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1 hour, 15 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 02 October 2011

"Dinner parties are mere formalities; but you invite a man to breakfast because you want to see him." Thomas Babington Macauley

Of all the meals we eat Breakfast is the most loaded with possibility - to share a breakfast is to share intimacy, or to sit stubbornly in stony cold silence. It is a defining moment in the day, one of ritual and habit, full of joyous promise, or melancholic wonder. It is a meal to obsess over, to fuss over its constitution, or to ignore and sit in quiet contemplation.

Felicity Kendal and Gerard Murphy read poetry and prose around the theme of Breakfast ranging from the Victoriana of Mrs Isabella Beeton's missives to servants, to the narcotic fuelled orgies of Hunter S Thompson, the morning misery of Frank O'Hara, to the boiled egg obsessiveness of James Bond. Breakfast music is provided by G.F.Handel, Frank Zappa, Gustav Mahler, and Dusty Springfield amongst others.

First broadcast in October 2011.

Music Played

40 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Image for Ryu Hankil

    Ryu Hankil Poet

    Performer: Ryu Hankil (clockworks)

    Manual manualcd01

  • Helen Ivory

    Breakfast Machine, reader Felicity Kendal

  • Image for Jean-Philippe Rameau

    Jean-Philippe Rameau Fanfarinette

    Performer: Calefax Reed Quintet

    MDG 6191374-2

  • Anthony Trollope

    The Warden (extract), reader Gerard Murphy

  • Dorothea Grossman

    I allow myself, reader Felicity Kendal

  • Image for E.C. Ball

    E.C. Ball The early bird always gets the worm

    Performer: Michael Hurley

    TSQ2288, Tr.7

  • Charles Dickens

    Bleak House, reader Gerard Murphy

  • Gwendoline McEwen

    The Last Breakfast, reader Felicity Kendal

  • Image for Gesualdo

    Gesualdo Tenebrae responsories for Maundy Thursday [excerpt]

    Performer: The King’s Singers


  • Walt Whitman

    For Queen Victoria's Birthday, reader Felicity Kendal

  • Image for Gustav Mahler

    Gustav Mahler Fruhlingsmorgen

    Performer: Christian Gerhaher, Gerold Huber

    RCA 88697567732

  • Hunter S Thompson

    The Great Shark Hunt (Strange Tales from a Strange Time) [extract], reader Gerard Murphy

  • Image for Frank Zappa

    Frank Zappa St Alphonso's Pancake Breakfast

    Performer: Frank Zappa


  • Mary Lamb

    Breakfast, reader Gerard Murphy

  • Image for Edvard Grieg

    Edvard Grieg Little Bird (Lyric Pieces III, op.43)

    Performer: Mie Miki (accordion)

    BIS CD1629

  • Francis Darwin Cornford

    A Montreux Hotel, reader Felicity Kendal

  • Jack Underwood

    I promise when I lift your egg, reader Gerard Murphy

  • Image for Dusty Springfield

    Dusty Springfield Breakfast in Bed


  • Sappho

    It was you Athis who said, reader Felicity Kendal

  • Image for George Frideric Handel

    George Frideric Handel Welcome as the day of dawn (Solomon, HWV 67)

    Performer: Sarah Connolly, Rosemary Joshua

    Chaconne CHAN0767

  • Ian Fleming

    From Russia with Love [extract], reader Felicity Kendal

  • Image for Bernard Herrmann

    Bernard Herrmann Citizen Kane (Breakfast montage)

    Performer: RKO Orchestra


  • Heather Phillipson

    Dependency on oats, reader Felicity Kendal

  • Image for Pete Seeger (voice and banjo)

    Pete Seeger (voice and banjo) Beans, Bacon and Gravy

    Smithsonian Folkways SFW40058

  • Stoddard King

    Breakfast Song in Time of Diet, reader Gerard Murphy

  • Image for Cole Porter

    Cole Porter Sunday Morning Breakfast Time

    Performer: Cole Porter

    Koch 371712H1

  • Harry Graham

    Breakfast, reader Gerard Murphy

  • Image for Franz Schubert

    Franz Schubert Piano Quintet in A major, D667 "The Trout" (Fourth movement)

