Radio France with an Accent Anglais?

In just a few short weeks a fluently French-speaking Brit with an unmistakeable accent, has provoked uproar among an elite Radio France audience who prefer the erudite to the trivial.

France Musique’s Alex Taylor drums up a breakfast time storm Photo: Jean-Baptiste-Millot

Since the rentrée in September France Musique’s Musique Matin flagship slot has been presented by Alex Taylor, a 52-year-old polyglot, raised in Cornwall, and now a self-styled continental exile. Why the uproar?

Well Taylor insists on asking high powered guests — musicians, authors, film-makers, politicians — on the show’s 8h08 prime-time slot about …. breakfast …. “rather than engaging in intellectually stimulating conversation” as one commenter in the ironically-titled Stations de Croix forum on the In-nocence blog noted despairingly.

The vocal folk loudly opposing him on such Internet and Facebook fora — and to be fair not a representative sample of the overall audience — object in the main to what they regard as the dumbing down of a programme they listen to as they awaken or prepare for work or, dare we say it, take their petit déjeuner of croissant, confiture or tartine.

Here for instance is the heart-rendering, anguished outpouring of the pseudonymous “M. Petit-Détour” just 24 days after the linguistic coup d’etat had occurred: “ … And then, oh horror, in the space of one summer, almost everything has changed. This pleasant hour devoted to music news (about concerts and books) was re-assigned to the atrocious Alex Taylor, the man with ‘mush in his mouth.’ Apparently a new broom has swept into the station, in the shape of the Englishman, who himself admits he hardly knows the difference between a drum and a bassoon, or between Elisabeth and Dorothea Schwarzkopf. He has transformed the show into a kind of fast-paced, abject magma played against a background of Beatles music, probably to maintain some semblance of tradition, mixing into a sort of “best of” and vaguely “bolerised” Albinoni’s Four Seasons …. The whole programme is sprinkled with laughter and schoolboy jokes that would make (Jean Marie) Bigard (a comedian) blush. Unbearable. This is more than just a great cultural loss it is a radical eradication. I hereby make a solemn plea to (Interior) Minister (Brice) Hortefeux kindly deport the Englishman named Taylor as fast as possible”.


(“M Détour” unfortunately undermines his point by mistaking Albinoni for Vivaldi, understandable given that so many records pair the Vivaldi piece with the Albinoni Adagio)

Then there was this one on the same blog from “Virgil”: “The interview this morning was distressing: a technology specialist was invited (a gentleman who had some interesting things to talk about incidentally). First question (from Taylor) : ‘What do you eat for breakfast?’ No you are not dreaming! And as for the rest of the interview it offered very little additional enlightenment”.

Not all have been so critical however. Here is one supporter Michel Chazeau, on the quobuz forum: “What pleasure every morning! Thank you and bravo Emilie, Alex and all the Musique Matin team at France Musique! We love you!”

However if asked, the heavyweights Taylor interviews would likely side with Virgil. The initial reaction of some to the “breakfast question” has ranged from incredulity and disdain to outright parody – “fried sausages” was the irritated response from one clearly offended guest. As yet no-one has used “porridge” as their reply but here’s hoping!

So who is this man? No stranger to Radio France’s Roundhouse Broadcasting Headquarters in Paris, in the 90’s he produced the “Continental” TV show on France 3 and “Confetti” on ARTE – the Franco-German channel. He joined France Inter in 1984, where he collaborated on shows such as “Telescoping”. In 1996 he was appointed program director at RFI by Jean-Paul Cluzel, then CEO of the Radio France’s international broadcasting outlet. He left that post in December 1998 to set up his own production company. Alex Taylor also has a monthly programme on the Parliamentary Channel and is the author of two books. Between 1995 and 2000 he presented a European Press Review every morning on the state owned station, France Inter. “I tried to talk about Europe as nobody had done before, to make it sexy,” said Alex Taylor who was immediately nicknamed “Mr Europe” by the media.

“This Musique Matin slot is a new challenge for me: in addition to music I plan to give an overview of international news ” he told the French news agency AFP shortly after programming for the new season was announced. “It delights me to propose a new tone for the morning, where the emphasis will be on the news,” he said. My aim is to look at music without being an expert in the matter”.

