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BBC R4 to cut back on short stories

Last updated Friday 29 July

In a press release issued on the 6 July, the BBC announced that from spring 2012, the number of short stories it broadcasts on Radio 4 will be reduced from three to one a week.

Controller Gwyneth Williams announced these cuts in a press release about her first reorganisation of the BBC Radio 4 schedule. Click here to read the press release in full.

We are disappointed at these cuts and we sent the letter below to Gwyneth Williams, to urge her to reconsider. Gwyneth Williams' response to our letter is also copied at the bottom of this article.

General Secretary, Nicola Solomon, Jo McCrum, Secretary of the Broadcasting Group, Simon Brett, Alison Joseph, Susie Maguire, Ali Smith and Ian Skillicorn, Director of National Short Story Week, met Gwyneth Williams and Caroline Raphael on 28 July. At this meeting Gwyneth Williams made some concessions from the plans outlined in the original press release. We are continuing to campaign for no reduction to the current volume of output. We will report further very shortly.

In the meantime, if you have not done so already, we encourage you to sign the online petition. There are currently over 5,600 signatures on this petition, but we still need your support. The petition will stay open and we urge you to circulate it.

Some comments so far

"When it comes to fiction radio excites and exercises the imagination in a way no other medium can manage. Nowhere is that more perfectly illustrated than the short story where, within 15 short minutes, one can be transported into a different world. It is a cheap yet invaluable example of radio at its best. It feels both mad - and sad - to think that radio 4 would somehow be better without it. Please reconsider." Sarah Dunant

"Please reconsider. I know budgets are tight, but there are few VERY few things the BBC does better. Commissioning and helping the world hear of new writing. Giving actors confidence and experience - but most of all being the best, the only place for listeners to enjoy the uniquely satisfying immersion and pleasure that a well told story can deliver." Stephen Fry              

"It would be a dismal day for Radio Four and for the short story in the UK if these cuts were carried through."
AL Kennedy

"I got my real start with short stories on BBC Radio 4; I would hate for future generations of writers not to have the same chance." Ian Rankin

"This does seem an incredibly retrograde step, and particularly ill-judged since Radio 4 is one of the very few media outlets which can demonstrate a truly excellent record in supporting and promoting the short story as a literary form. It seems to me that radio is THE pre-eminent medium for the short story form. There should be more short stories, not fewer, on radio. The 15-minute story, read on radio, is perfectly suited for our current times of busy lives, multi-tasking and shortened attention spans. It is also, in relative terms as far as the creative arts are concerned, very cheap radio to produce." James Robertson

"As a blind person I rely on radio 4 for up-to-date short stories which are not often available on audio. It means so much being able to switch on the radio and just listen like anyone else with no barriers. If you cut these stories out it will be another of my lifelines gone. These short stories are a great platform for new writers and I love the variety. I feel that radio 4 would be selling its soul for a bit of silver if this decision was made. Audiobooks cost around £30 each for unabridged versions, so having a tremendous source of literature at the press of a button is fantastic. If short stories are thrown in the path of radio 4's bulldozer, a chunk of your audience will automatically get buried in the rubble never to be seen again." Listener: Claire Rush

"This seems to me a terrible failure of imagination on the part of the BBC, since the short story, in terms of both form and voice, is so suited to the particular powers of radio, so at home in the open place where radio and the  imagination meet. It's a loss to the writers, yes, but it's a huge loss to the listening public,  a cancelling of a rich source of thought, voice, art, imagination."  Ali Smith

"As a literary agent, I know how few opportunities there are for writers to have short stories published. One of my authors, Julian Gough, had his short story broadcast on Radio 4 (as a result of winning the National Short Story Prize) and this exposure and recognition was hugely important for him. The short story has very few champions at the moment - it would be a great shame if the BBC reduced its support of them in this way." Charlie Campbell Ed Victor Ltd

The Society's letter to Gwyneth Williams

Dear Gwyneth,

We are very disappointed to read that the BBC will be reducing the number of short story slots on Radio 4 from three to one per week.  Can you let us know the reasons for this?

We were astonished to hear this news, not least because at recent meetings you reiterated the BBC's commitment to showcasing new and original writing. It seems a very odd move given that the BBC sponsors the prestigious BBC National Short Story Award and has done much to raise the awareness and appreciation of this wonderful art-form.

Short stories, with the use of the single voice, provide an opportunity to create great moments of drama and intimacy for the listener. Generally, the short story is experiencing a revival in popularity, having proved a perfect medium for the internet age; it is excellent for podcast and download. We are surprised that the BBC has not seen the commercial possibilities of this format and note that it is one of the most economical forms of programming - the only costs being those of paying the writer and the reader.

It would be a huge shame if this BBC legacy of fostering the art of storytelling, which it has done so well for so long, were to be reduced.  Especially when one considers that only a few years ago there were five broadcasts a week.

We urge you to reconsider and invite you to meet us at your earliest convenience to discuss this further.

Nicola Solomon
General Secretary

The response from Gwyneth Williams

Dear Nicola,

Thank you for your note. I know that this is far from welcome news. I want to stress that when I came to talk to the Society I had no idea that we would be diminishing the short stories on Radio 4. I simply knew that I intended to extend the World At One. This decision is a knock on from that and has not been made easily. My commitment to writing, new writing and the Short Story Competition is undiminished. We will broadcast the short-listed stories in the competition across the week as usual. I am proud that Radio 4 is the place where most new writing is commissioned and broadcast and I fully intend to keep it that way with the Short Stories, Book of the Week, Book at Bedtime, A Good Read, Open Book, Book Club, The Classic Serial, Woman's Hour Drama, Radio 4 Extra commissioned readings... My intention while I am controller is to highlight and lead the agenda when appropriate with culture on Radio 4. I will showcase the Short Story on Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra as much as I can.

However the number of Short Stories on Radio 4 has been diminished from 150 to 100 from April 2012 - some of these will premiere on Radio 4 Extra. In addition I hope that we will broadcast some more short stories on Radio 4 Extra.

I look forward to meeting you to discuss this further next week.

Best Wishes - Gwyneth

Related links

Click here to visit the National Short Story Week website

Click here to read member, Susie's Maguire's guest blog, Bad News for the Short Story

Click here to read an article from the Independent by AL Kennedy on what makes the short story special

If you're on Twitter, you can keep up-to-date with our latest news by following us at @Soc_of_Authors



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