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In the gutter with the stars

Peter Hanington | 13:24 UK time, Monday, 5 January 2009

In recent years, our annual post explaining and apologising for the Today Programme guest editors has been little more than an excuse to namedrop and to tell a few bad jokes.

This year's will be no different. But we'd like to make one or two observations as well.

The Today programme logoObservation 1: One of the most interesting things about being involved with guest editors is watching two different worlds meet - or, in some cases, collide.

This year's editors were Zadie Smith, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Jarvis Cocker, Sir Win Bishoff and Zaha Hadid. So we're talking about journalism (that's us) rubbing up against literature, the Catholic church, pop music, big banking and high end architecture (that's them).

And in most cases, we rubbed along fine. But of course there were occasional misunderstandings.

Zaha Hadid is a brilliant architect - the artist's architect some call her - and she's a delight to work with. But some of her ideas can be a little hard to get your head around if you haven't had the proper training. Talking architecture with her involved climbing a learning curve as steep as the Seagram building.

At one of our early meetings we sat at a tableful of prototypes for various Hadid projects currently in production.

TODAY PROGRAMME: Ah, that's beautiful. Is that the Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Centre?

ZAHA: No, that's a coffee pot.

TODAY: Oh. How about that - more kitchenware?

ZAHA No. That's the Vitra Fire Station in Germany.

TODAY: Right. What about this? The Glasgow Transport museum?

ZAHA: No, that's a shoe. Are there any other producers who might want to work on my programme?

And finally.

Zadie Smith is a writer. A clever writer. Writers sit in small silent rooms, alone, and write. We at the Today Programme are journalists. We sit in a big noisy room full of mice and interrupt each other every minute and a half. So when we asked Zadie for question ideas to help Evan (probably the only man we know who wouldn't actually need them) to interview the world's cleverest neuroscientist about rectilinear shapes, grouping, and gull chicks who like abstract art more than their mothers, instead of a few lazy, ill-informed jottings we get several hundred words of sculpted prose which could be published as an expert academic analysis of said clever neuroscientist.

If that weren't intimidating enough, Zadie wasn't just first in line when the brains were handed out. She also pushed to the front of the height, kindness and general comeliness queue. It was too much for some of our producers.

This is a transcript of an early meeting between Zadie and the Today production team:

ZADIE: The interesting thing about Obama's oratory is that he uses all the classic Greek ingredients: pathos, logos and, er...

TODAY PROGRAMME: (excitedly) Porthos... no, Aramis.

ZADIE: I think those are two of the three musketeers. Ethos. That's it. Ethos.

TODAY PROGRAMME: Ethos, yes. Ethos. Can I marry you?

So that's our first observation and I can't really remember what Observation 2 was, apart from possibly that an incredible amount of work goes into these programmes from quite a few people (special mentions for Helen Margolis and Tom Colls - all the others, you know who you are, thank you).

Next year, you ask? We're already planning it: JD Salinger and Robert Mugabe are interested.

by Peter Hanington and Dan Clarke. Peter Hanington is assistant editor, Today programme.

Peter Hanington is assistant editor of the Today programme.


  • Comment number 1.

    Guest editors is a fantastic idea, and thankfully the programme doesn't allow the presence of a guest editor dominate the programme or disturb the usual quality.

    But why all clustered together at one point in the year?

    It'd be far better to drop them in either on randomly chosen days, or a regular spot, for example, on the last day of each month.

  • Comment number 2.


    [Next year, you ask? We're already planning it: JD Salinger and Robert Mugabe are interested.]

    i think that they are some interesting guests editors... for next christmas time [2009]....

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 3.

    Excellent summary of the last [2008] session of guest editors on PM show....All, great and informed people who were involved in the shows...

    Next: You should have guest editors during the entire year; not, only at Christmas season....

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 4.

    Sadly I was in the 'land of Nod' [not literally] so I didn't hear any of this. But I would like to be a guest producer next year. I'm not famous, but I would be good, assuming I could get up in time...

  • Comment number 5.

    Any chance of David Tennant being invited?

  • Comment number 6.

    "... No, that's a coffee pot." Very funny.

    However, " ... Talking architecture with her involved climbing a learning curve as steep as the Seagram building."


    A steep learning curve indicates an easy learning experience, as one reaches a level of competence quickly - A long drawn out curve indicates difficulty, thus a longer time frame to gain said competence.

    Just say'n.

  • Comment number 7.

    6: Wrong. A steep learning curve indicates a DIFFICULT learning experience: trying to learn a larger amount of knowledge in a smaller amount of time.


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