The Today programme

Some mornings when I wake up
I remember to forget.
They’re the ones I start the day
without a sense of dread.
        I lie in blissful ignorance
        for three or four whole seconds
        unaware that in the air
        a muted menace beckons.
Then the wireless wakes itself,
gloom pervades the room
as Humphreys, Webb and Robinson
prophesy our doom.

 

The Today programme is a long-running news and current affairs programme broadcast nationally on BBC Radio 4. It is renowned for its ability to attract key spokespeople and senior politicians.

Unrelated to the above, it is such a fixture of British culture that it is said the last test for the commanders of the country’s nuclear submarines is to try and tune in to the programme on Radio 4’s long wave frequencies if they have been unable to contact the government in any other manner. If it’s not being broadcast they are told to assume the country has been obliterated in an attack and open the safe that contains the Prime Minister’s final instructions for what they should do with their missiles (traditionally ‘nothing’, ‘retaliate’, ‘use your own judgement’ or ‘surrender to a friendly nation’).

The valves used to transmit the long wave service are, sadly, dying, and are unable to be replaced since there are fewer than ten left in the world, of which the BBC owns the entire stock. When the last one blows, the long wave service will be taken permanently off the air. What the submarine commanders are supposed to do then, we don’t know.