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Faces of Bush House: Seva Novgorodsev

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 09:58 UK time, Monday, 23 May 2011

Some language services in the headquarters of BBC World Service - Bush House - have particularly strong literary traditions.

I don't have to look far beyond my own Central Asian service to see several first-class poets and writers who have worked or are still working here.

Another service with a number of internationally-acclaimed writers is the BBC Urdu service.

Even if you don't remember the literary heritage of Qurrat-ul-Ain Haider or Obaid Siddiqui, over the last year or two you may have heard about the novels A Case of Exploded Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif or The Collaborator just published by Waheed Mirza.

The BBC Russian service is also one, which could be proud of its literary talent.

Zinoviy Zinnik and Nodar Jinn, Ravil Bukharaev and Andrei Ostalski and many others have all passed through its doors.

But the most legendary of all is the name of Seva Novgorodsev - who is still working for BBC World Service.

When any visitor from the former Soviet Union comes to Bush House his or her first question - no matter how old they are - is usually: "Can I see Seva Novgorodtsev?"

The BBC magazine World Agenda described him:

With his trademark wavy locks and cool demeanour, it is evident why jazz musician and disc jockey Seva has achieved cult status in his native Russia.

The veteran broadcaster left the Soviet Union in 1975 and lived in Rome before coming to London in 1977, where he started as a translator and presenter at BBC Russian.

That same year he also took up a post presenting music programmes.

Since then, he has earned himself a steady fan base, which follows him around the world.

"In the summer of 1990, when I was able to travel for the first time in 13 or 14 years to Russia, I was met in Moscow by 800 people who blocked the airport completely and customs had to send me out the back door," says Seva.

"Since then we have kept meeting and, as the fans have grown up and made money, the whole thing has moved abroad, so we have had events in Paris, Prague and one in London too."

Before leaving the Soviet Union, Seva was a famous jazz and rock musician.

His joyful and jazzy journalism became a kind of a new literature.

Quotes from Seva became folkloric proverbs; texts of his programmes were published as entertaining books.

He even wrote a Russian cookbook for the British supermarket Sainbury's.

In 2005, he was awarded an MBE for services to broadcasting.

As a top-class jazz-musician, Seva is still "playing on several radio instruments" - he does his beloved radio; he presents freaky videos; he interacts with his listeners.

Remembering that we are planning to write a radio drama together, (click here for details) I have chosen from his notes a subject, which could further inspire our common project.

Children in the Latvian capital Riga have been asked to come up with questions to ask God and some of the questions are here:

Can a childhood be enough for a lifetime?
You made flowers much better than people.
Dearest God, did You put into me my soul or someone's else?
Why when you fall in love, you like everything, even scrambled eggs?
I'm still small, have no sins, though they are coming up.

In what languages the souls speak to each other?


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