    Performer: Bronfman / Zukerman / Marks / Forsyth / Quarrington

    SONY 88697160442

  • Isabella Beaton

    The book of Household Management (1861), reader Felicity Kendal

  • TS Eliot

    Morning at the Window, reader Gerard Murphy

  • Image for Benny Goodman

    Benny Goodman Breakfast Feud

    Performer: Benny Goodman Sextet


  • William Wilfred Gibson

    Breakfast, reader Gerard Murphy

  • Image for George Butterworth

    George Butterworth VI. Is my team ploughing (Six songs from A Shropshire Lad)

    Performer: Christopher Maltman (baritone), Roger Vignoles (piano)

    Hyperion CDA67378

  • Frank O’Hara

    Melancholy Breakfast, reader Gerard Murphy

  • Jacques Prevert

    Breakfast, reader Felicity Kendal

  • Image for Troublesome Houses

    Troublesome Houses Bonnie Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang


  • Breakfast in Bed

    Hugo Williams, reader Gerard Murphy

  • Image for Julie London

    Julie London Nice Girls Don't Stay for Breakfast

    Liberty Records LRP-3493

  • Craig Arnold

    Meditation on a Grapefruit, reader Gerard Murphy

  • Image for Max de Wardener

    Max de Wardener Kettle Song

    Static Caravan Van 154

  • Producer's Note

    Act II of Cole Porter’s 1935 musical ‘Jubilee’ opens with platitudes bestowed upon coffee, eggs and bacon, porridge even, but in the midst of his cheer, Porter ponders “… Sunday morning breakfast time, the time all men adore, why don’t the poets go into rhyme and rave about it more?…” Breakfast though has caught the imagination of more than a few writers, because it is not just about morning nourishment, although there are plenty of wonderful descriptions of favourite repasts, but Breakfast is a window on all of life. There is love, there are fights, there is death, but all at the Breakfast table.

    Anyone who has sat in a breakfast canteen will surely recognise the eggy shrieks of Helen Ivory’s mechanical chicken, rendered so hauntingly by Felicity Kendal, that begins the programme. A sense of grand arrival that is mirrored in French baroque composer Jean-Phillipe Rameau’s La Triomphante. Grandeur was certainly the hallmark of the late 19th Century breakfast too, and Anthony Trollope’s florid description of the breakfast parlour at Plumstead Episcopi, a table heaving with breads, meats and fishes sizzling in little dishes is about as grand as they come.

    From the Episcopi to the sacred, American poet Dorothea Grossman, in the guise of some ancient warmongering goddess perhaps, disregards the rest of the breakfast on offer, for her, it is the coffee that is “sacramental”. Charles Dickens’ Mr Skimpole, eschews legs of beef and mutton as “mere animal satisfaction” and craves foods that “remind me of the sun.”, whilst for Gwendoline McEwen her “kanadian breakfast” becomes a perverse Eucharistic event, as her food “refuses to be sanctified”, and in consuming her meal she reconnects with our primal forebears. It is with these sentiments, of the sacred and carnal intertwined, that I connect the music of 16th Century composer, and murderer, Carlo Gesualdo.

    Walt Whitman’s short ‘For Queen Victoria's Birthday’, depicts a simple, beautiful gesture of birthday morning present giving, with the morning excitement amplified by Gustav Mahler’s song ‘Fruhlingsmorgen’, “Get up! Get up!, Why do you lie dreaming?, The sun is overhead!, Get up! Get up!”. Simple it is not, but it is hard to challenge the ambition of Hunter S. Thompson’s ideal feast, not least the “…slice of key lime pie, 2 margaritas and 6 lines of the best cocaine…” he likes to end his morning with. I’m sure though Thompson would have fitted in at Frank Zappa’s technicolour ‘St Alphonso’s Pancake Breakfast’, without anyone raising an eyebrow.

