Sorrow as last episode of BBC Radio 4's Midweek airs

Sorrow as last episode of BBC Radio 4's Midweek airs

After 33 years on the air, broadcaster Libby Purves presented her last "Midweek" show on BBC Radio 4 yesterday (29th March).

The show featured regular interviews with authors, and book publicists have told The Bookseller of their sorrow over the decision.

The closure of "Midweek" follows scheduling changes from the station, announced in December, that includes the creation of two new arts programmes. 

It was confirmed in December that Purves would present one of the new programmes, a monthly theatre show, but she has since decided she would not present it. Radio 4 said it would confirm new arrangements for the show in the coming months.

The other arts programme, slated for "Midweek's" former slot - 9am on a Wednesday - is a new "presenter-free" interview series that will see prominent figures from the arts world 'chain interviewing' one another (i.e. after being a guest on the show, that guest then becomes the interviewer for the next episode). Radio 4 have commissioned four series of the show, named "Only Artists", each containing six episodes.

Radio 4 controller Gwyneth Williams said of Purves and her decision not to present the new show: “We are sorry to hear that Libby has decided not to take on the presenting duties for Radio 4’s new monthly theatre programme as planned. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Libby again for her years as the brilliant host of Midweek, which comes to an end in March 2017, and I look forward to hearing her back on Radio 4 this autumn to present her documentary on the creation of The Bridge Theatre in London.”

A spokesperson for Radio 4 said further: "Radio 4’s schedule has evolved throughout the station’s history, and whilst it’s hard to make decisions about closing programmes, this felt like the right time to bring 'Midweek' to a close. We always aim to broadcast the most compelling mix of programmes to our listeners, and Wednesday mornings will from April feature a range of arts and factual content, starting with a new long-form interview series 'Only Artists'. We would like to extend our greatest thanks to all of 'Midweek'’s guests, the production team and most of all Libby Purves, who has been an outstanding presenter and we look forward to hearing her back on Radio 4 later on this year."

Radio 4 will continue to broadcast weekly magazine and conversation programmes across the week, including "Start the Week", "Saturday Live", "Woman’s Hour", "Desert Island Discs", "Loose Ends" and "In Our Time", but book publicists The Bookseller has spoken to said they would miss "Midweek" for its "unique" role in book campaigns and as part of the BBC's radio programming.

"'Midweek' occupied a unique place in the BBC canon, in fact in the media canon full stop," said Nikki Barrow, former publicity director for Hodder’s literary imprint Sceptre, now director for Mander Barrow PR. "The format of the programme and the ambience created by Libby were both engaging and entertaining, the guests selected for approachability as well as their remarkable stories. For a programme to unfold so seamlessly on a weekly basis was not luck, it was genius - the production team in its entirety as well as Libby was amazing. Listeners laughed, gasped and cried. Perfect combination."

Barrow added: "If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, the programme can feel very flattered indeed, but I’d rather we still had Libby and 'Midweek' quite frankly."

One of the show's final guests in yesterday's ultimate show was former jockey Declan Murphy survivor of a catastrophic fall in 1994. His memoir Centaur (Doubleday) authored with Ami Rao, due out in April, experienced an immediate boost in pre-sales this week following the interview, according to Alison Barrow, Transworld's director of media relations. 

"We were lucky enough to have a guest on the last ever broadcast of BBC Radio 4 Midweek this morning," said Barrow. "Midweek's magic for books and writers stemmed from Libby Purves herself and her unequalled ability to get to the heart of a story with empathy and enthusiasm, weaving an eclectic line up of guests into a neatly knitted conversation. Invariably an appearance on the programme would have an immediate positive uplift in the sales picture (Centaur leapt to No. 3 spot on Amazon Movers & Shakers chart today as a direct result of the interview this morning). 

"Book PRs will miss the programme hugely - as will booksellers, no doubt. Midweek had a unique and influential role to play in many a successful promotional campaign."

Murphy featured among other guests on the final show also including actor Dame Harriet Walter, singer songwriter Suzi Quatro and writer and director Richard Curtis. 

Signing off for the final programme Purves said: "We are sadly out of time. I say goodbye because this has been the last 'Midweek' on Radio 4. 

"It has been a blast I have to say. After nearly 34 years, I want to thank all the thousands of guests and dozens of programme teams who have made it so much fun and diverse and surprising and always live."

Separately, BBC Radio 4 has revealed it will start a short story serials written exclusively for Radio 4 on Sunday 2nd April with Lynne Truss’ Life at Absolute Zero. Over 10 short stories, broadcast weekly, Truss will observe the inhabitants of Meridian Cliffs, a small wind-battered town on the English south coast. The series will also include Jon McGregor’s The Reservoir Tapes, a prequel to his new novel Reservoir 13 and the third serial this year will be written by Gerry Stembridge.

Jeremy Howe, BBC Radio 4 commissioning editor, said: “These new serialisations will give listeners tremendous choice about how they explore the worlds that the writers have created, by offering the chance to glimpse through the doorway with one individual story or exploring more of their world with the collection. Each short story will work successfully alone, but seen together they will come together to present a bigger picture.”