A week in radio: The Today Programme Lecture

Mervyn King’s lecture on the economy might have made headlines, but as radio it was dreary stuff

The Today Programme Lecture (Radio 4, Wednesday) is a curious beast. The last thing regular listeners might want from the flagship news programme is an off-shoot as starchy and formal as a lecture. And if they did want that, would it really be on the economy, that inescapable subject on the daily show, and delivered by yet another man?

Evan Davis did his best to enliven things as he introduced Sir Mervyn King, this year’s speaker. Davis quipped that in recent times we’ve seen “Black Monday, Tuesday, Friday and the odd Sunday”, adding that: “Thursday’s still available, I think.” And it was quickly made clear that the governor of the Bank of England doesn’t often do radio addresses: the last one in peacetime was in March 1939.

The lecture’s content might have made headlines the following morning, but as radio it was dreary stuff. Fiscal policy is tricky to make widely appealing – King used metaphors such as having to “take away the punchbowl just as the next party is getting going” – but not impossible. This was so uninvolving you swooped gratefully on the archive clips: Roosevelt telling Americans that “we have had a bad banking situation”, and Montague Norman, bank governor in 1939, with his hilariously clipped voice. He named “experience, co-operation and independence” as key qualities for the financial sector; King wants “regulation, resolution and restructuring”. Radio, though, is all about voice, communicating personality and connecting with listeners; this struggled on all three.

You can’t help but listen to Robert Peston when he’s on the radio. On Monday’s Jeremy Vine (Radio 2) show, he saw off accusations that his reports adversely affect the economy (“he should be made chancellor!” enthused one listener); on Thursday he was giving one of his crisp reports to 5 Live Breakfast from his home just as his wife was heading out. “Byeee!” she called. On getting no response, she tried again, more firmly this time (“Byeee!!”). Peston replied (“Byee darling!”) and the interview rather charmingly, cheeringly, fell to pieces.

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