Saturday, October 25, 2014

What music was broadcast on the day you were born?

That is Edmund Rubbra at the piano in the photo above. Mark Berry, who writes the authoritative Boulezian blog, has added a comment to my post about the first interview with designate BBC Radio 3 controller Alan Davey. In his comment Mark strongly disagrees with Alan Davey's view that the Third Programme - the predecessor of Radio 3 - had brought no 'context' to works. Coincidentally, I have been playing recently with the beta release of the addictive BBC Genome which lists the programmes for every day of broadcasting on the Third Programme/Radio 3 and all other BBC radio and TV channels. The game of choice on BBC Genome is to find out what was broadcast on your birthday; with auspicious synchronicity the Third Programme opened at 6.00 pm on the day I was born with a programme of unspecified new music played by the Rubbra-Gruenberg-Pleeth Trio comprising Rubbra with William Pleeth (cello) and Erich Gruenberg (violin). The main works of the evening were Purcell's Te Deum and Ode on St. Cecilia's Day (1692) - I was born on St Cecilia's day - with the The Boyd Neel Orchestra conducted by Boris Ord with Thurston Dart (harpsichord) and counter tenor Alfred Deller. The Purcell was followed by a live debate from the Cambridge Union on the motion 'That military conscription should now cease', and the evening ended with Michelangeli playing Scarlatti, Albeniz and Mompou. Just a few minutes searching the BBC Genome shows that both content and context abounded in the past - check out the Hans Keller listing for instance - and I would be a lot more confident about the future of Radio 3 if its new controller aspired to reaching the quality of the Third Programme, instead of denigrating it. Auspiciously synchronous birthday music found by readers on the BBC Genome is welcome as comments.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

New BBC Radio 3 supremo is off to a bad start

The first public statement by BBC Radio 3's new controller Alan Davey - seen above - offers little hope for the classical station's future. In an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme Davey dismissed the station's poor Q2 2014 listening figures saying: "It's one quarter's listening figures we are talking about". Which was a very unwise thing to say: as just hours after saying that the Q3 2014 figures were published and were even worse. Total listener hours for Radio 3 were down year-on-year in Q3 by a disastrous 9.2%, while benchmark station Radio 6 Music increased its listener hours in the same period by 15.5%. Alan Davey's faux pas is particularly surprising as his Today appearance was stage-managed by the BBC PR department, and the BBC would have been aware of the appalling Q3 Radio 3 performance before the interview, as they are briefed by RAJAR - who compile the audience data - ahead of its public release. Davey's statement that the RAJAR figures do not represent "a trend" is also wrong. As regular readers will know, there has been a long term trend of poor audience figures for Radio 3. The equally important trend of a slump in the total audience for classical radio in the UK (Radio 3 plus Classic FM) was also overlooked by Davey, showing that he has no comprehension of the seismic shifts in radio listening.

Leading with a "not dumbing down" message also shows how Alan Davey is out of touch with reality. The rapid and inexorable rise of streaming and other on demand platforms makes the 'dumbing down' versus 'wising up' debate increasingly irrelevant, with 'personalisation' and 'customisation' replacing 'wising up' as listener priorities. In the interview Davey name-dropped Stockhausen's Mittwoch aus Licht to establish his culture cred. But suggesting that the solution to Radio 3's woes is to broadcast Stockhausen and "provide audiences with the context that will help them understand it" is woefully misguided, and shows that the new controller is wedded to the erroneous doctrine of one-size-fits-all radio. There is no mass market for classical music, but there is a large market comprised of discrete and sometime overlapping niches. The audience for Mittwoch aus Licht is totally different to that for My Fair Lady, and Lerner and Loewe fans are not going to stay tuned to Mittwoch aus Licht even if it is embellished with egregious context by Petroc Trelawny or Katie Derham. Classical music's many diverse niche audiences need to be treated with respect, not context.

It is surprising that the designate Radio 3 controller - who has no broadcasting experience at all - has made pronouncements about the station's future three months before he starts work. There is not one shred of evidence in the interview that Davey has any understanding of the deep malaise that is afflicting BBC Radio 3 in particular and classical radio in general. And there is not one shred of evidence that he has any idea of how classical radio can reinvent itself and survive in a content on demand environment. My advice to Alan Davey is to shut up, get his feet under the desk at Radio 3 for an extended period, and only open his mouth again in public when he knows what he is talking about.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Did he jump or was he paid to jump?

