Archives for June 2011

Radio 4 presents... Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman

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Rob Ketteridge 17:50, Thursday, 30 June 2011

Life and Fate graphic

Last month we announced that Radio 4 will be dramatising Vasily Grossman's epic novel Life and Fate starring Kenneth Branagh. During a week in September, it will take over every drama slot on Radio 4 - apart from The Archers - to tell the novel's interconnected stories about members of a Russian family during the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the bloodiest in history and of course a turning point in World War II.

Grossman's extraordinary work is increasingly hailed as the most important Russian novel of the 20th century and it has a passionate and growing following in the UK. But in terms of familiarity, it's obviously not quite the same as dramatising a novel by Dickens and so Radio 4 is planning various events both on and off air to introduce the novel and the radio version. On air, for example, there will be a documentary - The Life and Fate of Vasily Grossman - and readings from Grossman's work as a distinguished war correspondent which made him a household name in Russia.

We're also running a day of public events in Oxford on Friday 9 September to bring together some of the experts on and enthusiasts for Life and Fate. It will be a kind of small Life and Fate festival, if you like, linked to an academic symposium on Grossman's work organised jointly by Oxford and Aberystwyth Universities which takes place the following day.

The Radio 4 day will include a recording of Start the Week with Andrew Marr. There will also be a chance to hear from some of those behind the Radio 4 dramatisation, from writers who have championed the novel, and from leading specialists on its historical and biographical background.

Tickets to all the events are free and you can apply for them here. If you've any interest in twentieth century fiction, World War II history, Russian culture or radio drama - and you live near or can make it to Oxford - then there should be something for you.

No doubt the discussions will touch on why it has taken so long for a novel completed in 1960 to gain the kind of recognition that has led to this major dramatisation. Part of the answer lies in the facinating story of the book itself and its troubled route to publication. Its comparison of Stalinism with Nazism was considered so dangerous by Soviet authorities that the manuscript was placed under arrest by the KGB and Grossman was informed his book would not be published for at least 200 years. Grossman died aged 58 - the arrest of his book hastening the end of his life - and he would never know the fate of his masterpiece: smuggled out of the Soviet Union on microfilm to freedom and eventual publication in the West.

Rob Ketteridge is Head of Documentaries and London Drama

The free public events will take place in the Chapel of St Peter's College, Oxford University. You can apply for tickets via the BBC Audience website.

(NB 1. The running order was changed on 10 August. Current details below 2. Update 31 August: Bridget Kendall is now presenting the first and last sessions in place of Martin Sixsmith. The copy below is now correct. )

Life and Fate: The Radio Dramatisation
9 September 2011 at 10am
Bridget Kendall discusses the radio version of Life and Fate with its dramatisers, Jonathan Myerson and Mike Walker, and its principle director, Alison Hindell, who is Head of Audio Drama at the BBC.

Life and Fate: Grossman at War
9 September 2011 at 12pm
Mark Damazer discusses the novel's historical context and Grossman's extraordinary life with leading specialists including Robert Chandler, John Garrard and Lyuba Vinogradova.

Life and Fate: Start the Week
9 September 2011 at 3pm Andrew Marr presents a special edition of Start the Week reflecting Life and Fate.

Life and Fate: The Novel Set Free
9 September 2011 at 5pm
Bridget Kendall explores the literary context and reputation of Life and Fate with Zinovy Zinik, Linda Grant and Francis Spufford. The session includes a reading by Janet Suzman.

Radio 4 Extra's Book at Beachtime: Before I Go to Sleep

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SJ Watson SJ Watson 14:45, Thursday, 30 June 2011

Editor's note: Radio 4 Extra have been running a season of readings for the summer, Book at Beachtime. Each of the books in the series has been adapted in five parts and is broadcast on 4 Extra Monday to Friday at 2.30pm and is then available to listen online for seven days afterwards. This week's book is Before I go to Sleep by SJ Watson who introduces it on the blog - PM.

SJ Watson

Writing a book is an odd experience. Winston Churchill wrote that a book begins as "a toy", and then turns into "a tyrant". The last phase, he says, "is that you kill the monster, and fling him to the public."

While Before I Go to Sleep never became a monster, I can see Churchill's point. It's a book I nurtured right from conception, through the glorious first few weeks when, like a newborn baby, it fascinated and enthralled me, and on into the teenage stage when it refused to behave or do anything it was told. Now that it's been 'flung' to the public, it doesn't feel like mine anymore.

Believe it or not, it's a great feeling. Before I Go to Sleep is out in the world, kicking around, doing its own thing. I feel like a parent who's finally let go, except it doesn't even ask me for money. I love hearing what it's got up to, I love hearing what other people have taken from it and how they've interpreted it, and I'm really looking forward to hearing this new version on Books at Beachtime. I hope you enjoy it, too.

SJ Watson is the author of Before I go to Sleep

Trevor Eve on Front Row

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy 12:30, Thursday, 30 June 2011

Trevor Eve and Mark Lawson

Actor Trevor Eve came into Broadcasting House yesterday to chat to Mark Lawson about his life and career and how age (Eve's 60 later this week) changes the roles you can plausibly play:

Eve: "How old is Clint Eastwood?"
Lawson: "Oh, he's far older than you! He's 82."
Eve: "I'm still 59 until this Friday!"

You can hear the interview on the Front Row website.

Like many people my first encounter with Trevor Eve was TV drama Shoestring from 1979. For me and my school friends Eddie Shoestring, computer expert turned local radio private eye, was the epitome of cool and we would attempt and fail in emulating Eve's casual intensity - the only bit we'd get right is the tightly knotted tie worn at half-mast and the unbuttoned collar. Here's a picture from the first series of Shoestring:

Doran Godwin as Erica and Trevor Eve as Eddie Shoestring

Paul Murphy is the editor of the Radio 4 blog

Afternoon Play: the sign version of 'Shall I Say a Kiss?'

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Polly Thomas 13:28, Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Couple kissing

I'm in the radio drama studio in Cardiff and there are four people falling about laughing about a joke they've just shared - and I've not got a clue what was so funny. They are signing, and I don't, to my great chagrin.

It's one of the many highlights of Shall I say a Kiss?, a project that started when I met Lennard Davies, an American professor, and he casually mentioned that he had some old love letters between his deaf parents, written in the thirties. Ever the radio drama producer, I asked to read them. I was blown away.

The letters were plain in style and to the point, touching in the openness and the simplicity of the problem - how to make a trans Atlantic relationship work - but heightened by the fact that the two people involved happened to be deaf. I asked leading letters radio dramatist, Vanessa Rosenthal, to write a treatment, Radio 4 gave us the commission and we were off.

Which brings me to the studio. Having spent two days recording the sound, we then filmed a sign version, in collaboration with Sign Dance International. David Bower, one of the lead actors in the radio, Isolte Avila, Jacob Casselden and Laura Goulden are the performers for the sign film version.

We were all very proud of the audio drama and wanted to make it accessible to as many people as possible. It made particular sense to bring this particular story to the attention of Deaf people.

Sign Dance International specialise in using sign in performance. The sign team spent two days in studio, David performing with Isolte supporting communication in studio, whilst Laura and Jacob observed the roles and the style of the performance. It was fascinating to watch hands flying, faces focused and the absolute concentration of communication without sound - a doubly powerful experience in a radio studio.

For the sign film, the four performers shared the roles, sitting in a row, reading the script from a screen, and signing as they went. The audio was playing, while Jacob rested his feet on the speaker, picking up some of the rhythms of the speech, which helped him synch his signing to the audio.

My job was to scroll the script on a laptop, projected onto a large screen, whilst my colleague Eleri McAuliffe used a pointer to mark which speech the audio was at. There were some false starts and mildly hilarious moments, as my scrolling suddenly leapt five pages ahead and Eleri's arm went slightly numb. However, we got there, with a lot of patience from our performers, me rapidly improving my rusty typing skills and Eleri taking a few arm rest breaks.

It was fascinating to watch a radio drama come to life in a different performance style - to get a glimpse of the drama as it would be experienced by deaf audiences. The energy and dynamism of the characters and the scenes all came alive in a new way, opening up the possibilities of the drama.

We emerged from the sound and sign studio exhausted but exhilarated by the experiment. I still haven't found out what the joke was, though...

Polly Thomas is a freelance radio drama producer who made Shall I Say a Kiss? for radio drama at BBC Cymru/Wales

Reith lectures 2011, lecture one - Aung San Suu Kyi: Liberty

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Jennifer Clarke Jennifer Clarke 15:13, Monday, 27 June 2011

Aung San Suu Kyi

This morning, during the broadcast of Aung San Suu Kyi's first Reith Lecture, Liberty, we hosted a live chat about the lecture and the topics discussed here on the blog. Lots of you joined in, by typing comments directly into the live chat, by emailing the programme via the Reith pages on the Radio 4 website and by tweeting using the hashtag #reith.

You can replay the resulting conversation below (it might make sense to listen to the lecture while you're doing so) and subscribe to the Reith 2011 podcast.

We'll be running another live event on the blog for the second of Aung San Suu Kyi's Reith Lectures on Tuesday 5th July from 8.30am. Details of how you'll be able to take part are above. Do join us.

Jennifer Clarke is senior multiplatform producer, Radio Current Affairs

The great thinkers of the last 63 years - all in one place

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Andrew Caspari Andrew Caspari 17:07, Friday, 24 June 2011


montage of Reith Lecturers


Rarely if ever can BBC Radio 4’s Reith Lectures have caused such a stir as they have this year. What is more, this year the conversation has started before a word of Aung San Suu Kyi's lectures has been broadcast. (On Radio 4 at 9.00am on Tuesday 28 June.) On the Radio 4 website there will be full coverage of this year’s series but in addition we have a significant new offer. To coincide with this year’s series we have added hundreds of the lectures from the last 60 years.

