Radio 4 to become playground for creative minds with raft of new commissions
This year I want to bring all of Radio 4’s cultural offering to the fore, making the network into a playground for creative minds."Gwyneth Williams, Controller, BBC Radio 4 and 4 Extra
Alongside the network’s established and wide-ranging arts programming, the new commissions will see the network open itself increasingly to artistic interpretation, fostering a spirit of collaboration and dialogue with the creative community.
Open is a £1m initiative calling on artists working in any medium and anywhere in the UK to share with Artangel and Radio 4 proposals for ground-breaking projects that will transform the UK’s cultural landscape.
Previous Open calls have led to some of the most iconic projects of the past decade in Britain: Michael Landy’s Break Down; Jeremy Deller's The Battle of Orgreave in South Yorkshire; Roger Hiorns’ Seizure; and Clio Barnard's award-winning feature film The Arbor, shot on the Buttershaw Estate in Bradford.
To mark this new alliance between Artangel and Radio 4, five artists, including Christian Marclay and Susan Hiller, will participate in Open Air, a series of short pieces scheduled for broadcast after the Today programme from 25-29 March.
In June, the first Open commissions will be chosen by a selection panel including Artangel Co-Directors James Lingwood and Michael Morris, Tony Phillips, Arts Commissioning Editor at Radio 4, Clio Barnard and Roger Hiorns. They will be announced in June and presented between 2014 and 2015.
On the partnership with Artangel, Gwyneth Williams, Controller, Radio 4 says: “I want to open up the airwaves and invite artists to bring their talents to Artangel and Radio 4. At a time when political and economic ideas often seem to reference the past, what does culture have to say about the way we live now? I am thrilled to launch this new initiative for artists across the UK.”
James Lingwood and Michael Morris of Artangel add: “Artangel is adamant that nothing potentially exceptional should be thought of as impossible. It’s the right time for artists to be as ambitious as possible and for Artangel to be as open as possible. Some remarkable new art in extraordinary places will come out of Open and we’re delighted to be collaborating with Radio 4.”
Separately, Radio 4 is embarking on a major new cultural sharing scheme. Launching in April, Cultural Exchange will provide listeners with 75 expertly curated cultural moments – a great poem or photograph, a painting or a piece of writing, a musical highlight or an inspiring building.
At the heart of the project stand 75 short audio features providing insights and information from a host of preeminent figures. These short features will be hosted by Front Row and other Radio 4 arts programmes, including Open Book and The Film Programme.
Each of the 75 cultural moments will also have a curated webpage, with additional specially edited audio clips, drawing on Radio 4’s extensive archive – arguably the greatest treasure-house of cultural interviews anywhere. Whether it’s Seamus Heaney, Plan B, David Hockney, Harry Belafonte, JK Rowling or Hilary Mantel, this audio, edited into readily accessible clips, will be made more widely available than ever before.
Listeners will be invited to sign up online to receive regular shared recommendations for the duration of the run – a unique cultural journey in sound.
On the network’s cultural programming overall, Gwyneth Williams says: “Radio 4 has always been part of the nation’s cultural identity, with its arts documentaries and regular strands helping to set the cultural agenda – the likes of Front Row, Open Book, The Film Programme, Saturday Review and others.
“This year I want to bring all of Radio 4’s cultural offering to the fore, making the network into a playground for creative minds. I will be inviting some of the biggest names in the arts world to bring their talents and ideas to the network, offering them the opportunity to open a dialogue with our millions of listeners.
“Following the success of the Alistair Cooke archive last year, I’m delighted to be opening up further gems from the Radio 4 trove too.”
Building on the success of Radio 4’s Bloomsday offering in 2012, the network will pay homage to the wonder of poetry this year with Seize The Day, a day-long celebration of the art form. Roger McGough, one of the Liverpool poets and presenter of Radio 4’s Poetry Please, will compere a marathon reading that constitutes a history of poetry read and enjoyed in these islands.
From very early work such as the Anglo-Saxon verse of Caedmon, Seize The Day will present medieval romance, Tudor odes, Renaissance wits, the neo-classical couplets of Dryden, the lyricism of the Romantics and the fragmented beauty of the Moderns. Performing them will be a blend of actors, poets and high-profile devotees in front of and involving members of the public.
Radio 4 will dip in and out of the readings throughout the day. The choice will be indicative of the range of literary treasures available – alongside luminaries such as Christina Rossetti and John Milton, Seize The Day will introduce the listener to lesser-known works and their writers. When two roads diverge in a wood, we’ll occasionally take the one less travelled. Around the readings, other programmes will discuss, analyse and celebrate what’s being heard.
