The BBC: is it a licence to thrill?

By 18th August 2013 December 30th, 2013 Blog

I think I’m getting old. Well, actually I know I’m getting old, having celebrated my 45th birthday last month, and I hate to tell you that you’re all getting old too, but I’m also starting to act old. I realised this after a few days of listening to Radio 4 in the car. Normally, I’ll just put on the iPod and enjoy whatever musical treats the ‘shuffle’ conjures up for me, but recently, I’ve switched off the music and put on the talking… and I’m really enjoying it

Radio 4 offers a wide selection of programmes on a whole range of topics, from the Today news programme every weekday morning through to adaptations of novels, and, of course, the wonderful Desert Island Discs. Not all of Radio 4’s output is interesting, and the temptation is to tune in to a different radio station or switch on the iPod again whenever something comes on that stretches the boundaries of ‘interesting’, but I decided that I would stick with Radio 4 regardless of the subject matter.

So among the subjects I have listened to recently include:

  • The story of ‘Garbo’, the World War II spy who helped deceive the Nazis into believing the Normandy D-Day landings were just a decoy. He also faked his death at the end of the war, remarrying and having a new family, which came as a surprise to his first wife and kids when his deceit was discovered in the 1980s.
  • A profile of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei.

    Yvonne, the missing German cow

  • A news item on how playing Radio 4 constantly is proving to be a successful way of keeping foxes away from chicken coups… always handy to know.
  • Top tips for growing potatoes during a gardeners’ Question Time show.
  • I even found myself sitting in a traffic jam on the M8 listening to an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, Doctor No.
  • My favourite item, however, concerned the story of Yvonne the cow, who has escaped from a German slaughterhouse and is now being hunted by both slaughterhouse staff and animal conservationists. One of the conservationists explained that they had put a bull into the forest to try and ‘tempt’ Yvonne, describing the bull  as “…a very good-looking. He is the George Clooney of bulls…”


My family and friends already know that I’m a big fan of the BBC. This goes back when I famously (or stupidly!) decided that I would only watch or listen to BBC stations for a whole calendar year to see whether the licence fee did, in fact represent good value for money. My aim at the time was to do this and then write a book about it – even if most people were telling me that it wouldn’t be a very interesting book.

I managed to last about seven months on a BBC-only diet, the book remains unwritten, and my family are still convinced it was a stupid idea – I still think it’s a great one, incidentally – but what it did make me realise is that the licence fee I pay every year – it’s now £145.50 – is tremendous value for money.

The amount of content, and quality content, the BBC produces for radio and television is phenomenal and I’ve often feared that most people will only realise it if the BBC disappeared forever. There has been a concerted anti-BBC campaign by other media organisations, mainly News International, over many years, and it’s obvious why they’re doing so. The problem is, too many people start to believe it and are deluded into thinking that the BBC wastes money and is a waste of money.

You might never read me telling you in a book but I’ll tell you now – it is anything but a waste of money. The BBC is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but as a public service broadcaster, it’s second to none, and I would recommend that you try it more often, enjoy it and appreciate it, whether it’s the TV channels or radio stations that you, as a licence fee payer, are helping to fund.

Start by tuning in to Radio 4 when you’re out in the car. Trust me, you won’t regret it… I’m away now to plant some potatoes!

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