Jane not jenni, lesbian not farm labourer: all’s not well on radio 4

Having had our middle class humour displaced by gutter-level gags, that last bastion of solace against the working classes – Radio 4 – is under attack

When I wrote here that the deep wells of middle-class humour were largely ignored by the written and broadcast media, most of which had been afflicted by a regressive playground tendency, I knew not how soon those untapped reserves would be needed.

For when Miss Jane Garvey stepped forward and opened her mouth the chintz curtains of suburbia shook with bitter and hollow laughter, not the same as genuine mirth but serving a similarly cathartic process all the same. Because if you did not laugh at Miss Garvey you would strangle her, and that would offend middle-class morality.

For those of you who may not have heard of her, Garvey is a radio broadcaster who served her time on BBC Radio 5 Live, a station whose speciality is the phone-in, a cheap device whereby the airwaves are thrown open for the use of the ill-informed, the half-informed and the uninformed.

Just how well she had absorbed all this inchoate thought became clear when, as the newly-appointed presenter of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, she was interviewed by The Guardian. Perhaps mindful of the sensibilities of its guilt-ridden bourgeois readership, she said, “I would like to have less (sic) middle-class ladies talking about cookery. Although there is nothing wrong with cookery, I think there is a massively middle-class bent to every programme on Radio 4. Find me a programme that isn’t like that.”

In her mind, then, there is plainly something wrong about the middle-class. She did not say exactly what, but then she didn’t have to. For such a person as she, middle-class means privileged, snobbish, sharp-elbowed (always first in the queue), complacent, stuffy, high-minded, intolerant. The list of vices is endless: all that is unpleasant in human nature settles comfortably into the plush armchairs of Middle England, a whisky and soda at its elbow, two fingers raised to the rest of the world.

Contrast that with the working class. Poor, underprivileged, put-upon, elbowed aside (see above); but all such indignities notwithstanding, plucky, good-humoured, generous, compassionate, neighbourly, salt-of-the-earth.

If you see the world that way you are apt to be blind to some truths. The middle class is not defined by income alone; it also tends to comprise the most literate, well-educated, law-abiding and civilised members of the population. And they are naturally drawn to Radio 4’s coverage of arts, current affairs, drama, panel games, discussion and so on. Of course Radio 4 is “massively middle class”, just as a bellyful of pickles and wallop and a quick knee-trembler round the back of the Gala Bingo and Social Club is massively working class.

It is not as though the working class (or the non-middle class for want of a better term) are not themselves “massively” served by the broadcast media. Radio 1, BBC1, BBC2,BBC3 and countless commercial channels are in thrall to the chav market. In fact, Radio 4 is just about the only escape from the encircling cacophony of cheerful vulgarity, cheer-led by such loud-mouths as Jonathan Ross.

Not that Radio 4 is perfect. Sadly, it is infected by political correctness, though it has not yet succumbed entirely. The Archers, for example, has become a parody of right-on values and as a consequence portrays country life in a new and different way. If Walter Gabriel were alive today he would be living with a young man called Simon and together they would excitedly be awaiting the arrival of their first surrogate child. If Gray were writing his elegy it would read, “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day/The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea/The lesbian homeward plods her weary way/And leaves the world to cottaging and to me”.

As for Woman’s Hour, too often it is little more than a continual feminist whine and a danger to men, since many must have tripped over the carpet in their eagerness to switch off the set the moment Jenni Murray’s voice cleft the airwaves. I imagine Garvey has much the same effect.

And as I said last week Radio 4 is not immune from the disease that has sucked laughter from the substance labelled humour. With the exception of the peerless “I’m sorry, I Haven’t a Clue” and the better bits of “Dead Ringers”, Radio 4’s comedy is about as unfunny as it is humanly possible to be, unless you have a mental age of about six.

No one will ever feel sorry for the middle class, not that they want pity, but to deny them the pleasure of the only broadcast channel they can call their own smacks of cruelty and victimisation.

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