You can now listen to or download more than 240 previous Reith lectures from the site. The collection includes every lecture from 1976 to 2010 and, apart from 1949 and 1950, there is at least one lecture for every year from the first in 1948. That is not all. We are building the collection of transcripts of the lectures, with only some from the late 1970s and 1980s left to add.

The archive is a journey through the great names and thinkers of the last 60 years. It includes Bertrand Russell, Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Hoggart, AH Halsey and JK Galbraith. At Radio 4 it is always slightly daunting to commission people to follow in such footsteps but in recent years the likes of Onora O’Neill and Daniel Barenboim have maintained the Reiths as one of the UK’s most significant intellectual stages. Their work is online too.

There are sadly some lectures for which we have been unable to unearth the recordings. We know occasionally listeners have their own copies. So if you have a dusty tape somewhere do get in touch.

This archive release is an important stage of the plan to give listeners much more of Radio 4 by offering archive programmes online forever. We know how much it is appreciated. The In Our Time archive is one of the BBC’s most highly rated sites. Desert Island Discs has already seen over three million programmes downloaded in two months. In addition to these headline strands, every week programmes are added to programme sites or to our collections. One of my favourites is the full set of Bookclubs from the start of the series in 1998. You can also now hear every edition of Great Lives.

We don’t intend to stop at this, so look out for more collections in the coming months. You have also told us that you want to be able to take these programmes with you wherever you go so we will gradually be making more archive programmes available as downloads and podcast feeds as we have with the Reiths and Desert Island Discs. Do comment below to let us know what you would like to hear and we will bear your requests in mind as we plan the future.

Aung San Suu Kyi's first Reith Lecture will broadcast at 9.00am BST on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, 28 June and will be repeated at 10.15pm BST on Saturday, 2 July. The second lecture will first broadcast at 9.00am BST on Tuesday, 5 July and will repeated at 10.15pm BST on Saturday, 9 July. During both broadcasts you will be able to join other listeners in a live blog, here on the Radio 4 Blog.

Andrew Caspari is Head of Speech Radio and Classical Music, Interactive at the BBC

The fate of children's radio

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 14:00, Friday, 24 June 2011

Daphne Oxenford, original presenter of Listen with Mother

I was drifting in and out of sleep the other day when I thought I heard the sound of Tubby the Tuba, shortly to be followed by Nelly the Elephant, and Burl Ives swallowing a fly. I waited with keen anticipation for Danny Kaye to sing 'Inchworm' or perhaps 'The Ugly Duckling'. Well we do regress to childhood as we get older.

For some reason I was back in the land of BBC Radio's Children's Favourites and Listen with Mother, a safe and secure world far from the Elvis's pelvis, or the sexed up songs of Beyonce or Rihanna. Today the BBC is accused of abandoning children's radio broadcasting and not without cause. In 2009 Radio 4 scrapped 'Go For It' - its only dedicated programme for children.

Then in February this year, as part of its review of BBC Children's Audio strategy, the BBC Trust said that it "regretted that the children's programming on Radio 7 is not serving audiences well, and performs very poorly in terms of reach, quality, impact and value for money". The three point strategy the trust approved in response to this devastating assessment was first a reduction in children's programming on Radio 7, now Radio 4 Extra, from 1400 to 350 hours, ie to a quarter of what it was.

Second, the shifting of Cbeebies pre-school audio to downloadable content instead and third making children's radio programmes available for broadcast by third parties. To examine these issues Feedback talked to Paul Smith, Head of Editorial Standards for BBC Audio and Music, Gregory Watson, managing director of the commercial radio station Fun Kids, and to Susan Stranks of the National Campaign for Children's Radio. I began by asking Susan Stranks, in view of the BBC's less than glorious attempts to make successful children's radio, why bother with it at all?

Next week in Feedback I'll be visiting the BBC's weather centre to answer your questions on that great British obsession the weather - or at least how we hear about it on BBC radio. Do let me know what you think.

Now I'm off in search of Mandy Miller and her elephant.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback on BBC Radio 4

  • Listen again to this week's Feedback, produced by Karen Pirie, get in touch with Feedback, find out how to join the listener panel or subscribe to the podcast on the Feedback web page.
  • Read all of Roger's Feedback blog posts.
  • Feedback is on Twitter. Follow @BBCR4Feedback.
  • The picture shows Daphne Oxenford, the original presenter of Listen with Mother on the Light Programme in the 1950s.

Interrail Tales

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Lesley McAlpine Lesley McAlpine 10:27, Thursday, 23 June 2011

'It had seemed a good idea at the time to go interrailing,' I thought, as the heavily armed Italian soldiers ordered us to put our hands up and lie on the ground.

Lesley McAlpine and friend Mandy on their interrailing trip


It was July 1982 and I was on my first trip backpacking around Europe with a school friend. We'd missed an evening curfew at a rather forbidding hostel in Rome and, unluckily for us, the hostel was next door to a prison which was on red alert the neighbourhood was scoured for members of the Marxist Red Brigade terrorist group. Well, that's what the gun-toting officers told us - though I think they had guessed pretty quickly we were just scruffy backpackers. Fortunately, we didn't see the inside of an Italian jail that night. The next morning the same soldiers roared with laughter at us as we slunk past them sheepishly, having slept out overnight on the banks of the river Tiber.

That incident really sums up for me the excitement, hopes and fears of the interrailing experience. In that summer of '82, I remember thinking how amazingly clean Swiss towns were; I remember how my head swivelled round when I saw David Bowie walking down the main street of Lausanne and what great parties the Italians throw! Perhaps not surprising, considering they'd just beaten Germany 3-1 in the World Cup final.

There is of course a downside to train travelling on a low budget - being moved on from park benches by police officers while trying to snatch some sleep between trains; eating spinach for three days after running out of money; and catching nasty bugs after drinking the wrong kind of water. But somehow I've air-brushed a lot of the bad things out. For me, it was all about making new friends, travelling on a whim and of course the lucky escapes.

I wonder if young people planning their own backpacking expeditions this summer will set off with that same sense of excitement I felt? Will they even travel by train? Today's generation are used to cheap flights and long haul trips, if they're lucky, to Thailand, New Zealand or South America. Is going Euro loco just a bit too slow?

I want to know the answer to that very question. So that's why I'm making interrail Tales - two programmes for Radio 4 which will broadcast at the end of August. I want to hear your stories of railing around Europe from the early 1970's, when the blue and white paper ticket to ride was first launched, right up to the present day.

Was your life changed by interrailing? Were you witness to a key moment in European history like the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989? Perhaps you watched first hand the recent protests in Greece or Spain? Are you heading off around Europe on a train this Summer? If you have been part of the interrail generation I'd like to hear your stories, and perhaps have a flick through your photos, too - if I can rise above the shame of bad hair, so can you!

If you want to be part of the interrail Tales on Radio 4, please email me.

Lesley McAlpine is the producer of the upcoming programme Interrail Tales.

  • Interrail Tales
is on Saturday 13 August 10:30am on Radio 4 and for seven days after on the website.

Book at Beachtime: Daughters-in-Law by Joanna Trollope

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Joanna Trollope Joanna Trollope 10:04, Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Editor's note: You can catch up with each episode of the Radio 4 Extra adaptation of Daughters-in-Law on the website for seven days after it's first broadcast.

Joanna Trollope

I am always thrilled to bits to have a novel of mine serialised on the radio. I don't know if it's generational, but there's something deeply sympathetic about a radio adaptation, and it always feels very close to the spirit of a book. So - hooray!, is what I thought, when I heard that Daughters-in-Law had been chosen for Radio 4 Extra.

I chose this theme for the novel, because it is universal. Whether actually married or not, everyone in any kind of relationship has to deal, in some way, with their partner's parents and family, and that dealing involves the kinds of priorities and loyalties that make for dramatic fictional tension.

I wanted to look at those loyalties and priorities from everyone's point of view - the mother who has been a terrific Mother of Sons, but can't face letting go, the young daughters-in-law, who have their own desires and rightful claims, the men caught in the middle, the father of all those boys, the children...

And then let the reader decide for her or himself where their own identification lies.

Joanna Trollope is the author of Daughters-in-Law

Book at Beachtime

Maracas beach in Trinidad

Editor's introduction: For the next four weeks Radio 4 Extra's running a season of "gripping, escapist summer reading... twisted family drama, sweeping romance and, above all, great story-telling by best-selling authors old, new and to come..." I asked the producers, Lucy Collingwood (LC) and Gemma Jenkins (GJ), to tell us a bit more about the project on the blog - PM.

LC: It's been great to have the opportunity to produce some different kinds of books for this new season. We searched for popular page turners that are real holiday reads. We spent a couple of months reading dozens of novels on our journeys to work and were really impressed by the ones we ended up choosing.

As we plan our productions quite far in advance, we were reading a lot of these through November and December. It was a good test of the books to see if they could really transport us to a different place and help us escape from a delayed tube journey on a snowy morning in December.

GJ: I decided to undertake a surreptitious straw poll during my train journey up to work to get an idea of what seemed to be the most popular books. I got a few odd looks as I tried to peer at book covers and decipher titles from across the aisle. There were a few surprises - someone was reading teach yourself Mandarin and someone else was engrossed in a book about pure mathematics - but, on the whole, the desire to escape into another world seemed a firm favourite.

During my reading, I discovered I had a taste for the more lurid end of the market - glamorous worlds with genuine moustache twirling villains and revenge plots to rival a Jacobean Tragedy but due to their epic scale it would have been too tricky to abridge them down into 5x30 minute episodes. Shame!