Not a position welcomed by some in his audience. They were quick to pour scorn on his broad-brush approach to erudite music and his introduction of some controversial choices on techno-sound and other pop music more suited to Radio Bleu or the many FM stations that blast it out 24 hours a day.

Announcing the change – designed to put France Musique’s new morning show firmly at the heart of current cultural events and French and international music — Olivier Morel-Maroger, deputy station controller said: “Musique Matin is the France Musique flagship and our goal is to broaden its audience a bit beyond the usual circle of listeners”.

Station controller Marc-Olivier Dupin said “We have recruited a strong personality with style. Alex Taylor is classy, quirky, British. The newspaper review and news coverage will be very strong components of the new style programme. Moreover for anyone who complains, this station broadcasts more than 1,000 concerts each year and is heavily committed to classical music. I believe there is a place to make the station more accessible to broader audiences.”

One reason for the uproar may be that Alex Taylor has replaced popular French melomane and broadcaster Stéphane Grant — one commenter said he and his friends were hoping to hear about the reasons behind the coup “straight from their own mouths” on a planned TV broadcast with Stéphane Grant and his former co-presenter Judith Chaine.

Taylor’s own co-presenter is a classical music professional, Emilie Munera, whose task is to present musical favourites and views on music throughout the show. However in reality, for anyone who has listened regularly over the weeks since summer ended, Taylor tends to dominate. He has an unfortunate habit of interjecting and talking over others even to the extent of preventing the long suffering weather presenter from finishing her daily weather forecast, not once but virtually every morning!

Despite the critics Taylor for the moment has the support of powerful broadcasting figures such as Jean-Luc Hees head of Radio France (France Info, France Inter, France Musique and France Culture) a recent left-wing appointee to the post by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The state-owned broadcaster’s classical station is engaged in an audience war with its private competitor Radio Classique which, according to the latest Médiamétrie research (January-March 2010) has 1.8% of total listenership against France Musique’s 1.3%. Over the period September 2008 to March 2010, France Musique recorded an average of 75,000 listeners from 7am to 9am (against 90,000 for Radio Classique over the same period). France Musique hopes its refresh will boost the number of listeners into six figures.

Here is an excerpt from a biographical interview with Alex Taylor published in 2005 by “DirkBeauregard

Alex Taylor was brought up in Cornwall. From an early age, he had a flair and a passion for languages. “I used to listen to French radio when I was 10. It sounded very exotic. Languages were an escape route.”

The great escape finally came in 1978 when Mr Taylor’s Oxford College, where he was studying languages, sent him to France for a year to improve his French. He taught English at the top notch Parisian Lycée St Louis. “A prime posting,” as Mr Taylor calls it.

Mr Taylor is a member of the European journalistic elite, fluent in five languages and over 2,000 TV and radio programmes to his credit, and he wholeheartedly subscribes to the idea of Europe. According to 300 press clippings he has kept, he is “Monsieur Europe.” He describes himself as European: “I feel profoundly European. I’m very proud to belong to this fantastic continent, with so many vastly different countries and different languages.” Mr Taylor’s Europe though is one of real people and not faceless Brussels bureaucrats.

“In 1999, In left Radio France Internationale where I had been Director of Programming for three years, and I set up my own production company. We made one programme called ‘Europuzzle’. It mainly went out on cable channels. It was all about European identity. Why are the Belgians Belgian? Why are the Dutch Dutch? It won an award, it was even bought by the BBC.”

Why did Mr Taylor come to France?
“I always thought actually, that I should never have ended up here. I studied French and German at Oxford. My German was always better than my French, so it was decided that I should spend my year abroad in Paris to improve my French. My college had a link with the Lycée St Louis, which was where I ended up in 1978 as an English language assistant. It was a prime posting.

“I feel like a misfit now” muses Alex. “I feel like an uprooted person. I think that when you come to live in a foreign country, you have to accept the fact that you’re an uprooted person and after 4 or 5 years, you will be permanently uprooted. The only people I get on with now in life are uprooted people.”

  • For those unfamiliar with the broadcaster’s style, here is video clip of an address to an audience at the French cultural centre in Vilnius on 12 July 2010.

Story: Ken Pottinger

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