From the archive: a day in the life of Radio 4, January 1983

In January 1983, BBC breakfast television arrived. TV-am was about to launch and there was some anxiety about how radio would fare. Paul Ferris spent the day with ‘good old Radio 4, where millions of us now start the morning’ (‘Who’s afraid of breakfast TV?’ 23 January 1983).

At 08.56.50 precisely, the Today programme finishes. In an office down the corridor, two of the presenters chew Alpen standing up. ‘One of the duty editors, rings under his eyes after 15 hours, unscrews the cap from a bottle of Bell’s whisky,’ writes Ferris.

At 11.30am he visits the sound effects department. ‘Well-thumbed catalogues list, for example, “Comedy: pianos. Man dragged out of piano. May 1967.’” Not one on heavy rotation you’d imagine. ‘Countryside: summer’ is an old favourite, but some drama producers have gone off it. ‘Everyone recognises that bloody pigeon,’ they say.

‘Monica Sims, the astute controller of R4, is spending her lunch break in her office,’ writes Ferris, noting a strange new antisocial behaviour: ‘Sandwiches eaten at her desk are a regular feature.’

At 7.06pm, ‘The day’s 14th news bulletin has come and gone. The Archers unwinds from a tape machine.’ At 10.40pm he heads to the duty office to hear about callers’ complaints. ‘A woman has telephoned twice to ask if it is necessary to simulate the sounds of orgasm in a play.’

At 12.23am, Radio 4 is off the air. ‘In a corner safe, locked up for another night, are the government tapes to be used if nuclear attack is threatened and the nation has to be told to do heaven knows what,’ writes Ferris. ‘When Armageddon is at hand, television will shut down at an early stage. Then it will be only Jim and his boys and girls. Good old Radio 4.’ Yes, TV may be popular, glitzy and shiny, but it can’t handle the end of the world – radio, however, the cockroach of the media, will prevail.