Tomorrow night West End star Michael Ball sings an evening of show tunes at the BBC Proms. Outgoing Proms director Nicholas Kenyon justified his appearance with these words: "I think he is one of the great, intelligent singing artists alive today. He deserves a place at the Proms just as much as performers in the great classical tradition. Our job is to cover the whole waterfront".
Which resonates with a story from 1995, when Nicholas Kenyon was controller of BBC Radio 3. Here is the story from the late Humphrey Carpenter's excellent official history of the network. And the words in the headline are not mine, they come from that very same official history.
Radio 3's new 9-10 am programme would be called Morning Collection, and would be presented by Paul Gambaccini [photo above], the transatlantic-born disc jockey whose 'music for lovers' programme on Classic FM had been a target of some mockery in the statuion's early days ... He would now join Radio 3.Bayan Northcott is a respected contemporary composer as well as music critic. Hear his Salve Regina on my Overgrown Path radio programme on September 16 at 5.00pm British Summer Time on Future Radio.
Kenyon emphasised that Gambaccini had worked for BBC Radio 'long before Classic FM was in rompers', and was chosen because 'his connection with film and pop music makes him unintimidating to people who want to try classical music but are unsure about it'. A BBC publicity handout headed From Puccini to Gambaccini stated that Gambaccini's programme would consist of 'classical greats ... from Brahms to Britten, from Strauss to Stravinsky ... Paul brings his relaxed but knowledgeable style to programmes full of complete works by all the major composes ... Morning Collection takes you on a stimulating journey through 500 years of the classics.'
The music critic [and composer] Bayan Northcott noted that Gambaccini's presentation style on Classic FM was characterised by 'refraining from any information commentary or judgement of the slightest musical interest whatever'. After Morning Collection had begun on Radio 3, listeners' reactions to it were aired on Radio 4's Feedback. 'The outrage was instant,' reported the Daily Telegraph.
Comments on [Gambaccini's] velvet voice and sugary commentary ... ranged from 'unctuous', 'totally inane', 'ingratiating', 'schmaltzy', to 'egregious and patronising'. One listener complained that he sounds as if he's selling raspberry ripple'. Another said listening to him was like wallowing in warm blancmange' ...
Kenyon appeared on Feedback and described Gambaccini as 'a knowlegeable and informed presenter of classical music'. He admitted that the programme was 'a big change of culture and it's meant to be, because we're trying to open up a potential new audience to classical music'.
Paul Gambaccini's place on Radio 3 did not last long. In May 1996, after sustained attacks from listeners and critics, he announced that he would not continue to present Morning Collection when his contract expired later in the year. Kenyon said that the programme's format had been welcomed by listeners but its presentation had been criticised strongly
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