LC: I had really strong emotional reactions to both of the books I ended up producing for the season, Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson and To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal - which I thought was a pretty good sign! When I started reading Before I Go to Sleep, it reminded me of the films Memento and 50 First Dates as it is about a woman having no short term memory. However, a few pages in I was totally hooked by this truly gripping, original story and literally couldn't put it down (or go to sleep myself) before I knew what happened to her. I know Alison Joseph, the abridger, felt the same.

To Be Sung Underwater floored me. I was immediately swept up in the writing, in Judith's inspiring teenage summers in Nebraska and her long lost love story. It made me want to go and stay in a cabin and eat muffins with chokecherry jam myself. And in the end (without giving anything away) I found myself sobbing whilst heading home one evening, squashed in between commuters trying to hold on to my book, the pole and find a tissue without revealing anything to my fellow travellers.

GJ: Coming from a close-knit family myself I really warmed to the characters in Joanna Trollope's Daughters-in-Law, although their behaviour drove me mad at times too. While recording the romantic comedy, To The Moon and Back by Jill Mansell, I got the perfect response from the studio manager when we'd finished the first day's recording. As he wasn't scheduled to cover the next day, he pulled me to one side and said, "So, does he get the girl in the end?" Well, you'll just have to wait and see!

It's been a total pleasure working on the series and we hope listeners will enjoy the season as much as we did making it.

Book at Beachtime is produced by Lucy Collingwood and Gemma Jenkins

  • Book at Beachtime starts on Radio 4 Extra on June 20th at 2.30pm and runs from Monday to Friday for the next 4 weeks. You can also listen online on the Radio 4 Extra website.
  • The picture shows Maracas beach in Trinidad
  • Read more entries tagged "book" on the Radio 4 and 4 Extra blog

Radio 4 Extra: Arthur Smith's Slippers Speak

Arthur Smith and slippers

Good day to you.

A year ago we were sitting in a shop in Crewe as we had been doing for several weeks, when a man came in, bought us for £7.99 and took us down South to Balham in London.

We are Arthur Smith's slippers.

We are not his best pair - they are thicker and more luxurious but are snobbish and suffer from agoraphobia since they never leave the house.

We two - otherwise known as Comfy Left and Lounge-around Right - spent many months lying around hotel rooms all over the country while Arthur did shows at the local theatres.

He tucked his toes into us at night before he went to bed. It was tough since we were often squashed into a bag the next day with his socks and pants. Now though, we have our own home called Studio 40D.

Studio 40D is where Arthur records the Radio 4 Extra Comedy Club, and it's great because we get to listen to contemporary radio comedy and loads of different comedians chatting or doing songs.


When Arthur is away, we sit in the studio. We take care not to trip anyone up, in case the Health and Safety Officer has us evicted from the building. Some visitors do not seem to like us but once, Andi Osho tried us on when no-one was looking. We enjoyed that.

We hope to stick around here a while. We may start a Facebook page, or go on Twitter.

We know we are not a grand pair - there's no sheepskin lining or suede on our soles - but we do our job honestly and never complain, even when Arthur wears odd socks or spills coffee on us as he always does. We are happy slippers, and we enjoy being entertained by the Radio 4Extra Comedy Club.

Arthur Smith's Slippers live in Studio 40D

  • The Comedy Club runs six nights a week from 10pm-midnight. Arthur Smith presents Monday to Thursday. Andi Osho hosts Sunday nights. Each Friday there's a guest presenter, this week it's Seann Walsh.
  • To hear past interviews with the likes of Alexei Sayle and Shappi Khorsandi go to the Comedy Club on the website

All in the Mind: Take the BBC Stress Test

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Claudia Hammond Claudia Hammond 18:00, Friday, 17 June 2011

stress test graphic

We all get stressed sometimes. It's inevitable. But for some people this tips over into depression and anxiety and for others it doesn't. The BBC Stress Test is a new online scientific experiment we're launching which is designed to find out why.

There are so many different factors to tease out.

Your biology - does your genetic predisposition explain your reaction to stress? Do you have good friends to talk to? Do you tend to blame yourself when things go wrong or do you go back over and over your own mistakes in your mind? How much do your experiences in childhood influence the way you handle stress? This research, the first of its kind, is going to try and work out which factors make the most difference.

The Stress Test has been designed by Professor Peter Kinderman at Liverpool University in collaboration with BBC Lab UK. We're hoping thousands of people will take part. It takes about 20 minutes (or longer if like me you insist on doing it in the middle of busy office where people keep coming up to chat). You can take the test here.

What I like about the test is that as well as that getting that warm glow of knowing you're contributing to the sum of the world's knowledge, you also get something back immediately - personalised feedback about the way you cope with stress and tips to manage it better.

The test starts with some general questions about you (N.B. everything's confidential). Then it asks how you've been feeling recently followed by questions about your social life, your work and whether you have money worries.

The most fun bits of the test are the practical parts. In one test you're asked to respond to positive and negative words as they flash up on the screen. Your reaction time and the number of errors you make can show how your brain processes emotional information.

While my reactions to words like "crying" and "failure" or "joyful" or "serene" were measuring an aspect of my stress I was unfortunately in an open plan office and chatting to colleagues so I think made a few mistakes on that part. Oh well.

The test even looks at who you blame and why. I like the bit where you can use a slider to allocate blame to different things for certain situations - move the cursor to decide how much to blame yourself or outside influences when a friend ignores you while out shopping.

Psychologists have found that the way we explain things that have happened in the past is closely linked to the explanations we give in the present and the predictions we make for the future.

After you've done all the tests submit your results and a few seconds later you'll get personalized feedback on how stressed you are now, what sorts of coping strategies you use and the possible causes of your stress.

Then there are tips for managing it better - again tailored to your answers. It's well worth doing. Some of the answers I got surprised me. But one last word of advice - don't do it in a busy office.

Claudia Hammond presents All in the Mind

When Wesley went to Winchester

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Wesley Kerr Wesley Kerr 17:09, Friday, 17 June 2011

Wesley Kerr as a schoolboy

We wanted to know what difference it makes to someone, suddenly changing school, perhaps shifting class or modifying accent, in going from state school to boarding at a posh school on a free bursary.

In this case one of the people was your dispassionate reporter. A surprisingly layered assignment.

The hardest part of making a radio or TV programme is the beginning. The toughest part of reminiscence - for me going back to the early seventies, but for some in this programme, recalling schooldays in the forties and fifties - is to trick the brain backwards into opening the gates of memory.

The great Nobel prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing told me a few years ago how she had recalled detailed events from her childhood for a volume of memoirs. Take an object from the past she said, look at it, open it, study the contents.

For the programme, When Wesley went to Winchester the device, was both simple and to hand. The old canvas and wood trunk, which accompanied me at the start and finish of most terms both to boarding school and Cambridge University was now gathering dust in the shed.

Tucked inside were years of theatre programmes and correspondence but, at the bottom, and also in an ancient biscuit tin, were documents pertaining to my feeding regime as a baby, old school reports and the unusual story of how a lad from a foster home had found himself part of a unique county bursary scheme which turned out more extensive than we'd imagined.

Winchester College kindly laid on a reunion with a difference and 33 people who'd mostly never met, but had all benefitted from the same bursaries, funded either by Hampshire or Hertfordshire Council, or in some cases by the school itself after county wide exams, came together.

We decided to use my trunk, as a way to look into this fascinating social and educational experiment, radical when conceived during World War II, but perhaps with lessons for today.

County bursaries enabled 13 year old students from ordinary backgrounds to go to elite schools like Winchester and Eton colleges, and Rugby, for little or no fee.

Did the bursary boys' confidence and schooling benefit? Did we encounter hostility, friendship or both? Did the scheme break down social division? How did I do? Perhaps you'll listen in for the answers in the programme.

It was emotional to make, and also to meet some of the other Old Wykehamists on a bright Spring day. One was a lad I spent three years singing next to in the choir. Do we sing again? It was great to see former teachers, old friends and people who'd been so kind to me as a teenager. And whatever you think of private education Winchester is one of our most historic, picturesque cities, and a flavour of that is in the programme.

Wesley Kerr is a broadcaster and journalist

Feedback: Radio 3 Live in Concert

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 13:34, Friday, 17 June 2011

St Leonard's Shoreditch

Feedback sent me to St Leonard's Church in Shoreditch in east London this week.

I wouldn't call it the most glamorous of locations.

It lies just outside the old walls of the City, and had the surrounding area been badly blitzed not much of architectural value would have been lost.

The historical associations are however dazzling. This is the site of the first theatre built in England since the Romans departed. A second soon followed, and William Shakespeare played in and wrote for at least one of them before departing for the South Bank.

One of his best friends and colleagues, Richard Burbage, lies in the graveyard as does the man fellow playwright Ben Jonson ran through with his sword during a fight in nearby Hoxton Square, now achingly fashionable, but then an open place where feuds were settled.

Jonson escaped the noose "by benefit of clergy".

St Leonard's itself was rebuilt by the architect George Dance the Elder between 1736 and 1740 and though some plaster is peeling off the walls it is a wonderful space, ideal for performing Purcell's semi-opera King Arthur.

Which is why a Radio 3 outside broadcasting vehicle was parked outside on the road to Hackney.

The network was transmitting the concert as part of Radio 3 Live in Concert, which, in what is described as "an unprecedented venture", is carrying live broadcasts from across the UK every weekday.

I was accompanied by Feedback listener Chris Newman, a passionate Radio 3 fan and we met the director Robert Hollingworth and also the Radio 3 Live in Concert's Edward Blakeman.

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Next week on Feedback we will be discussing whether Children's radio has any future at the BBC.

Or put it another way, if Chris Evans can get 30,000 children to write short stories for Radio 2, what's the problem?

Please let me know what you think. Leave a comment on the blog or get in touch via the Feedback web site.

