It always came on when he was in the shower. As it was too dangerous to leap out of a slippery tub and switch stations for a few minutes, he tried sticking his soapy fingers in his ears and singing “LALA! LALA! LA!’ at the top of his voice. But that didn’t work either.
Eventually, Peter Hearty, a university research assistant and life member of the National Secular Society, found himself actually listening to Thought for the Day, and the idea for a satirical website was born.
BBC Radio 4’s daily sanctimony-slot has been the subject of a secularist campaign for years. For 2 minutes and 45 seconds every morning, listeners are subjected to often platitudinous, occasionally downright barking homilies from a pool of over 70 contributors. The fact that every one of those contributors is a religious believer has raised protests from the NSS and the British Humanist Association on the grounds of discrimination. But the BBC has not budged.
I thought it might be nice to vocalise what TFTD presenters were saying in a less roundabout way and give anyone who wanted an opportunity to comment on that day’s thought
The result was Platitude for the Day, a sharp, hilarious parody-cum-analysis of that morning’s broadcast, usually published within an hour of its airing. Each “thought” is given a star rating, ranging from 0 (Not platitudinous) to 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous). It is the perfect way to skewer the banality of the majority of the “God-slots”.
The archives stretch back to February 2007, and the site hasn’t gone unnoticed by some TFTD contributors. Not all of them are pleased. Media vicar Giles Fraser, for example, tells us,
This web site is further evidence that the new breed of media atheists are terribly good at saying what they are against, but not terribly good at saying what they are for.
The one Buddhist “thoughter”, Vishvapani, calls Hearty a “corflakes splutterer”.
On the other hand, Abdal Hakim Murad (aka Tim Winter), takes a more sanguine view – perhaps surprisingly so, as his contributions regularly score highly on the platitudometer:
I look at it sometimes. Generally it is humorous and well-intentioned, and I certainly don’t object to it.
Johnathan Bartley of the Christian-secularist think tank Ekklesia supports the opening up of the slot to non-religious contributors, and cites Platitude of the Day in his argument.
Indeed, Bartley and Hearty share the same vision for change – a vision which the BBC has still not been able to see. In the website’s manifesto, Peter writes,
How about we really open up TFTD, not just to the great and the good, but to the people up and down the country who have to make moral choices every day: nurses, teachers, policemen. And I don’t just mean the heads of their respective professions. Let’s have a nurse from a busy A&E ward, or a primary school teacher, or a bobby on an inner city beat. What does the bloke who sweeps the streets think about the war in Iraq? What problems do the family who own the shop on the corner face? The Today programme is full of politicians, bishops and businessmen. They get their say. Let’s hear about a different class of problem, a different set of choices.
Now there’s a thought.