radiohead while smoking a mountain of fags on a desert island. "Good morning, Sunday!" chirruped the ever-sinister presenter, Aled Jones. "We may taste horrible, but we'll make you feel better. Here's 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now' by Starship."

Next up was Peter Owen-Jones, the adman-turned-celebrity-vicar who goes about with his hair like a girl under a hat modelled on Gandalf's (one always imagines him bustling off to find a dreaded Nick Drake album at parties). Owen-Jones was late to the studio in Brighton. "Hello, Peter, how are you?" "I thought the clocks went back," complained Owen-Jones, his voice emitting that metallic-type glue of a too-early start. "Really?" said Aled tightly. "OK - the dog ate your homework."

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.