Roger Bolton is presenter of Feedback

A Forensic Look at Infidelity

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Maggie Ayre Maggie Ayre 10:42, Friday, 17 June 2011

A pixelated image of a man and woman kissing

"If we had a pound for everybody who asks us to break into their partner's Facebook account, we'd be millionaires" says Jo.

We're sitting in the unassuming offices of a Private Investigator's agency on the top floor of a 1930s semi detached house on the outskirts of Nottingham. This is where Jo and her female colleagues run the Harriet Bond Detective Agency from.

"Truth lives on in the midst of deception" is one of a series of quotations coming up on the website when you log on. Jo is a slender, attractive woman in her thirties with long brown hair and no make up.

Her looks give her the advantage of being able to blend in with the crowd if she has to be anonymous while following someone, or more glamorous if she was to set what's known in the business as a "honey trap". This is when an attractive woman is planted in a bar or restaurant with the aim of catching a man in the act of chatting up or seducing an attractive female, thereby confirming his wife's suspicions.

"Business is booming" says Jo and points to a growing trend in the 21st century - the growth of technology in facilitating extra marital flings.

"A lot of people are having affairs," she says. "Nowadays with Facebook, Twitter and mobile phones, virtual affairs are becoming a massive contributing factor to relationships. I think Facebook has been cited in almost one in five divorces. People are blocking it from their partners, they're able to control the settings so their partners can't see what they're saying to people."

The Harriet Bond Agency is one of a growing number of all female investigation bureaus springing up around the country. Jo says that an equal amount of men to women hire her and her team to check out their partner's fidelity or lack of it.

Somehow people seem to feel at ease with women. Maybe it's to do with the traditional image of the private detective being one of an unhealthy, slightly sleazy looking male in a raincoat, or maybe women are just hardwired to sniff out a straying spouse.

Jo says they are sympathetic to their clients, understand their distress and the emotional turmoil they are experiencing, so once they do prove infidelity, they don't just break the news and then close the case. They also provide what she describes as an after care service where they check up on the client and offer advice as to how to proceed. Usually the advice is to hold fire and leave things to settle down before making important decisions such as whether to start divorce proceedings.

As part of our programme A Forensic Look at Infidelity on Radio 4, we join Jo and a colleague (they always work in pairs) as they follow an unsuspecting husband who's just dropped his wife off at the station knowing she'll be gone for two nights as he heads off for a secret tryst with an attractive brunette.

They start by fitting a vehicle tracking device to the wife's car so they can see exactly where he is at any given moment. In the end it's a very straightforward case. The guy drives straight to the town centre, picks up his lady friend and drives her out to the suburbs to her home.

The case is confirmed and resolved within a couple of hours and Jo has what she needs to give to the wife, who is already seeking divorce, and simply needs the evidence to present in court.

"At least I know I'm not going to make someone cry tonight" a somewhat relieved Jo says as she reviews the footage secretly filmed using a pinhole camera hidden in the strap of a leather handbag. Jo carries the responsibility of being the bearer of bad news very seriously, but believes passionately in what she's doing.

"A lot of people ask me if I'm happy with what I do for moralistic reasons. I am because I believe people should know if their partners are cheating on them. I think everyone's got the right to know what's happening to them because it's their life. You only get one chance. They deserve to know the truth".

Maggie Ayre is the producer of A Forensic Look at Infidelity

The Chess Girls: The story of the Polgár sisters

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Chris Ledgard Chris Ledgard 15:38, Thursday, 16 June 2011

Judit Polgar in 1992

"Yes? Yes? You like?"

I'm sitting in a big, airy flat in a fashionable bit of Budapest. Next to me, the extraordinary László Polgár is slapping chess pieces down on a star shaped board (his latest invention), then fixing me with his stare and demanding yet again, drawled and emphatic "Yes? Yes? You like?".

I, meanwhile, scrabble for the schoolboy chess skills to show that yes, I understand, and yes, yes, I like. Definitely.

Then, perhaps, László and Klara will tell me their story.

And they did, a story which began more than forty years ago in a much smaller flat in the same city.

Defying the Communist regime and open antisemitism, they educated their three daughters at home to prove László's theory that any healthy child can become a genius. His experiment was built around language teaching, but he also introduced each of the girls at a very young age to chess, and then coached them intensively.

At the highest level, chess is a man's world, but the Polgár sisters went on to smash records and win international fame. It's an astonishing tale.

László did most of the telling, Klara the translating. You can hear extracts from the interview in The Chess Girls, in which the writer Lavinia Greenlaw weaves the voices of the real László and Klara into her fictional vision of life in the Polgar household. Listening to the force in the voice - of both the real László and his fictional counterpart played by Kerry Shayle - you can hear why even an impromptu twenty minute lesson in Starchess is never forgotten. If you want a look at how László's game works (and a look at László), his site is here.

Lavinia's favourite description of the Polgárs comes in a piece by the International Master and chess writer William Hartston for The Independent in 1992. Recalling family celebrations after the Hungarian team (ie the Polgár sisters) had triumphed in the Chess Olympics, he wrote, "With the three girls of various sizes, a plump mother, and László, gnome-like, with a cloth cap covering his balding head, they looked like the happy scene at the end of a fairy story."

Like all decent fairy stories there's conflict and darkness - László Polgár's methods were unheard of and attracted a good deal of criticism. But, Klara explains very firmly, the girls' happiness was never in question and the family were - and still are - a close, loving one.

At the end of our interview in Budapest, László and Klara's dog, keen for a walk, started barking. So at the end of the play, the real dog barks on the tape, the fictional László calls it to the studio/flat door, and off they all go.

Chris Ledgard is a radio producer based in Bristol and directed The Chess Girls

  • Listen to The Chess Girls on the Radio 4 website for the next seven days.
  • The marvellous photograph of Judit Polgár playing a simultaneous match against multiple opponents in 1992 was taken by Ed Yourdon and has been used under this Creative Commons licence.

    The original title and caption reads:
    "Simultaneous chess exhibit v. Judit Polgar, 1992
    These pictures were taken during a simultaneous "exhibition" match that Hungarian chess prodigy Judit Polgar played against roughly a dozen local chess kids in the spring of 1992."

    You can see more of the pictures from the event as part of Ed Yourdon's photostream on Flickr.

Thinking Allowed: What I found in my pocket

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Laurie Taylor Laurie Taylor 13:18, Thursday, 16 June 2011

Laurie Taylor

Editor's note: You can listen to this epsiode of Thinking Allowed now on the website. The Thinking Allowed team are also making a series of specials on the present and the future of our home life and are looking for your help. Details towards the end of the post - PM.

Nowadays I haven't any parents around to ask, but I think it must have been a bout of childhood illness which meant that I had to repeat my first year at junior school.

That wasn't too much of an imposition. I could readily recite the mathematical tables which at the time were such a core part of the syllabus, and had a good working knowledge of the principal rivers of Britain.

But what was really tedious was having to re-write the standard English essays. Our form teacher Mrs Machin, was a kindly soul who could boast of having created the first nature table in the whole junior school. She did, however, lack a degree of literary imagination.

Year after year she doled out the exact same list of essay topics: "Where I went on my holiday", "What I found in my pocket" and "My favourite thing".

I'd done all three topics on my first time round in the form and learned one of the first rules of literary composition: the need to fabricate. If I'd stuck to the reality of my actual holiday - another dreary two weeks in a boarding house miles from the beach in Torquay - then I'd certainly never have earned any gold stars for composition.

Neither was there any point in trying to make the actual contents of my pocket stretch to three hundred words.

It would hardly take more than a couple of sentences to document my possession of a handful of loose change, a rubber and a dirty handkerchief. So when I came to re-write my holiday essay, I gave full rein to my imagination, happily transporting myself and my parents and my little sisters to an exotic location somewhere in South America where we were attacked by bandits and only managed to escape over the border to safety with the guidance of a friendly sheepdog.

Mrs Machin seemed reasonably impressed by my literary excursion. She awarded me two gold stars and wrote "Very imaginative" in the margin of my last paragraph (the one in which my family made their final dash to safety across a raging torrent).

I followed much the same course with my pocket essay. Instead of discovering a used handkerchief and a shilling and sixpence and a used bubblegum wrapper I came up with a Havana cigar, a sliver lighter and a loaded revolver. My explanation of how these came into my possession relied even more on imagination than my family holiday. It featured a plot against my family, the murder of two next door neighbours and a last minute shoot-out in Alexandra Park between myself and the moustachioed villain.

It was too much altogether for there was only one gold star. And one reproof. "Don't let your imagination get the better of you" Mrs Machin wrote on the last page. It was, no doubt, to curb any flights of fancy that she took the unusual step of telling me that my next essay on "My favourite Things" must eschew exotic trips to South America and shout-outs with villains in the local park and concentrate on more ordinary matters.

"I know", she said, "write about your handkerchief".

I didn't even attempt the task. On the day the essay was due to be submitted I persuaded my mother to write a note saying that I'd been suffering from severe stomach trouble and been unable to sit still for long enough to write my homework.

How wonderful then to open a new book called Paraphernalia and find that the author Steven Connor had devoted an entire chapter - nine whole pages - to the subject of the - handkerchief.

And, what's more, it's fascinating reading. As indeed are the chapters devoted to such other examples of paraphernalia: buttons, combs, glasses, keys, pins, rubber bands and wires.

To learn why I've already handed out three gold stars to Professor Connor, join him and me, together with Michael Bywater for this week's Thinking Allowed, now available on the Radio 4 website or on our downloadable podcast.

Also in this episode: Are most sociologists secret utopians? Discuss.

Oh, one more thing. On the programme, I'm asking how you would feel about me coming to visit you in your own home. And not just me. Oh no. Me plus two other sociologists. That's right three sociologists in your house, your living room, your kitchen - for a few hours. It's simple really - for our special summer series this year we're concentrating on the present and the future of our home life. And it seemed a good idea to make these programme in three very different types of homes.

