Radio 4: The Today Programme 60th Anniversary
Trying to find a car parking place in central London at 5:00am is not easy. But even harder is getting in to the special live 60th anniversary of the Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, being broadcast from The Wigmore Hall. Despite the early hour, the public que stretched around two streets, with over two hundred disappointed at being turned away. Testament to the respect and love this programme brings to its many listeners.
This special Saturday morning edition was introduced by John Humphreys and Sarah Montague, with Sports Broadcaster Garry Richardson (thirty-seven years on the programme) entertaining the packed auditorium beforehand with some amusing stories and comic material which got this expected audience in the mood. Garry brought on past presenters Peter Hobday, Charlotte Green and Brian Perkins to reminisce about their time on this iconic current affairs programme. The first edition aired on Monday 28 October 1957 and among the items featured were an interview with a pilot at London Airport, a report on the sale of Napoleon’s letters and a review of some of the latest record releases. Richard Stilgoe who worked on it in the sixties, gave us a sharply constructed musical rendition on the piano to celebrate. Also taking part in the anniversary edition were ‘Today’ presenters past and present Nick Robinson, Edward Stourton, Justin Webb, Mishal Husain, Jim Naughtie, Carolyn Quinn, Libby Purves and Sue MacGregor.
The programme as ever contained ‘hard news’ but much was reflection on the past sixty years and the changes in news coverage – ‘a lot more conversational’ according to broadcaster Justin Webb. Two political guests Lord Neil Kinnock and Michael Gove, discussed openly being on as past guests. Gove referring to disgraced Hollywood Producer said, “I think coming into the studio with you John (Humphreys) is a bit like going into Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom.” The audience roared laughing along with some quiet oohh’s. Lord Kinnock added, “John goes way past groping.” Mr Gove followed “You just hope you emerge with your dignity intact.”
The comments underlined further changes in modern news coverage as a twitter and social media storm erupted, unknown to the seated audience (mobiles off). Nicola Sturgeon tweeted ‘Women being abused and raped is not a laughing matter. And it doesn’t make us ‘humourless’ to say so’. Guardian journalist Neil Ruddock sitting in the crowd tweeted ‘While there was laughter in ‘Today’ audience after Michael Gove’s comment, others around me sat blank-faced or with a look of disgust’. Later Michael Gove apologised unreservedly, ‘for my clumsy attempt at humour on R4 Today this morning -it wasn’t appropriate. I’m sorry and apologise’.
All this underlined the impact this programme still makes and some of the important interviews which have come from it, including the sometimes-lighter side. A running gag of the morning was Richardson’s now famous racing tips – why none of his horses ever seem to win?
Other contributing guests included actress Joanna Lumley, young musician Alma Deutscher described as another Mozart and sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor discussing the Arts. Sir Clive Woodward (England’s 2003 World Cup wining Rugby coach) dropped in saying he would have loved to coached sports personalities like George Best and in particular Seve Ballesteros.
There were further lighter moments as Garry Richardson (the longest serving ‘Today’ presenter) did a succession of quick phone interviews with a host of major names including Boris Johnson, Gary Lineker, Alan Bennett, Sir Michael Parkinson, Roy Hodgson and others. It was only the humour contained in this fast-paced monologue that slightly gave the game away. The personalities had all come from comedy impressionist & actor Alistair McGowan, such was the precision of voice impersonation.
This highly informative and entertaining morning was typical of why this BBC flagship programme has caught the imagination of ‘middle Britain’ with talk of healthy soup’s and breakfast rolls in the public que.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.