THE ORGANIST ENTERTAINS - NO LONGER :-(
After nearly 50 years on the airwaves, the BBC have just announced that they will be axing this venerable programme in May, along with the "Radio 2 Arts" programme and "Listen to the Band". I remember tuning in as a little girl to get my weekly fix of Robin Richmond, and pretty much sticking with it ever since Nigel Ogden took over as presenter. I only missed it when, in later years, I was away from home being one of the organists actually doing the entertaining.
How excited I felt when I first appeared on the Radio 2 playlist! I popped up there periodically for a few years, until the Beeb in their wisdom decided that we 'orchestral' players weren't really organists at all. So I put together a new CD of 'pure classical organ tracks' (In Classic Style) which did the trick. I was back on air again! I have recently been putting together a theatre organ mix, but I fear that will never be heard on the wireless now.
Over the years, the programme has had some unexpected champions - not least, Chris Evans on his breakfast show. But now we're told that the special interest programmes are no longer of special interest to Auntie Beeb. A BBC spokesperson says "listeners will still be able to catch organ and brass elsewhere on BBC airwaves. Radio Three regularly features organ and brass throughout the day as part of its commitment to classical music. This includes Choral Evensong, a show featuring [classical] organ music and a dedicated slot "Choir and Organ" each Sunday."
Tony and I shared an ironic laugh at this. Does Auntie Beeb never listen to her own output? When have they ever broadcast a Wurlitzer, Compton or Christie on Radio 3? Even less a Yamaha, Roland or Wersi? No doubt, if they did, the regular classical listeners would have an attack of the vapours. So that argument won't wash, sorry chaps! And the salt in the wound is that these niche programmes are being replaced by yet more amorphous Radio 2 content of pop and chat.
It reminds me of the sad (and apparently engineered) demise of the hugely popular Organ Stop programme. For many years it went out across the whole of BBC South and West, on 8 or 9 local radio stations, with loyal listeners from South Wales to Lands End to Portsmouth and beyond. One week, we went in to find a letter congratulating the team on having the highest listening figures of ANY special interest programme in the UK! Two weeks later it was taken off air from most of the local stations. Another two weeks later a letter arrived saying that, due to the sudden and unexplained (?) drop in listening figures it would be taken off air altogether. Makes you despair, doesn't it?
So, what can we do about TOE? Probably precious little against the leviathan of Beeb management, but let's not give up without at least a little fight. If you complain to the Beeb, you will probably get the standard spiel I've copied above (but you could follow that up with another email or a letter). And you could contact the Radio Times Letters page (firstname.lastname@example.org) or get in touch with the Feedback programme.
I had it in writing from the BBC, when they barred electronic organ tracks from the show, that TOE's menu of purely pipe organs appealed to a surprisingly sizeable swathe of listeners (many quite young). It has, at any rate, been one of the last bastions of the word 'organ' in the media. Even if it didn't exactly reflect your particular taste in organ music all the time, wasn't it, and shouldn't it still be, a brief window onto a world of melody that many remember fondly, and quite a few young ones are just discovering?