In the first place we're looking for a single person household - a house or more likely an apartment - occupied by someone living alone and often uses home as a workplace, with all the necessary technology to make it a veritable leisure centre.

And then for contrast, we're anxious to find a multi-generational home - one which perhaps contains grandparents and parents and children or even other relatives.

And finally - what shall we call this? - A classic nuclear mum-dad-children family, an Ask the Family type of home.

If you'd like to take part do contact us with details of your own home and family.

We'll bring our own coffee and biscuits - and contrary to popular belief most sociologists are relatively well house-trained. Mark your letters and e-mails - Home - and send them to:

Thinking Allowed
BBC Radio 4
Broadcasting House

Or by email to

Laurie Taylor presents Thinking Allowed

Radio 4 Extra: The making of Bradbury 13

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Michael McDonough Michael McDonough 10:36, Monday, 13 June 2011

Michael McDonough working in the studio on Bradbury 13 in 1984

Michael McDonough working in the studio on Bradbury 13 in 1984

I decided as a very young man in the late 1970s to someday adapt Ray Bradbury's stories into the audio format.

I was very influenced by the sound in the movies back then, and having grown up near Hollywood I met Ray Bradbury through some friends. He immediately loved the idea of adapting his work into radio. I received a grant from National Public Radio in 1983 to produce thirteen half-hour dramas for national broadcast and Ray was very supportive of the idea.

I chose stories from his works that I felt would work in the audio environment and went to work adapting them into radio scripts. My intent was for the audience to feel like they were watching a movie as they listened to them, so I wrote the stories with film-style settings and transitions in mind.

Mike recording gunshots and bullet ricochets in the Utah desert for Bradbury 13

I set about recording original sounds, and manipulating them in the studio on multi-track tape machines to create a library of sound material to use in the shows. I recorded everything from rocket engines test firing in the Utah desert to bullets ricocheting off of rocks and dirt roads to 1950s cars and trucks for the show.

I decided not to update Bradbury's scripts into the current time era, but kept them in their original settings of the 1950s and 60s when they were written, so the sounds were appropriate for that time period.

I hired two friends who were budding music composers, Roger Hoffman and Greg Hansen to write original music for the shows, and a live orchestra was recorded in the studio. The music in the series is patterned after and heavily influenced by legendary British film composer Bernard Herrmann, who wrote many fantasy and dramatic films scores for many classic films including Psycho, The Day The Earth Stood Still and Cape Fear.

Mike and the cast of the episode 'The Man'

On the technical side, I decided to record the actors using a binaural microphone set up which simulates true stereo sound. Two Neumann U-87 Studio microphones were used, placed the same distance from each other as the human ears. The same rig was used to record the Foley sounds, which are footsteps on dirt, cement and various surfaces to make the actors sound as if they are moving about.

Finally, I was able to hire legendary Hollywood voice talent Paul Frees to introduce each story and voice the closing credits. His credits include numerous motion pictures, including George Pal's original War Of The Worlds, many Disney cartoons, and the voice of Disneyland's attractions Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion.

The finished shows were broadcast on over 250 NPR radio stations throughout the United States, and won the prestigious George Foster Peabody award in 1984. All in all, it was a work of love!

Michael McDonough is the writer, producer and director of Bradbury 13

Radio 4 Extra Strong: Count Arthur speaks

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Martin Dempsey Martin Dempsey 10:18, Monday, 13 June 2011

The train left Euston at 11.40am on an unusually clear blue spring day back in March. Aboard it were myself and broadcast assistant Kevin Gordon, both of us bound for Manchester. A normal enough start.

Of course, 'normality' is a relative term. My day to day duties at 4 Extra probably appear quite bizarre to visitors. My job is listening to all archive programmes before they get a proper airing on the network. Ordinarily, this means a lot of time with headphones on, poring over editions of Dad's Army, Paul Temple, Ballylenon and the like. It's by no means a solitary job - in fact there's whole team of us, like a strange branch of MI5 keeping fictional characters under surveillance.

We do get the chance to flex our creative muscles as well as our analytical ones. Namely, the dedicated three hour specials you may have heard on Saturdays. This particular opportunity I'd seized with both hands. The chance to work with radio legends Count Arthur Strong and Mark Radcliffe? Yes please, especially as the good Count (his Grace? I never did settle on a form of address) was mid-tour, providing an opportunity to record in Manchester's Oxford Road studios. A piece of broadcasting history, I was thrilled to record there before it all relocates to Salford.

Count Arthur

Count Arthur's impending presence seemed to add a gloss of cheery surrealness to everything almost as soon as we got there.

The receptionist, startled by our early arrival, said she'd check with the people booked into Studio 5 next - and promptly dialled my number while I was stood two feet away. The cab company, too, had somehow got my number conflated with Count Arthur's and kept telling me my lift was waiting. They were so insistent, I began to wonder if I was Count Arthur after all. To raise it all to a giddy height, Studio 5 was mysteriously festooned with bunting and paper chains.

The Count and Mark Radcliffe

Of course, when Mark and the Count (His Worship?) arrived it served as a splendidly demented backdrop to an uproariously silly session as the pair took off in intricate flights of fancy. Mark Radcliffe and Count Arthur were quite simply a delight, and a joyous hour of recording yielding far more than I'd expected.

In fact all of the staff at Manchester, studio managers, receptionists, our own Kevin Gordon, deserve a huge thanks for their help in making it happen. I hope it makes you smile as much as I did as I stepped out onto Oxford Road afterwards, when further surrealness erupted in the form of French football fans chanting 'Manchestaaaaaair!'.

It's the Count's world, we just live in it - 'normal' really is a relative term.

Martin Dempsey is producer, Radio 4 Extra

Feedback: Does it matter where a radio station comes from?

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 13:58, Friday, 10 June 2011

Media City UK

Does the location from which a radio station is broadcast significantly affect its sound and content?

If you are talking about Radio Merseyside or Radio Cumbria the answer is obviously yes. If they don't sound local and deal with local issues, they won't have an audience.

But what about a UK-wide station?

So far it's been difficult to tell as they are all based in west London.

In the autumn this will change as Radio 5 live completes its move to the Salford Quays, a couple of miles from the centre of Manchester.

In Feedback this week I talked to the Controller of the station about what changes he expects to result from the move and whether he himself will be moving permanently to the North West.

Before the move has been completed 5 live has found itself being criticised by its commercial rival Talksport.

This must rankle a liitle since Talksport has just won the Sony award for station of the year, previously held by - yes - 5Live.

The main thrust of Talksport's criticism is about what its rival news considers to be news as well as its obsession with soccer to the detriment of the minority sports the public service network is also supposed to cover.

Of course there is an element of self-interest in these criticisms but they are echoed by some Feedback listeners.

When I met Adrian Van Klaveren, the Controller of 5 Live, I put some of these questions to him.

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Leave a comment on the blog or get in touch via the Feedback web site.

Roger Bolton is presenter of Feedback

  • Listen again to this week's Feedback, produced by Karen Pirie, get in touch with Feedback, find out how to join the listener panel or subscribe to the podcast on the Feedback web page.
  • Feedback is on Twitter. Follow @BBCR4Feedback.
  • Picture caption: "BBC MediaCityUK, the new centre for the BBC and other media organisations in Salford Quays, Salford, Manchester"

The Reith Lectures 2011: Aung San Suu Kyi and Eliza Manningham-Buller

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Gwyneth Williams Gwyneth Williams 11:15, Friday, 10 June 2011

Aung San Suu Kyi

It has been a tense week. A BBC Newsgathering team has been making its way secretly into Burma, recording two Reith Lectures given by Aung San Suu Kyi and smuggling them out so that we can broadcast them on Radio 4.

News from the Reith Editor, Sue Ellis, during the week came in bursts... 'The team is in Rangoon... It's getting to her house and out again without being chased, which is the difficult thing. Then, there's leaving the country. It's all rather nail-biting'.

Indeed. But now I can say that, thanks to an extraordinary collective effort, within the BBC and way beyond it, we have the lectures safely recorded and ready to be broadcast as part of our Reith Lecture series for 2011.

And I have just this minute read Aung San Suu Kyi's quotes sent to me from Thailand by the team that smuggled her words out of Burma. What she says reminds us of our purpose: finding out and broadcasting the truth in all circumstances.

She articulates the very human need to speak and be heard and reminds us of the price we pay for silencing this voice. Here's her quote:

'To be speaking to you through the BBC has a very special meaning for me. It means that once again I am officially a free person.

'When I was officially "unfree", that is to say when I was under house arrest, it was the BBC that spoke to me - I listened. But that listening also gave me a kind of freedom, the freedom of reaching out to other human minds, of course it was not the same as a personal exchange but it was a form of human contact.

'The freedom to make contact with other human beings with whom you may wish to share your thoughts and your hopes, your laughter and at times even your anger and indignation, is a right that should never be violated.'

'Even though I cannot be with you in person, I am so grateful for this opportunity to exercise my right to human contact by sharing with you my thoughts on what freedom means to me and others across the world who are still in the sad state of what I would call "unfreedom".'

Presenter Sue Lawley, as I write this, will be thinking about her script and, together with the team, preparing to present and pull the programmes together with an audience and a panel.

This is an unusual Reith series very much dictated by events.

It has been a period of extraordinary international convulsion with the Arab revolution following fast after the financial crisis. There are wars on several fronts and we have had to come to terms with a new wave of global terrorism.

In response, for the first time, we have two lecturers and we are broadcasting the series across the year in two parts. The first part, presented by Aung San Suu Kyi, will be on air on Radio 4 and the World Service on 28th June and July 5th. Despite her international profile, because her freedom has been so restricted, we have never before had the opportunity of hearing 'The Lady's' considered views.

