Rebranding bug strikes again - and this time it’s hit the BBC

PUBLISHED: 21:37 29 November 2018 | UPDATED: 21:37 29 November 2018

Paul Barnes says the late Richard Baker was the perfect broadcaster from a golden time for the BBC when it didn't have to worry about 'pointless' rebranding

Paul Barnes says the late Richard Baker was the perfect broadcaster from a golden time for the BBC when it didn't have to worry about 'pointless' rebranding


Good old Auntie is at it again with another rebranding, which has certainly caused Paul Barnes reason for concern

Oh dear, here we go. Do you remember when we entrusted our letters and parcels to a weird imagining called Consignia? God knows what the pointless exercise - two years in the making - actually cost in cash terms but whatever it was the price was higher still in terms of ridicule and loss of status for Royal Mail and the Post Office.

For the sake of sounding hip and cool Consignia was set to ditch the noble histories of service, trust and reliability established over the centuries. Away with the old! But soon somebody saw sense, realising that the public wasn’t impressed with the hip and cool, the brand-fetishists’ slick dreams; what was desired was the friendly stability of the familiar. Consignia was consigned to oblivion.

But the urge to fiddle with brands just won’t die. Here comes BBC Sounds, what some of us still call the wireless. BBC Sounds is/are still the wireless, or radio if you prefer, but they’ve been re-branded because of the way some people in Broadcasting House think we “consume radio”.

See, when trying to define BBC Sounds the word “radio” has to be used because it means programmes; “sounds” doesn’t mean much at all. Pity the poor announcers who must observe BBC diktat and refer pointlessly to BBC Sounds, having already mentioned the frequency, the wavelength and the possibility that we could be listening to digital radio. On the other hand we might be tuned in via my 1954 Bush AC41, but that’s another story.

Do you remember BBC Vision? It was the re-branding of the BBC’s telly output at the cost of a million pounds or so. Then, five years ago, it occurred to one or two people that this was a bit daft, so it was changed back to BBC Television, once again at a cost.

What with the big-budget, big-name razz-a-ma-tazz involved in launching it, plus the executive tinkering, the bill for BBC Sounds is estimated to be “a few million”. (Will Radio Times now have to be titled Sounds Times?)

BBC Sounds might just as accurately be defined as BBC Noises, or even (it scans nicely) BBC Cacophony. I’ve written previously of my gratitude to the BBC sports department for its contribution to my general fitness. Not that it’s inspired me to take up any of the games it reports; my benefit derives from the leap to the off-switch at the first mention of anything involving bats, balls, bicycles and bans for doping.

Lately my fitness regime has intensified as I’ve become a more frequent flyer to the off-switch thanks to the efforts of the Trails Department.

Its purpose is to whet our aural appetites with news of programmes to come; in my case its methods achieve the opposite. The trails consist of words which are so clever-cleverly cut as to fillet almost all meaning. But words alone are not enough for the adolescent wizards who compile the trails; whatever morsels of meaning survive their butchery have to be basted with music. No, wait. It’s not actually music; it’s UN-music, usually including the sound of somebody building a shed while somebody else is whistling as he shuffles a consignment of metal pipes. Once, I swear, I heard a rattlesnake tuning a piano.

Some of the programmes that figure in these trails, the aural equivalent of the Turner Prize, are excellent but it’s never the trail that lured me to listen. Previews in print or the measured words of the announcers are much more effective, although there’s been a disturbing shift in the continuity department towards a mandatory mateyness. “Now it’s time for the weather from Wendy Warmfront. Hi, Wendy.”

I can’t imagine the recently deceased Richard Baker standing for any of this malarkey. A master of tone and pronunciation, dignified but never stuffy, friendly but never matey, he was a prince among broadcasters. He spoke to us with authority, understanding every word of what he was given to read, able to nuance his presentation with the appropriate balance of light and shade. He was once declared the best-known man in Britain, as the face and voice of the BBC.

Passionate about music, and having written books on the subject, he presented programmes on Radios Two, Three and Four.

Among the BBC’s sounds his was the sound of civility.

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