"our aim remains the same"

Magazine In a surprising bit of scheduling on Saturday night, Film4 are showing Cecil B DeMille's 1929 silent film The Godless Girl. Finally receiving its UK television premiere the film tells the story of 'an atheist couple sent to reform school' at least according to this week's Radio Times. They give it three stars but I'll certainly still be recording it, especially since it's not out on dvd and love DeMille's early work. That's exactly what I love about the Radio Times and why I'm a regular reader -- although other listings magazines have roughly the same information, the BBC backed publication seems highlight these little broadcasting oddities more clearly.

We've always bought the Radio Times. Even though it's slightly more expensive than most other listings magazines it always seem like better value, certainly more authoritative. We're a BBC family in general and the magazine seems to be an extension of that. It heralds Christmas, it greets a new series of Doctor Who and it has the oddity of still being called the Radio Times when television has taken over the majority of its pages (presumably because the obvious other choice is being used by someone else).

This week, the magazine has had a spring clean as it still tries to come to terms with digital television and the myriad channels available beyond the terrestrial. The design hasn't changed overall, except perhaps in the features pages. Some sections have been expanded, others re-prioritized, but I would say there has been a slight re-energising of their primary ethos; now more than ever trying to be a bloody good listings magazine. As Gill Hudson, the editor notes on page three, "our aim remains the same: to offer the best possible guidance to the week's top programmes, no matter how many channels and stations are out there."

To this end, the recommendation pages for television and films on television have been gathered at the front and joined by a smaller radio list too. The ensuing features pages are much the same with both the Behind the Scenes and Doctor Who exclusive articles being a visual feast with very bold photography. This week's main feature is a Film Special introduced by Andrew Collins which is tangentially connected to the movies being broadcast this week, in which various directors talk about their favourites - a small box indicating when some of their choices are going to be on. It is a great little article and you've got to love the editorial choice of putting it in there just so they could put Daniel Craig on the cover.

The redesign of the columns and film pages are an attempt to bring order to chaos - this new format makes better sense. Each of the contributors gets a whole page to play about with and the look is far more uniform. Gareth McLean isn't simply dropping a catch-up synopsis of each of the soaps now, he's a whole column of comment to fill - it is a shame though that the Real Me TV Me slot has been dropped. Same for the sports page and there's a new page called Living which has sucked in the old gardening coverage but provides room for the likes of food and homes.

Stuart Maconie's taken over from Phill Jupitus in the music department with a slightly less specific column that the comedian's album review. Oddly, though, Stuart's new page is called 'Music+TV DVDS+THE WEB' (the last one written by someone called Jack Seale instead). It somehow makes sense on the page but the DVD review's length has been cut back - I just hope it keeps its eclecticism - last week he wrote about Mr Magoo for goodness sake.

The film pages then are slightly more robust as they envelope back in Barry Norman's 'Film Star of the Week' and Andrew's Film DVD review. The front page no longer features the films of the week and is replaced with a wonderful 'Hidden Gem' thing by David Parkinson, the Movie Moment of the Week and some comment by Collins and Adam Smith (ex-Empire Magazine). This seems fresher and gives the section a much stronger identity. Films of the day are now peppered throughout the text that makes better sense and the interesting facts also dribbled through in circles.

Alison Graham's always fabulously outrageous column has been moved to the front page of the television listings and again this gives them a much more distinctive presence. The format of the television listings has been in something of a spin for the past decade, since the advent of Channel Five. Previously the evening programmes for each of the four main channels spread across the page, half a side each. When Five sprang up it suddenly had to deal with an odd number and over the years ITV flipped back and fourth across the margin. In the last reformat, BBCs Three and Four, ITVs Two and Three, E4 and More 4 were dropped over to these main pages essentially creating six columns which visually made greater sense but was still a bit of a mess, no matter how much shading was dropped in.

In this new version, the problem has been solved by keeping the old terrestrials were they are and giving a whole extra spread to the second string digitals. This acknowledges their increasing viewship in multi-channel homes with ITV4 in particular gaining much clearer coverage (which is great - I used to miss all kinds of things on there because I could never find the listing). The biggest anomaly is Five's coverage. That network's still being treated as a bit of runt - their main channel is much thinner than the other four and Five US and Five Life are also given slightly less space. There's not a lot on them, but it's an interesting choice which perhaps reflects how the channels have still yet to make their mark really, between the endless reruns of CSI.

A slightly smaller anomaly comes with the treatment of films. Nestled next to the listing for More4 is Film4 which is a great idea since it's the only film channel on freeview and gaining in viewership. But then curiously, the same information is repeated two pages later in the main satellite film listing, which makes it its third appearance after the 'at a glance' on the first pages. Overkill or just a clever realization of how people will want to access the information? Freeviews won't need to venture onto those satellite orientated pages any more and the channel isn't going to be overlooked quite so much. To these eyes it's a very clever choice, especially if it means that some viewers will now be more likely to find and tune into their more culty choices.

On then to the Radio pages and again it's a more full-bodied entry; a two page spread filled with highlights gathering together the daily choices all in one place and includes podcast suggestions. That change is to make way for listings pages that sort the various radio stations into genre, acknowledging the growth of digital listening by dragging the likes of 1Xtra and Planet Rock (me neither) into the mix (were they'd previously been ghettoized at the end). There's load more information here and it's achieved quite simply - by reducing the size of the font. I can already see the angry letters in the next issue from people with poor eyesight, but it works well, and again means that people might increase the variety of their listening. Plus they've also somehow managed to cram in some illustrative photographs, revealing the faces behind the voices and on Monday that means Myleene Klass (which is a very good thing indeed).

The Kids TV pages have been enveloped into the main listings and are much easier to read - I never did quite understand the whole repeated programmes across the week thing especially when they clearly weren't - but everything else is much the same. I love the letters pages. Sometimes they're a haven for small mindedness especially in the Letter of the Week choices (they got a free radio for writing that?) but often there's some genuinely witty or wry comment. Not this week though - some bizarre letter in here from someone complaining about Robert Carlyle having an independent thought about politics on the Today programme: 'I used to be a three-hours-a-day Today listener, but now I'm even considering Radio Five Live'. Not really a classless society is it?

So all in all, well worth the extra two pence that's been slapped onto the cover price to pay for the rejig. It's now an even more substantial magazine too adding an extra twenty-odd pages to accommodate everything. My only criticism is that I'd like to see even more radio listings pages to redress the imbalance between that and television - there's a lot of scope there for longer articles and interviews with radio personalities, especially at a time when listenerships continue to rise. More serious analysis of television trends too - I think it could withstand a return to the printing of ratings and their implications. But overall this new Radio Times version however many it is now makes it even more indispensable even though, of course, other listings magazines are available.

I still miss the old wavy logo though.

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