    Mary Lamb’s 19th Century ode to breakfast captures its daily life giving properties - the meal as signifier of our ongoing battle against mortality “Ever giving cheerful notice we are living another day, refreshed by sleep when its festival we keep”. You can quite imagine the Little Bird of Edvard Grieg’s ‘Lyric Pieces’ chirping at Mary Lamb’s kitchen window too. For Francis Darwin Cornford and Jack Underwood, breakfast brings a vision, and the promise of love remade. In Dusty Springfield’s 1969 hit, ‘Breakfast in Bed’, it is a complicated lover she welcomes back to bed, “What’s your hurry, please don’t eat and run, you can let her wait my darling, it’s been so long”. Breakfast with lovers crops up in the writing of Ancient Greek poet Sappho too, as she remembers the affections of Atthis, who roused her from slumber to parade around Mytilene. A sentiment echoed in the duet between Solomon and his Queen, ‘Welcome as the Dawn of Day’ from Handel’s 1749 oratorio ‘Solomon’.

    If Trollope suggests a grand breakfast, and Thompson an orgiastic one, Ian Fleming’s James Bond, fastidious in all things, “maintained that there was such a thing as a perfect boiled egg” in ‘From Russia with Love’. A prime example of a breakfast fetishist. In Orson Welles 1941 drama ‘Citizen Kane’ it is at the carefully laid breakfast table that we watch Kane’s marriage to Emily disintegrate, as Bernard Hermann’s score soundtracks Welles’ artfully cut montage, in swirls of increasing bleakness.

    Heather Phillipson’s love letter to porridge ‘Dependency on Oats’ borders on the obsessive, but speaks of a reassuring consistency of breakfast, which not an attribute celebrated by Pete Seeger in his version of the great depression ballad ‘Beans, Bacon and Gravy’. From the other end of the scale Stoddard King is trying to avoid “bacon which produces weight” as he sings his ‘Breakfast Song in Time of Diet’. One of the greats of all Breakfast song, is Cole Porter’s aforementioned ‘Sunday morning breakfast time’, which is followed here by the capers of “Dean Cope, the Emminent Divine” staging the epic food fight that “scandalized the local sheep”, in Harry Graham’s comic poem, ‘Breakfast’. The twists and turns of which seem perfectly mirrored in the theme and variations of Schubert’s Trout Quintet.

    Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) codifies a life of servitude for those downstairs, and it is those same housemaids with their “damp souls” that T.S. Eliot writes of in ‘Morning at the Window’. Benny Goodman may have written his ‘Breakfast Feud’ before a different war to the one Eliot’s housemaids were facing, but you can imagine them letting their hair down to it when they finally got there. It is with war too that I found one of the most moving accounts of breakfast. The two young men in the trench, in Hexham poet Wilfrid Wilson Gibson’s 1914 poem, eat their breakfast lying on their backs “Because the shells were screeching overhead”, and as in Butterworth’s poignant setting of AE Housman’s ‘Is my team ploughing’, by the end of the poem one of them is alive, the other dead.

    Swamped by despair Frank O’Hara’s short ‘Melancholy Breakfast’ will probably be recognisable to those who are resolutely not morning people. In Jacques Prevert’s poem, ‘Breakfast’, the tension is palpable as a couple sit in thorny silence, coffee drunk and cigarettes smoked, but not a word said. Perhaps he is the flawed gentleman of Bonnie Prince Billy's song ‘Troublesome Houses. Breakfast in Bed’ returns as a theme in Hugo Williams’ cynical account of his one night stand, which pairs beautifully with the seductive raised eyebrow of Julie London’s 1967 ‘Nice Girls Don't Stay for Breakfast’. To round off the sequence I turned to Craig Arnold’s ‘Meditation on a Grapefruit’, which captures a sense of the half awake ponderous nature of the meal, followed by the whistling kettle meditation of Max de Wardener’s ‘Kettle Song’.

    Frivolous, inconsequential, funny; but also moving, and at times the heartbreaking morning stage upon which all human life is acted out, I hope you find Breakfast makes for fascinating, if hungry listening.

    Peter Meanwell (Producer)


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