The second set of lectures will be presented by Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former Director-General of MI5, and will be broadcast in the run up to the anniversary of 9/11 in the autumn. These will offer a unique perspective on the decade-long preoccupation with terrorism and the tensions within democracies that surround this issue.

Aung San Suu Kyi's themes are dissent and liberty and Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller will address 9/11 and intelligence and foreign policy since. These are two very different sides of a familiar story - the struggle for liberty and its defence.

The series will be entitled Securing Freedom.

Gwyneth Williams is Controller of BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 4 Extra

Thinking Allowed: Dirt

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Laurie Taylor Laurie Taylor 17:43, Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Laurie Taylor

Editor's note: This episode of Thinking Allowed is now available to listen to on the Radio 4 website - PM.

'Nice to see you in the flesh' said the man in front of me in the Wellcome Collection buffet queue.

'Oh well, it's nice to be here', I said hoping to stave off the usual remarks which follow evidence of my incarnation.

'You're a bit older than I expected' said my new friend, selecting a slice of lemon cake.

'Well', I said amiably 'That's rather what they said when they interviewed me for the job on Thinking Allowed. They said "you've got a good face for radio"'.

My new friend nodded as though he'd heard the joke before and turned to more practical matters.

'You're doing the debate in the big auditorium.'

'That's right', I told him, as we waited for our coffees to gurgitate. 'It's a discussion based on the present exhibition. The one over there in the main hall. "Dirt. The filthy reality of everyday life". '

'What's to discuss?' said my friend.

'Well', I said. 'There's the whole question of how you define dirt. Whether you, for example, agree with anthropologist Mary Douglas that dirt is defined by its inability to fit into customary categories, that it is nothing more or less than "matter out of place".'

I paused while my friend ordered the cold milk to go with his Americano.

'And then, of course, there's the association between dirt and hierarchy and the historical changes in our attitudes to cleanliness and hygiene, and the present-day ecological problems of waste disposal.'

We moved away from the till together and I wondered if it might now seem discourteous to abandon my companion.

'I hope you'll forgive me not being sociable', I said, 'But we record the programme in half-an-hour and I need to write brief introductions for the panellists - for historian Amanda Vickery, anthropologist Adam Kuper and cartoonist Martin Rowson. And I also need to check over my questions. To tell the truth I'm a bit worried about the manner in which the historical and the anthropological perspectives are going to come together: And there's also the slight problem of whether or not to treat the hygiene movement as genuinely progressive or regard it as a movement which can be readily appropriated by groups such as German national socialists who used it as a way to stigmatise "uncleanly others". '

'Well', said my friend 'Let's hope it's a good programme. There's one thing for sure.

'What's that?' I said.

'Whatever happens, you won't be short of words.'

I smiled and looked through the tables for my escape avenue. 'Well, nice to have met you', I said moving away.

'And you', he said. 'Especially in the flesh'.

Join me and my three guests for that discussion at 4pm today or after the midnight news on Sunday or on our readily downloadable podcast. You won't find us short of words.

Laurie Taylor presents Thinking Allowed.

Afternoon Play: The 40 Year Twitch by Daniel Thurman

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Daniel Thurman Daniel Thurman 07:50, Wednesday, 8 June 2011


The producer of The 40 Year Twitch Toby Swift writes: "Daniel Thurman is a talented young writer whose work often 'finds rich humour in the seemingly mundane' (Radio Times). And it is a 'seemingly mundane' relationship that Daniel explores to great effect in his new comic play. And to make it even harder to get the idea commissioned in the first place, he decided that said relationship should revolve around birdwatching - 'birding' to the initiated. For some, the mere mention of a play about birdwatching is the end of the conversation but I'd urge them to put aside their doubts. I asked Daniel to explain how his own relationship with the world of birds feeds into his sense of life beyond beaks and feathers."

At about the age of nine or ten I was bought a book called 'Animal Tracks and Traces'. This contained detailed illustrations of, among other things, paw prints and pellets. Pellets are the undigested food parts regurgitated by some bird species and, playing in the fields close to our house, I would sometimes come across those deposited by barn owls - a small lozenge-shaped mass of insect exoskeletons, rodent bones and fur. Sounds gruesome but I found them fascinating.

The barn owl being something I only rarely glimpsed, these pellets were an insight into their lives and made me feel closer to the bird. I could identify what animals it had eaten which then allowed me to paint a more vivid mental picture of the barn owl's nocturnal hunting trips. It may have fed while I was sleeping but this way I could join it in flight and in the pursuit of its prey. I think there lies the origins of my radio play The Forty Year Twitch.

The biggest influence was the concept of bird enthusiasts living vicariously though the objects of their interest. This is surely a notion we can all appreciate to some degree? After all, flight must rank pretty highly among us humans as a desired 'super power'.

I imagine we have all dreamt of possessing the ability to take off for a destination of our choosing; to ride the thermals and perhaps crap on certain individuals from a great height? This makes me wonder if there's such a thing as 'flight envy'? It wouldn't surprise me if the condition existed. Just think how the gift of flight would benefit our lives. Certainly we could all drastically reduce our carbon footprints.

Anyway, my own relationship with our feathered friends has been a complicated one. For example, this childhood appreciation of wild birds sits awkwardly with the fact that I also kept a caged budgerigar. Shamefully, the only time I can remember feeling unsettled by its presence was when it was allowed out to 'stretch its wings'.

In preparation, my Mum would close the lounge curtains and switch on the electric light for fear that, upon seeing the outside world, my pet would beat itself unconscious against the window. Apart from its initial flight from the cage door, I remember it spending most of its 'freedom' perched nervously on the pelmet.

Poor thing.

Clearly at that time my sympathies lay more with its wild counterparts, the barn owls, the sparrows which flitted seemingly carefree in and out of our hedge, the pair of blackbirds which foraged together across our freshly mown lawn, the house martins which, after wintering in warmer climes, reappeared each spring to build their nests under the eaves of our local pub. One might covet their lives as much as the budgie would.

It seems strange that we go about our daily business surrounded by birds yet, for the majority of us, they remain very much on the periphery.

As a child growing up in the countryside, I didn't really consider birds to be 'an interest'. They were numerous and varied and it would have been ignorant not to take notice. But at some point my attention was diverted.

In recent years, as an adult living in the city, the odd near-miss with a low-flying pigeon was about the closest I came to a connection. Writing 'The Forty Year Twitch' has brought birds back into focus and once again their lives seem pertinent to me. It is from my desk that I first noticed a pair of jays had taken up residence in a neighbour's garden. I wrote parts of the play in Spain, sitting in a park opposite a large fir tree occupied by a flock of screeching parakeets. And certain scenes were written at my parent's house, in the garden of which dozens of goldfinch wait for their turn at the bird feeder.

In fact, as I write this, I notice a crow is picking a hole in a bin bag left out for collection. He has just fished out a rotten morsel and eaten it. I can't say I envy him that.

Daniel Thurman wrote The 40 Year Twitch

  • Afternoon Play: The 40 Year Twitch is on Wednesday 8th June on Radio 4 at 2.15pm and on the Radio 4 website for seven days after that.
  • Find more drama on Radio 4.

The Revd Richard Coles: Good in Vestments

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Reverend Richard Coles Reverend Richard Coles 13:38, Monday, 6 June 2011

The Revd Richard Coles

I'm not sure when I first laid eyes on a pair of vimpas. I think it may have involved the late Bishop of Edmonton, who in spite of the rather dowdy sound of his See, was anything  but dowdy.

He belonged to the dressier end of the C of E and the chances are you do too if you know what a vimpa is. It's a sort of silk oven glove, worn by the servers who carry the pontificalia (translation: the bishop's mitre (hat) and crozier (crook) when the bishop doesn't need them).

Much of his kit dates back to the earliest days of the Church, when, newly respectable thanks to Constantine's Edict of Milan in the year 313, Christian functionaries adopted the dress of Roman magistrates.

After Schism, and Reformation and Vatican Councils they still endure, in one form or another, though you're quite likely to find those all but abandoned by Roman Catholic parishes, the maniple (translation: strip of embroidered cloth worn over the left arm) and the vimpa, surviving in the Anglo Catholic parishes of the C of E.

As you can imagine, maniples and vimpas are not really off-the-peg articles, and to obtain them you may have to go to one of the more traditional church outfitters, like those in the back streets behind Westminster Abbey. We visit one for Good In Vestments, and meet the people who provided the Archbishop of Canterbury's cope (translation: posh cloak) for the Royal Wedding.

I bought a biretta (translation: black priest's hat with pom pom) while I was there, and a bib stock with a ring-of-confidence (translation: little black shirt-front with a full clerical collar attached) at Sandown racecourse, temporarily hosting a Christian trade fair which offered a very different range of vestments and clerical wear. We met a woman designer who made the enthronement robes for the last Archbishop of Canterbury, robes which made a different statement, told a different story, from the more traditional versions.

That reflects our changing times, with women now in the priesthood and, in some places, the episcopate; with African Christians outnumbering all others; with happy clappiness and Pentecostal zeal changing the way we worship. 

Perhaps that raises a fundamental question: why wear them at all? Lots of Christians don't, although what they do wear inevitably starts to mean something. Soon enough those meanings also begin to shift and if orphreys (translation: embroidered braid) or morses (translation: special clasps for copes) become as obsolete as reticules and farthingales, then to continue to wear them is simply display, peacock priests strutting their stuff. Is that right? I would argue that vested in them we lose our individual identity, paltry little thing, in the greater meaning they signify, the meaning which makes all others look ragged and threadbare.

Well, I would say that, wouldn't I? That's me, by the way, in the picture above, wearing a maniple over my left arm.

