Not Dressing Up for The Radio

From the back of the Radio Theatre

From the back of the Radio Theatre

In the early days of broadcasting by the BBC the story goes, the radio announcers had to wear evening dress, bow ties and dinner jackets, to read the evening news.  Somehow it must have been thought that the discerning listener would be able to tell if the gentleman inside the crystal set was improperly attired.

Some time between then and now, standards have changed.  If the audience can’t see you, it doesn’t matter what you wear.  It makes a certain sense, sitting in a sound proof room in a huge building somewhere, what does it matter what you wear?

I’d never really thought about it, until I went to a recording of the Radio 4 satirical programme The News Quiz a couple of weeks ago, where it was clear that the notion of informality for the radio, even when in front of an audience of 150 or so, was now the accepted norm.  All four panellists and the host were dressed in broadly what might be described as t-shirt and jeans, and probably not even their ‘best’ such combination.

It’s not a judgement, merely an observation, but it surprised me.  It perhaps shouldn’t have, because now I come to think of it, on the couple of occasions I’ve been to stand up comedy events, the performers have all been dressed as if they’ve stopped in on their way to the supermarket to tell a few jokes.

The News Quiz is a 30 minute programme, for which, on the night I was there, they recorded nearly 90 minutes of chat, and it was during the not very funny longueurs in the middle of the experience that I started wondering about why it was that the audience, looking largely like people who had come to Broadcasting House straight from work, were significantly more smartly dressed than the performers.

It’s clearly the fashion.  Perhaps it’s still the tail-end of the revolt against the ‘old fashioned’ comics of the 1960s and 70s who told mildly offensive jokes dressed in wide lapelled velvet jackets and stick on bow ties, who were swept away in the 80s by the punk aesthetic of determined offence-giving through curled lips, while  in ripped clothing.

But now when the same performers are on one of the plethora of TV shows that gives them a living, they are made up and titivated for the bright lights and camera….. I developed a theory, although it might already seem obvious to you (some of the recording was really rather dull and long winded…..):

Standard of smartness  must have a directly proportional relationship to the number of people who are going to see you, and each job or profession has its own base level.  So, for example, if you work in a professional advisory role, the base level is sitting at your desk talking on the phone, so ‘casual’ clothing is appropriate, but meeting one customer or client in a day would mean you would dress smartly;  if you’re a comedian, one room full of people is the base level, so jeans and t-shirt is the uniform, but if it’s on television, where people you can’t see can see you, then smarter attire is called for.  The key determinant in each calculation is clearly the base level at which no effort is required.

Being in a Radio 4 audience is relatively straightforward: join the mailing list and take your chances in the ticket lottery (and it’s another free thing to do in London).  You could come up with your own theories……..

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