The BBC Proms opens tonight with a performance of Elgar’s The Kingdom.
Seldom has a season launched on a more sombre note. The world is mourning almost 300 people on board a passenger plane shot down as an act of war. Repercussions will follow. A new ground war has begun in Gaza, adding to those in Syria and Iraq. World leaders are staring at their fingernails instead of talking to each other, just as they failed to do in July 1914. The atmosphere at the Royal Albert Hall will not be joyous.
The first night is also the last night for Roger Wright as director of the BBC Proms and Radio 3, a feat he has managed for 15 years, longer than any head of any BBC service since the company’s incorporation in 1927.
Roger has resolutely refused to look back on his achievements, which were many and varied despite increasing interference from swelling levels of BBC bureaucracy. If he put a foot wrong over the past 15 years, he quickly put it right. His departure leaves an almost irresoluble vacuum. No successor has yet been announced. A pop-oriented overlord has been appointed over the whole of BBC music. Another round of cuts is looming. This may truly be the end of days.
Since I don’t want Roger to go out on a downer (especially with England doing so ineptly at Lords), let me share in fond remembrance the beginnings of our long collaboration. Soon after he took over at Radio 3, Roger asked me to breakfast. Over the first orange juice he asked why I never did anything for the classical network. I said I couldn’t work with them. The output was stale, stuffy, over-scripted, over-managed.
‘What would it take?’ said Roger.
‘A show about musical issues that never get talked about on Radio 3. Live, interactive, not one scrap of paper in the studio,’ I replied.
‘When can you start?’ said Roger.
That was the green light for Lebrecht Live, a programme that – in certain ways – was the forerunner of Slipped Disc. It brought down barriers in the music world and allowed artists and managers to vent their opinions freely in a secure space.
It was a huge risk for Roger to take. At that time, no producer on Radio 3 had ever managed a phone-in, let alone a live international text-in, online conversation. It was a leap into the future. That’s what Roger Wright had in mind for Radio 3. That, and much else.
He should be honoured for it.