The Reverend Richard Coles is Parish Priest, St Mary the Virgin, Finedon.

Radio 4 Bookclub: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

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Jim Naughtie 15:32, Sunday, 5 June 2011

A note from Bookclub producer Dymphna Flynn: Radio 4's Bookclub invites leading authors to discuss their best known book with readers. Broadcast on the first Sunday of every month, Bookclub is presented by James Naughtie. We let listeners know what next month's book is so they can read it ahead of the next broadcast.

Jim writes an email newsletter just a few days before broadcast, musing on some of the things that the author revealed, how the readers in the studio reacted to the book, its plot, its character - and they're not always complimentary. He also highlights the next recording dates and author names so listeners can apply to come to a recording.

June's newsletter features author Nicole Krauss - a rising star in contemporary US literature and short-listed for this year's Orange Prize, which is announced this week.

Nicole talks to Bookclub about her critically acclaimed novel The History of Love, a novel with four narrators whose stories intertwine from pre-war Poland to present day New York, via Chile and London.

Nicole Krauss

Jim Naughtie writes:

Nicole Krauss told us on Bookclub that she found it hard to express how 'intuitive and accidental' The History of Love was while she was writing it.

This was surprising to some of this month's group of readers, to put it mildly, because it is a book that appears at first glance to be exceedingly complicated. It has multiple narrators, and depends on a 'book within a book' device for its organisation - it's in part the story of a book with the same title that passes from hand to hand and appears to reveal the characters' personalities, almost creating them, as it moves from being an idea to a manuscript. Yet Nicole said she wrote the story 'from beginning to you read' - there were no complicated flow charts to organise the story, though it did take a long time. And maybe the most useful description she offered was a comparison with baroque music 'counterpoint... distinct voices, each voice heard individually but in harmony together making a whole that could never exist in these parts.'

The History of Love has been a worldwide success, and maybe the reason is that the principal narrator, an old man called Leo Gursky, who is writing a book at the end of his life, is using the idea of writing to sort out the chaos of a life. How many of us would want to have the chance to do the same?

As Nicole put it, The History of Love is a book about the holocaust that isn't a holocaust book: it deals with the feeling of loss afterwards, that could have come about in many different ways. Loss of self, of family, of country. The question that lurks throughout is one about survival: how do we choose to go on? And against the background of a struggle (not a struggle to survive, because he knows he is approaching death) you sense that underneath the carapace of grumpiness and, sometimes, unattractiveness (not for nothing, I suspect, is Nicole a fan of Samuel Beckett) you sense the joy that has been kept alight through it all.

Nicole's own family share some of the quality of Leo's story. Nicole grew up and lives in New York. Her grandmother was deported from Poland in 1938. Her family comes from four different parts of Europe, and this story zips from Europe to New York, to Israel and what she calls 'the place of the imagination' - Chile. I won't rehearse the plot; that's for you to discover. But we were all intrigued when I asked Nicole what she thought were the book's shortcomings (being a polite fellow I only asked the question because she had spoken of understanding a book's weaknesses only after it had been finished and published).

Her answer was a little surprising. 'It's a book whose characters ask you fall in love with them.' That's what she wanted to do - the characters have sprung from nowhere and having taken on an independent life of their own on the page, despite the fact that they could say nothing, do nothing, without her. In the end, the way they try to escape the loneliness that to some degree afflicts them all, is by the process of writing. In that regard, Nicole was revealing about her own commitment to the craft. It was obvious to us all that The History of Love took shape in Nicole's mind so easily because for her the business of writing is a wholly conscious affair: she might say that the book came about as the result of an intuitive and accidental way, but it sits full square with her own approach to the writing of fiction.

There's no easy solution, only a quest that gets you part of the way there. 'I feel I was asking a lot of questions about love but not necessarily offering a solution or an answer.' The reason? There is no easy answer. That's why, although the complexities of the plot are resolved (just as a baroque piece of music would settle all those competing lines and harmonies) the book never loses the feeling of being many-layered. Pick it up three times, and you'll find three different ways of reading it, and coming to conclusions about Leo.

Do you like him or not? Some of our readers did, some didn't. And it didn't trouble Nicole at all.

I suspect that if there had been a unanimous view she wouldn't have liked it one little bit.

I hope you enjoy our discussion with Nicole on Sunday.

Happy Reading,


The weekly Radio 4 Appeal: Helping small charities

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Sally Flatman Sally Flatman 17:36, Saturday, 4 June 2011

'Within hours of our Sunday appeals, one of our local Home-Start's received a £1,000 cheque from an anonymous and generous supporter. A note was included saying "Heard you on the radio, thought you could do with this!" It's a really good example of the reach and impact our appeal is having. Thank you.'

Getting news like this, makes mine a very rewarding job. I produce the BBC Radio 4 Appeal (once known as 'The Week's Good Cause') - a radio programme that the BBC has been broadcasting for 85 years. Each week a different charity takes to the airwaves and has 2 mins and 50 seconds to ask Radio 4 listeners to support their work.

David Jason

Sometimes the voice you hear is well known. David Jason appealed for the charity Home-Start UK who received that £1000 cheque.

One of my favourite appeals this year was presented by Hannah Cheetham and her mother Jackie. Hannah has celebral palsy and can't talk but she had programmed her part of the appeal into her special voice machine, given to her by the charity the Sequal Trust.

Recording the appeal for the Sequal Trust

The appeal raised £13,460 and the charity were thrilled not just by the money but because 'we had loads of emails and telephone calls from people who we can hopefully help, which is just what we wanted'.

One letter said:

'I heard your Radio 4 Appeal and looked you up on the internet. I have a grand-daughter with cerebral palsy. She has a lively mind but can't talk. I'm sure her mother will be looking you up. Good luck in all your work.'

The challenge and delight of this job is that we support small charities week in, week out. They've all gone through a selection process, their applications assessed by the Appeals Advisory Committee which is made up of 12 people from the voluntary sector.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, is one of the members. He describes himself as an 'avid Radio 4 listener' and says:

'We look for charities who can clearly communicate their role and purpose, who approach their work in an effective manner, and who can present evidence to us of a real need for funds from donations. In effect, we act as Radio 4 listeners previewing potential appeals, and bring our professional expertise. We have to make some tough decisions, and some charities are disappointed. However, we're able to give over 50 charities every year a chance to raise much needed funds for their work. We know from the feedback we receive from the charities after the appeal that it can make a huge difference.'

Next week is busy, as the producer of the appeal I shall be doing three recordings in our weekly studio: Ben Fogel for the Campaign for National Parks will be followed by Hannah Gordon for the Tuberous Sclerosis Society and lastly but certainly not least Alan Bennett will read an appeal for Book Aid International.

Over the coming weeks you'll be hearing all of these appeals in our regular slot.

If you want to see how they get on then you can do so on the Radio 4 Appeal Facebook page where the charities will be updating us on their progress. If you miss the broadcast, after all it is 7.55am on a Sunday morning, you can listen again and donate via the Radio 4 Appeal website.

And thank you for your many generous donations. Last year including the Christmas Appeal Radio 4 listeners gave over £2 million to these appeals. This is a very special small corner of broadcasting.

Sally Flatman is the producer of the Radio 4 Appeal

Feedback: Delivering Quality First and local radio

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 15:42, Friday, 3 June 2011

Wast Water in the Lake District, Cumbria

When I was growing up in Carlisle in the years after the war (no, not the Boer one) there was no local radio anywhere, let alone in that somewhat isolated city, 300 miles from London and eight miles south of the Scottish border.

We got our TV news from BBC Newcastle and later from Border Television as well. As the latter was actually based in Carlisle we felt more warmly towards it, but while the BBC gave us lots of news about the north east , which didn't interest us at all, Border told us a lot about southern Scotland which interested us even less.

So when BBC Radio Carlisle started it was warmly welcomed.

Its first offices were on a hilltop in the southern suburb of Harraby where the unfortunate highlanders who followed that dreadful man, Bonnie Prince Charlie, were executed by that equally dreadful man, 'Butcher' Cumberland. (Mind you a good song came out of it - The Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, written in his cell in Carlisle castle by a condemned Scot). He took 'The high road' (was hung at Harraby), his lover took 'the low road', the A6, and he was back in Scotland before her, in spirit at least.

BBC Radio Carlisle has now become BBC Radio Cumbria and has a spanking new building just opposite the castle. Several feet below are the remains of the major Roman city, which lies just south of Hadrian's Wall.

I went there this week for Feedback to see whether the BBC's second most popular local radio station - Radio Jersey is the most popular in terms of percentage reach - is performing a vital public service.

As part of DFQ, the BBC's Delivering Quality First initiative, which has to find 20 per cent savings in the Corporation's spending over the next five years, possible cuts in local radio have been mooted.

One of the ideas that I have heard being discussed is that a number of local stations could share their afternoon programmes.

I took up these issues with the editor of BBC Radio Cumbria Nigel Dyson who had a maverick idea for saving money.

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And also with Sue Carter who is the programme manager at Oxford-based Jack FM, a commercial station where they already are saving money as they only man their breakfast show. For the rest of the day it's automated music.

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Do let me know where the BBC should look for savings in radio. Or on the other hand you might take the view that TV has more fat available for trimming.

Next week I'll be talking to the head of Radio 5 live. Do let me know what you'd like me to ask him.

Leave a comment on the blog or get in touch via the Feedback web site.

Roger Bolton is presenter of Feedback

  • Listen again to this week's Feedback, produced by Karen Pirie, get in touch with Feedback, find out how to join the listener panel or subscribe to the podcast on the Feedback web page.
  • Feedback is on Twitter. Follow @BBCR4Feedback.
  • Picture caption: "Wast Water in the Lake District, Cumbria. 29/11/2004 BBC A view of Wast Water in the Lake District, Nov. 2004 - Wast Water in the Lake District National Park is Englands deepest lake, at its deepest it is below sea level."

