The World at One
|Genre||News, current affairs|
|Running time||45 minutes|
|Home station||BBC Home Service (1965–1967)
BBC Radio 4 (since 1967)
|Recording studio||BBC Television Centre (until Dec 2012)
Broadcasting House (Dec 2012 onwards)
|Air dates||since 4 October 1965|
The World at One, or WATO ("what-oh") for short, is BBC Radio 4's long-running lunchtime news and current affairs programme, which is currently broadcast from 1.00 pm to 1.45 pm from Monday to Friday. The programme describes itself as "Britain's leading political programme. With a reputation for rigorous and original investigation, it is required listening in Westminster". Because of the programme's nature it is often agenda setting, with interviews leading the headlines from lunchtime through to early evening.
From 7 November 2011, the programme was extended in length to 45 minutes (from 30 minutes). This has meant the thirty-minute programmes at one time broadcast immediately after The World at One (such as Brain of Britain) have now found a new time slot on the Radio 4 schedule. A fifteen-minute programme now fills the gap till 2 pm.
The programme began on 4 October 1965 on the (then) Home Service and its launch is considered to have been key in making news programmes 'appointment to listen' broadcasting. As the then head of BBC Radio, Jenny Abramsky, noted, the programme started at a time when the Today programme was still in a more comfortable magazine format. The World at One "broke new ground in news broadcasting and was one of the reasons why radio is still important today", helping establish a form of current affairs programme that influenced the creation of Newsnight in 1980 and Channel 4 News in 1982.
The launch of The World at One was part of a wider change in BBC news and current affairs coverage: more journalists were arriving from Fleet Street and replacing a more sedate and collegiate culture. John Timpson said that by 1966 or 1967, "[a]n Oxbridge accent was no longer as important as a good contacts book, a shrewd eye for a new angle, and a skin like a rhinoceros" and that the news offices "no longer had the leisurely atmosphere of a club smoking room".
The programme had attracted criticism as it seemed to blend together news and current affairs, and break down the distinction made between reporting and interpretation. David Hendy, in Life on Air: A History of Radio Four, said that this change was more a change in aesthetic than it was in underlying organizational structure: "by allowing the programme presenter to write and deliver the headlines, it did appear to blur it [the distinction between news and comment] on air". In his history of radio news and current affairs, "Public Issue Radio", Hugh Chignell pointed out that The World at One was a highly successful but also a profoundly controversial innovation. It provided a successful approach to news and current affairs which would be cloned elsewhere but at the same time it horrified the more Reithian wing of the BBC who reacted in the 1970s by creating single subject current affairs programmes (Analysis and File on Four) in reaction to the The World at One's vulgar journalism. That vulgarity was personified by its first presenter, William Hardcastle, who was a former editor of the Daily Mail and had also been Washington Correspondent for Reuters. The Radio Academy Hall of Fame says he "had a businesslike, but warm broadcasting voice, and a style that emphasised fact rather than comment, bringing some Fleet Street urgency to the radio presentation of news". Hardcastle did not want to do the programme every day so Andrew Boyle suggested he share the job with William Davis another presenter whose career did not wholly depend on the BBC.
The programme was a success from the start. Over two million people were tuning in by the end of 1965, and would eventually reach four million by 1975.
In 1998, the then Controller of Radio 4, James Boyle, reduced the duration of the programme from 40 to 30 minutes as part of a series of schedule changes.
The World at One is still known for its robust journalism. After a short introduction to the programme, there is a six-minute news bulletin, followed by serious political interviews and in-depth reports. In recent years, the programme has focussed on 'tensions within the coalition', a phrase which is heard in almost every edition, much to the amusement of regular listeners. Its audience reach has risen recently to approximately 3.3 million listeners, with an average daily audience of around 1.4 million.
From late 2005, Shaun Ley presented the show while Clarke recovered from an operation to remove a cancer in his left leg. Clarke returned part-time in August 2006. Other stand-in presenters have included Brian Hanrahan, Guto Harri, Laura Trevelyan, Stephen Sackur, Carolyn Quinn, James Robbins and Mark Mardell. The current main presenter is Martha Kearney - who presents from Monday to Thursday, with Ley usually in the chair on Friday.
In 2012 and 2014 the programme was nominated as one of the best news and current affairs programmes in the Radio Academy Awards.
The previous week's programmes can be listened to again using the BBC iPlayer or downloaded as a podcast.
Many reporters and producers have spent some time working on the programme including Sue MacGregor, Kirsty Wark, Charlie Lee-Potter, Ted Harrison, Jonathan Dimbleby, Roger Cook, George Alagiah, Jenny Abramsky, Roger Hearing, Sian Williams, Peter Biles, Kirsty Lang, Martin Fewell, Shelagh Fogarty, David Jessel, Nick Ross, Ben Bradshaw, Juliet Bremner, Susannah Simons, Pallab Ghosh and Martha Kearney.
- William Hardcastle (1965–75)
- William Davis (1965–?)
- Brian Widlake
- David Jessel (1970–72)
- Sir Robin Day (1979–87)
- James Naughtie (1988–94)
- Nick Clarke (1994–2006)
- Martha Kearney (2007–present)
- Shaun Ley (2005–present)
- Today – Radio 4's early morning stablemate to The World at One.
- PM – Radio 4's early evening stablemate to The World at One.
- The World Tonight – Radio 4's late evening stablemate to The World at One.
- The World This Weekend - Radio 4's Sunday stablemate to The World at One.
Chignell, Hugh Public Issue Radio (2011) Palgrave MacMillan pp 85-87 ISBN 978-0-230-24739-0