What the Papers Say

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What The Papers Say is a British radio, and formerly television, series. It consists of humorous or unusual quotes from headlines and comment pages in the previous week's newspapers, read in a variety of voices and accents by actors. The quotes are linked by a script read by a studio presenter, usually a prominent journalist. The show does not have a regular host, and is intended as a wry look at how British broadsheets and tabloids have covered the week's news stories. The programme currently broadcasts on BBC Radio 4.

What The Papers Say originally ran for many years on television – its first incarnation (1956–2008) was the second longest-running programme on British television after Panorama.[1] Beginning in 1956 on Granada Television and ITV, the television series moved to Channel 4 and then to BBC2 before being discontinued in 2008. The programme was revived on Radio 4 in the run-up to the 2010 general election,[2] and continues now.

The programme's format has been the same for both television and radio. On TV, while quotes were being read, they would appear on-screen as newspaper cuttings under the relevant newspaper's masthead, and the presenter would read a script from the auto-prompt operator.


Throughout its history, the television series was editorially based in Manchester by Granada Television. For the first 26 years of its run, the series was broadcast on ITV in London and the North-West, and carried at different times in its history by certain other regional ITV stations; it was never networked nationally.

The first programme, on 5 November 1956, was presented by Brian Inglis, then deputy editor of The Spectator; the following week Kingsley Martin, editor of the New Statesman, presented the show. Martin presented the show on six occasions; Brian Inglis became the most frequent presenter with about 170 programmes. Originally the programme ran for 25 minutes, later reduced to 20.

In 1969, the programme was briefly relaunched as The Papers, with sociologist Stuart Hall as the first presenter. This version of the programme lasted for only 10 weeks, after which it reverted to its original title, and took on the format it retained, with a different presenter (almost always a journalist) each week.

The show moved from ITV to Channel 4 when the latter was launched in 1982, but was dropped in 1989, to be taken up by BBC2, where it was broadcast on Saturday afternoons, with a running time of 15 (later 10) minutes.

In 2008, the BBC decided not to recommission the series, also dropping coverage of the annual What the Papers Say Awards.[1] ITV Productions stated it hoped to find a "new home" for the show.[3] In October 2008 the same format made a partial return to screens during Granada's own regional political programme Party People, where it is usually introduced as "a look at what the papers say". The programme was revived by BBC Radio 4 in April 2010.

On 17 February 2010, the BBC announced What the Papers Say would be revived on BBC Radio 4, with 12 editions being broadcast under the working title "What the Election Papers Say" in the run-up to the 2010 general election.[2] The 12-part revival was regarded a success by former Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer, who commissioned the programme as a permanent addition to the station's schedule at 22.45 on Sundays[4] as the last segment of The Westminster Hour.

The radio programmes are recorded at the Westminster BBC's New Broadcasting House studios. Presenters of the BBC Radio 4 programme have included The Spectator's editor Fraser Nelson, the Daily Mirror's Kevin Maguire, The Guardian's Michael White, The Observer's Andrew Rawnsley and John Kampfner.

Critical acclaim

In its most recent incarnation, the programme has received a warm reception from critics, including The Daily Telegraph's Gillian Reynolds, who wrote, "Three cheers for whoever thought of rescuing What the Papers Say. The old essay format, where the presenter writes a script linking illustrative extracts from the week's press, still bursts with life. All the presenters so far have kept it sharp and spiky, the extract readers are full of gusto, production and editing are first-rate. It's an espresso in a Horlicks world".[5]

David Brockman wrote: "What is universally accepted is that Granada's What The Papers Say Awards, decided annually and first established in 1957, are among the most prestigious in the entire world of journalism".[6]


The show's theme music was originally The Procession of the Sardar, by Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, a student of Rimsky-Korsakov. Later, it was replaced by Allegro Non Troppo, the first movement from Malcolm Arnold's Second Set of English Dances Opus 33. The ten programmes titled The Papers used the Gershwin Piano Concerto in F as opening and closing music; when it reverted to the original title, it was replaced again by the Arnold work, which is now being used for the revived programme on radio.


In its original television format, actors reading the excerpts from the papers, out of vision, included Peter Wheeler (who narrated the introduction to Granada Television's Crown Court series),[7] Daphne Oxenford, Ray Moore and Barrie Hesketh.

The regular voices of BBC Radio 4's What the Papers Say are:

  • Frances Jeater, whose long and varied career has included performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre, as well as theatres across the UK and USA. Her television credits include roles in Where the Heart Is, Wycliffe and A Wing and A Prayer. She has a solid background in radio and is a past member of the BBC Radio Drama Company.
  • Steve Hodson, veteran stage and screen actor, who may be best known for his role as Steve Ross on the 1970s children's television series Follyfoot. Along with vast stage credentials, Steve is a seasoned Radio 4 drama actor and has recorded around 250 audio books.
  • Rachel Atkins, who has worked extensively in theatre and television with credits ranging from EastEnders to BBC One's Doctors. She has also been a member of the BBC Radio Drama Company. A veteran Radio 4 actor, Rachel can currently be heard as the voice of Vicky Tucker on The Archers.
  • Laurence Dobiesz, who made his radio debut in What the Papers Say. Having graduated from the Oxford School of Drama in 2008, Laurence has built up a portfolio of theatre credits including 'Twelfth Night' with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Mad Forest and Paradise Lost at Southwark Playhouse. His TV credits include The Bill.

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 Holmwood, Leigh (29 May 2008). "What the Papers Say axed by BBC". The Guardian. London.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "What The Papers say set for radio revival". BBC News. 17 February 2010. Retrieved 22 February 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "BBC cancels What the Papers Say". BBC News Online. 29 May 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Plunkett, John (17 May 2010). "What the Papers Say to become Radio 4 fixture". London: The Guardian.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Reynolds, Gillian (20 April 2010). "Sorry Nick Clegg, you don't seem so charming on radio, review". London: Telegraph.co.uk.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. David Brockman, What The Papers Say: 50 years
  7. Gavin Gaughan Obituary: Peter Wheeler, The Independent, 20 July 2010

External links