The charm offensive by BBC Radio 3's new controller Alan Davey has started with the full support of the mighty BBC PR machine. But there are still important unanswered questions about the departure of his predecessor Roger Wright, who is seen above. Something was not right about Roger Wright's move from the BBC to Aldeburgh Music. The BBC press release gave no reasons for his departure; however by omission it gave the clear impression that the Radio 3 controller had found a better job and would be following the standard procedure of working his notice and departing. But much that I admire Aldeburgh Music it does not make sense: Roger Wright is an ambitious guy and his dual BBC role of controller Radio 3 and director Proms was far more powerful and prestigious than ceo Aldeburgh Music; in fact at the BBC he probably had the most important job in classical music. It was also difficult to understand the financials: Aldeburgh is one of the better funded classical institutions, but Roger Wright's total BBC remuneration of £227,450 is equivalent to around 20% of the total salaries of Aldeburgh Music's sixty staff.

Then there was the problem of employment law. Following his departure, the dual roles held by Roger Wright of controller BBC Radio 3 and director BBC Proms have been split between two people. Was this fundamental change an opportunist move by BBC management following his departure? Or was the splitting of the roles part of a planned 'divide and conquer' corporate restructuring following the appointment of the entertainment-oriented Bob Shennan in the new overarching role of BBC director of music? If the latter was the case - which seems more probable - and Roger Wright had remained in post, he would have had a very strong case for a substantial constructive dismissal award on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

So did Roger Wright jump? Or was he paid to jump? Those are important questions. Because BBC Radio 3 is one of the most powerful forces in global classical music; because the BBC has an impressive track record of playing fast and loose with money; because BBC director general Tony Hall has pledged to curb executive payoffs; because financial savings are high on the agenda of the new Radio 3 controller Alan Davey; and because stakeholders in the form of BBC license fee payers deserve to know.

To try to find out what actually happened, I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the BBC. My initial request was for details of exceptional termination payments made to Roger Wright. This request was speedily rejected as personal information about identifiable living individuals can be exempt from a FOI disclosure if it is deemed to be potentially unfair. Which may be technically correct but is also perverse, as details of Roger Wright's salary and itemised personal expenses are disclosed by the BBC in the interests of information transparency. How can it be 'fair' to disclose specific personal information about his salary and expenses, but 'unfair' to disclose personal information about his exit package?

But I was not going to be put off that easily. So to avoid making my request for information relate to identifiable individuals, I submitted a general request covering exceptional termination payments made to all Radio 3 staff - there are eighty - over a twelve month period. This caused the BBC more of a problem: the deadline for FOI requests to be answered is twenty working days and just two hours before that deadline expired I received a reply telling me that the BBC's lips were remaining tightly sealed on the matter. My request had been made as general as possible; but despite this the BBC rejected my FOI request on the grounds that it "relates to a small number of staff [eighty!], this could lead to individuals being identified" - the full text of their reply is below. (Note that the BBC reply is dated 22 September. This is an error, it was sent on 22 October - a case of freedom of wrong information)

My FOI requests related solely to exceptional termination payments. If there were no such payments, this matter could have been resolved easily by the BBC saying this was the case. The fact that information on termination payments is being withheld - the word withheld is actually used in the BBC reply - because "this could lead to individuals being identified" I interpret as a tacit admission that there were material payments. In my view the BBC's determination to withhold this information is motivated more by their corporate agenda than the need to comply with section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act. But the truth remains shielded behind the BBC's ambiguous definition of freedom of information. Which means we can only speculate as to whether Roger Wright jumped on his own initiative, or whether he was paid handsomely to jump.


British Broadcasting Corporation Room BC2 B6 Broadcast Centre White City Wood Lane London W12 7TP Telephone 020 8008 2882 Email

Information Policy & Compliance

Bob Shingleton Via e-mail:

22 September 2014
Dear Mr Shingleton

Freedom of Information Request - RFI20141570

Thank you for your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) received on 24 September, seeking the following information:

Please provide the single total value of payments, if any, to BBC Radio 3 staff for redundancy, termination of employment and other ex gratia payments relating to termination of employment in the last twelve months. Please also provide the single total value of payments for the same period of any ex gratia/additional contributions by the BBC to pension arrangements of leaving BBC Radio 3 staff, and the total value of any exceptional payments to Radio 3 leaving staff to cover legal and PR costs.
Note itemised - i.e. per employee - information is not required. An aggregate, and therefore anonymous, single total for each category is all that is being requested.

We are withholding the information requested under section 40(2) (personal information) of the Act. As the request relates to a small number of staff, this could lead to individuals being identified. Under section 40(2) of the Act, personal information about identifiable living individuals is exempt if disclosure to a third party would breach one or more principles in the Data Protection Act 1998. The individuals concerned would not expect details of any termination payments to be disclosed to a third party. To do so would be unfair; therefore, disclosure would breach the First Data Protection Principle (fair and lawful processing).

Yours sincerely
James Hacker
BBC People

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