Radio 4 Extra - June Whitfield interviewed: Take It From June

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Peter McHugh 18:27, Thursday, 2 June 2011

Tony Hancock and June Whitfield

As I rummaged in the BBC archive searching for programmes to celebrate June Whitfield's radio years, a thought popped into my head. Should the history of British radio and TV have a special new acronym - TBJ - Time Before June?

As you'll hear this Saturday on Radio 4 Extra June Whitfield jokes that her own CBE award really stands for 'caught before expiry'. Born in 1925, the remarkable fact is that her BBC career spans over 60 years.

Enyd Williams has directed June in many radio dramatisations, notably casting her as Miss Marple in the radio Agatha Christie mysteries. So who better to interview and talk to June about her radio years?

As we were going to meet June at BBC Broadcasting House reception in London, I could not help but think that June would've been standing in that very same grand space in 1947. That was the year she got her first BBC telegram, offering her first radio acting job. Incredibly, when we arrived, June was carrying her enormous, bulging scrapbooks - with that very telegram proudly and carefully placed at the start.

In the programme we follow her across the radio years, from her big break in 1953, when she joined comedy scriptwriting giants Frank Muir and Denis Norden on Take It From Here, helping to create radio's first dysfunctional family; to singing with Leslie Crowther and Ronnie Barker; trying to keep up with Frankie Howerd; jousting with Bob Monkhouse in Punch Line; to Roy Hudd in the News Huddlines and creating Agatha Christie's Miss Marple for the airwaves.

That list alone backs up Roy Hudd's affectionate title for June as the 'comic's tart'.

June's complete modesty is striking in the interview. June has worked with just about every British comedy great in the last 60 years and the overwhelming feeling that emerged as June talked was sympathy. Sympathy for the predicament and the perpetual pressure of expectation placed on the star of the show, which June says, she never was. She gives us an insight into this world when she talks about working alongside the troubled radio legend Tony Hancock.

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Though June has had great success on television in programmes such as Terry and June, radio is still her true love.

June tells Enyd about when they tried to transfer The Glums to television but it wasn't the same.

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June says radio has such an advantage over television: 'You make up your own pictures'.

Peter McHugh is the producer of Take It From June

  • Take it From June is on Radio 4 Extra this Saturday at 0900 and at 1900 and you can listen online for seven days after that.
  • Caption for the image reads: "June and Tony Hancock Hancock : The Blood Donor 01/01/1961 © BBC Picture shows - Tony Hancock and June Whitfield as the reception nurse."
  • There are more pictures of June Whitfield in the Radio 4 Flickr group.

Afternoon Play: The Big Broadcast (or Tap Dancing on the Radio)

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Neil Brand 15:59, Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Editor's note: Neil Brand is a highly experienced radio playwright and award-winning composer/lyricist who with director David Hunter is responsible for today's Afternoon Play: The Big Broadcast which you can hear online for the next seven days. Here Neil relates the evolution of The Big Broadcast from idea to recording in front of a live audience in the BBC's Radio Theatre. And if that weren't enough for one person to be getting on with, Neil is also a pianist for silent film and worked with Paul Merton on his recent TV series about silent movies - PM.

I've always loved musicals.

It seemed the right time, from the depths of one recession, to be looking back at the Hollywood/Broadway view of the Great Depression of the 30s and using radio to celebrate... well, radio.

My friend Timothy Brock lent me some original US radio shows from the 30s to listen to and Radio 4 came back on my and David Hunter's proposal with the suggestion of a live recording in the Radio Theatre incorporating the BBC singers, starry names and the wonderful Radio Rep company who had all, it turned out, done time in West End musicals.

Recording a radio play can be an insular experience - eight-hour studio days in a windowless space or a control room listening intently to voices inches away from microphones. Musicals, on the other hand, are there to be belted out, songs and scenes alike, and throughout the writing process the characters in my head were on a stage, making stage entrances and playing to please a crowd.

I tried to write lines Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn would enjoy delivering, waspish put-downs, sly in-jokes and Chicago gangster-patter. I indulged in my favourite musical pastiches knowing the performers' voices would match the spirit of the times. Above all I wanted to make the story gripping for the listener, make them feel involved in the plot as well as the fun in the hall, and pay tribute along the way to the songwriting teams of Golden Age Broadway whose lyrics danced one minute and broke your heart the next.

How, exactly, would they write a love song at gunpoint whilst going through a messy divorce?

When it came to the performance, our company assembled in its entirety for the first time at 2pm on recording day, after only a day of rehearsals. The wonderful stars Josie Lawrence and Nigel Harman lived and breathed the text and songs as if they'd been playing them for weeks. The actors loved having the BBC singers producing the sound of a massive, close-harmonising chorus from only four voices; the singers really enjoyed the adrenalin and theatricality of the other performers.

The microphone movements were blocked, the brilliant Colin Guthrie, our on-stage live spot-effects operator, announced he was satisfied with his huge assembly of door-slams, wind machines and tap-shoes - we ran through the show once, then headed backstage and waited.

The last half-hour before hitting a live audience with something new is always muted - people prepare quietly, there's not much chat - too much to try and hold in one's head. One by one the cast appeared in smart costumes, scripts and scores in hand. On the call we all mounted the stairs to the stage and heard the buzz of a packed Radio Theatre - and I saw the performers bridle like racehorses at the sound of a full house - smiles, deep breaths and on we went.

I hope you like the result. I am enormously proud of it and hugely grateful to the BBC and everybody involved.

Neil Brand wrote and composed The Big Broadcast.

  • Of the video clip (above), director David Hunter says: "The Big Broadcast's audience and the listeners have a story of love gone wrong, of gambling and hoodlums and a cheesy soap opera. But the piece de resistance is studio manager Colin Guthrie, actors Jane Whittenshaw and Stuart McLoughlin throwing caution to the wind and, borrowed tap shoes on hands, creating rhythmic toe-tapping choreography for the radio. Tap dancing on the radio."
  • You can listen to The Big Broadcast on the Radio 4 website for the next seven days.

What happened to the Radio 4 pips?

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Denis Nowlan Denis Nowlan 12:59, Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Broadcasting House in 1937

There was nation wide alarm last night when the Greenwich Time Signal pips failed to sound at 5pm. The disconcerting silence made the front page of today's Telegraph. All sorts of conspiracy theories are circulating.

I've been down to the Starship Enterprise-like control room of Broadcasting House to find out what happened. An engineer drew boxes and dotted lines for me and was kind enough not to stray into difficult physics.

It goes like this: there's an atomic clock in the basement which is itself synchronised with the GPS and a signal transmitted from the National Physical Laboratory in Cumbria. In fact there's a pair of these clocks, in case one should fail. They regulate all sorts of delicate technology in the building.

They also emit a signal every 15 minutes which is turned into audio pulses by a separate bit of kit. These pulses can be picked up by continuity studio and broadcast as the pips just before the hour. Shortly before 5pm yesterday there was a failure of the power supply to the box that generates the audio, so although the clock was keeping faithful time, no signal reached the studio and we had that eery silence before the hour. By 7.45 the problem had been solved and the reassuring beeps restored in time for 8 o'clock.

Denis Nowlan is the Network Manager Radio 4

  • Read about the history of the pips in the Wikipedia entry on the Greenwich Time Signal.
  • Picture caption: "Broadcasting House : 1937 01/06/1937 © BBC Picture shows BBC Broadcasting House in 1937."

Karl Rove: The Men with the Ear of the President

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David Stenhouse 09:28, Wednesday, 1 June 2011

President George W. Bush with Mrs. Laura Bush and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove

In London it was 3.14 pm and drizzling a cold wet rain. In Austin Texas it was 10.14am and sizzling with a bone dry heat. A radio line connected KVET Austin and Broadcasting House. An empty line which clicked and rattled.

Everything was set up for the centrepiece interview of Radio 4's The Men with the Ear of the President. Weeks of emailing and planning had come to fruition. We had secured an interview with Karl Rove.

Karl Rove, the man who had spotted the Presidential potential of George W. Bush while they were both still in their twenties. Karl Rove who had planned and executed George W. Bush's successive election victories. Karl Rove, probably the most famed and feared political strategist of the last century, had agreed to record a rare - dammit - an almost unprecedented on-the-record interview for my documentary.

And I had lost him somewhere between his car and the microphone.

He had been spotted by the receptionist at the Radio Station parking his car. Her colleague had seen him coming into reception. Someone in promotions thought she had seen him walking down the corridor but she couldn't be entirely sure.

The line squeaked slightly. In the studio everyone leaned forward expectantly.


I pictured the line which led from Texas to London. A line which stretched across parched deserts, spanned baking highways, dived into the Gulf of Mexico. A line which, fingers crossed, would soon be carrying the voice of the man once dubbed 'Bush's Brain' into our studio. Where he could be recorded and put into our radio programme.

The engineers in Austin were relaxed and charming.

In London Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's Chief of Staff, was unflappable. It was chilly in the studio but a bead of sweat the size of a tangerine rolled down my back.

The second hand of the studio clock swung lazily into place. 3.15pm.

'Hello, Jonathan?'

My inability to cope with the uncertainty of a man walking from his car into a radio studio underlined my utter unsuitability for the role of Presidential Aide. As revealed in the programme, the men who have the ear of the most powerful man in the world need to plan in four dimensions simultaneously. They need to be cool, calm and collected when all around them lose the plot, and they need to be able to look the President of the United States in the eye and tell him when he is wrong.

But as you'll hear, Karl Rove puts it much better than I do...

David Stenhouse is Senior Producer Features Scotland.

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