Eddie Mair: what the future holds for Radio 4's lost voices

"We mourn the (Radio 4) passing of Sir Peter Donaldson (as he will surely be known), Dame Charlotte Green, Dame Harriet Cass and Dame Alice Arnold"

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Eddie Mair: what the future holds for Radio 4's lost voices
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Eddie Mair

So many familiar and beloved voices have disappeared from Radio 4 in recent days that people keep coming up to me and asking, “Why are you still on the network?”

And it’s true I have only a few months to serve until that inevitable call to the office of whoever is in charge by that stage, who will mumble something about, “Nothing to do with you… marvellous contribution… refresh the schedule… talentless prat” and I, too, no doubt, will be off.

But for now we mourn the (Radio 4) passing of Sir Peter Donaldson (as he will surely be known), Dame Charlotte Green, Dame Harriet Cass and Dame Alice Arnold. Peter has done his last shift. Charlotte’s final newsreading stints on PM were last week. Between them those four voices have served the nation with more than 2,000 years of broadcasting.

They’ve announced shipping forecasts, wars, famines, royal babies, gale warnings (when did you last hear one of those?) and all the greyhound results. No wait, that’s just what Harriet does in the office every afternoon. She’s a fiend for her doggy racing and I’m told has her own box at Yarmouth.

After people have asked me what I’m still doing on the network, the next thing they ask is why all these voices – the very essence of the network – are disappearing pretty much at the same time. I used to say they were all being replaced by Clare Balding, but that’s no longer funny.

Regular readers will remember I revealed the truth behind this Beeb Bloodbath some time ago. In essence, they’re all being fired for stealing things from work. Peter’s house was raided and they found boxes and boxes of staples. But not a single stapler. Apparently it was a cry for help. At Alice’s house they found reams of blank headed notepaper from every director-general since the early 1930s. It seems she would use them to get free flight upgrades, thanks in part to her uncanny resemblance to Lord Reith. They struggled to push open Harriet’s front door, but when they did they found thousands of unbroadcast gale warnings. And when they showed up at Charlotte’s it turned out she’d managed to steal the whole of Radio 3.

Happily this has all been hushed up by the BBC’s now defunct “Keeping things out of the papers” department, and all four have got lucrative other work lined up.

Peter couldn’t resist an offer to become the new face and voice of Captain Birdseye. He already has the look, and promises to bring his distinguished tones to the part. I understand that in future the Captain’s Table will be festooned not only with crunchy 100 per cent cod fish fingers but also fine merlot.

Harriet, Charlotte and Alice will be appearing in an updated version of The Golden Girls for Gold. There is some squabbling over casting as no one wants to be Sofia but it’s got hit, or something like that, written all over it.

It’s very sad to see them all go. I’ll miss them at work and miss hearing them on the radio. They are Radio 4. And they’re every bit as fun to be around as you would imagine. Except Charlotte. There was some talk of them all being replaced by Heather Bell, who’s returning to The Archers to take over her old role as Clarrie Grundy, but it came to nothing.

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