Radio 4 will also launch a new contemporary poetry magazine in 2013. Presented by poet Paul Farley, the programme will unpick and reweave the poetic fabric of the nation. With a mix of interviews, works in progress, performances, experiments and adventures in the world of poetry, Paul will set out to find the wordsmiths responding to the way we live now.
In February, Radio 4 will broadcast a new version of Tony Harrison’s era-defining poem V. - recorded on location in Leeds. It will be accompanied by an introductory feature written and presented by Blake Morrison reflecting on the poem itself, the furore that surrounded it in the 1980s, and its contemporary resonance.
Tony Phillips, Arts Commissioning Editor, Radio 4, says: “There has always been a close relationship between poetry and Radio 4. This focus on culture in 2013 will give us the opportunity to revisit seminal works that have had an impact on society, such as Tony Harrison’s V. It will also allow us to reflect the importance of poetry in people’s daily lives. We know that people often turn to poetry at significant moments in their lives – in sorrow or in celebration. Poetry Please is testament to that.”
Following the popularity of So You Want To Be A Scientist last year, Radio 4 will launch So You Want To Be A Writer in the spring of 2013. So You Want To Be A Writer will be both a talent search and an initiative to encourage anyone who has ever wanted to write to find out how to do it. It will open up the world of writing to listeners, and enhance their understanding of it.
So You Want To Be A Writer will form part of Open Book, the network’s flagship books programme presented by Mariella Frostrup. The programme will hear from leading authors about how unpublished writers can best develop the necessary skills to write their own stories, and how they can find an individual writing voice.
Throughout the year there will be regular reports on the progress of the talent search, as well as features exploring the benefits and pleasures of the act of writing. Whether it’s a striking first novel, a string of short stories, or telling a family history in an engaging and memorable way, So You Want To Be A Writer will demystify the world of books and create a path through the maze of the publishing industry – from strong ideas and first drafts all the way through to agents and e-publishing.
This year will also see the appointment of Radio 4’s first Writer In Residence. The search is now on for an independent voice of literary merit to think and write about the changing times we’re living through. The successful writer will be given a unique platform on air and online to forge a dialogue with the audience and become an ambassador for the spirit of Radio 4.
Gwyneth Williams says: “I appointed a Writer In Residence during my time at the World Service – Hamid Ismailov, the Uzbek journalist, poet and author. Hamid has had a substantial impact in this role, and the value of his work, rich in humanity and humour, has enriched the airwaves. An independent artistic voice has real value on air and online and we need it on Radio 4.”
One-off documentaries will continue to run alongside the bigger projects and regular strands on the network in 2013. To give just one example, there will be a special feature to mark the 30th anniversary of the publication of The Meaning of Liff, the humorous and well-loved dictionary of newly coined definitions for common experiences that we all recognise but for which no words exist, written by John Lloyd and Douglas Adams. In The Meaning of Liff at Thirty, John Lloyd – producer of Blackadder and the brains behind QI – will gather entries from the Radio 4 audience via the website and Twitter for an updated 2013 version of the dictionary. John will sift through and chew over the new definitions with a panel of judges, including Matt Lucas, Sandi Toksvig, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Helen Fielding and Terry Jones. Meanwhile Liff devotee Professor Steven Pinker will talk about the tremendous psychological relief and sense of bonding that come from the invention of common language.
The Listening Project, presented by Fi Glover, is a Radio 4 initiative launched last year in partnership with BBC Local Radio and the Nations, in which people across the UK volunteer to record a conversation with someone close to them about a subject they’ve never discussed intimately before. The conversations are being archived by the British Library and used to build up a collection of voices capturing a unique portrait of the UK in the second decade of the millennium.
The project has had an impact on many people’s lives already, as well as producing some truly memorable radio moments. Now it is getting ready to go on the road, travelling around the country to enable as many people as possible to become involved. Next month, Radio 4 in partnership with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) will launch a competition to have a listening booth designed, built and ready for use by the public this summer. The design competition will be open to architects and designers in the UK and abroad.
Radio 4 Extra
Radio 4 Extra is always looking at new ways of making the most of the speech radio archive with a focus on the creative arts. For example, as Radio 4 broadcasts Brian Friel’s new adaptation of Hedda Gabler, Radio 4 Extra will be celebrating the writer’s work with a collection of his Ballybeg plays from the archive, features about his work and new recordings of some of his short stories. These will air in the spring.
The network will also continue curating collections of programmes from the Desert Island Discs archive. Coming soon is a series of programmes celebrating five great British dancers from the golden age of ballet – Grey, Dolin, Markova, de Valois and Mason.
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