Archives for June 2010

Live chat: science fiction vs science fact...

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick 15:09, Monday, 28 June 2010

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You'll forgive me a cheesy science pun if I tell that Radio 4's comedy science magazine show The Infinite Monkey Cage is acquiring an additional dimension this afternoon. In addition to listening to the programme live on Radio 4 from 1630 today you're invited to join a live chat about the programme and its mindblowing themes (which, it says here, include multiple dimensions. See what I did there?)

To join in, type a comment here in the chat window or, if you're a Twitter user, tweet with the hashtag #MonkeyCage. We'll publish as many of your comments as we can here on the blog and, afterwards, you'll be able to 'replay' the chat while listening to the programme on the iPlayer.

And once the programme is finished, please do us a favour and leave a comment on this blog post (using your BBC login) to tell us what you thought of the chat and the programme.

Steve Bowbrick is editor of the Radio 4 blog

Science + comedy + you = Infinite Monkey Cage

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick 17:16, Friday, 25 June 2010

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Monday's Infinite Monkey Cage is going to be a pretty big deal - recorded live in front of an audience of science and comedy fans at the Royal Society's See Further Festival this weekend. And here's the neat thing: during Monday's transmission of the programme (at 1630 on Radio 4) we're hosting a live chat about the programme and its various grand themes - which I'm reliably informed will include multiple dimensions and alternate universes - here on the blog.

To join in, tweet using the hashtag #MonkeyCage or type your comments directly into the chat which will be live here on the blog from 1600 Monday. We're hoping to tempt some of the programme's creators and guests to join in - schedules allowing - and we're sure that the Twittersphere's huge band of science nuts, geeks and rationalists will be out in force so join us on Monday and, in the meantime, if you've got any questions about how it all works, leave a comment here.

Steve Bowbrick is editor of the Radio 4 blog

New Radio 4 comedy pilots

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Jane Berthoud 13:16, Thursday, 24 June 2010


Editor's note: Jane Berthoud is in charge of radio comedy at the BBC. Here's a speech she made on Tuesday in which she announced some interesting new comedy pilots for Radio 4 - SB

Miranda Hart, Genius, I've Never Seen Star Wars, Little Britain, League of Gentlemen, Goodness Gracious Me, Alan Partridge, Mitchell & Webb... the list of comedy transfers from radio to TV is long and impressive. So do we have the next one lined up for you tonight?

As many of you know, BBC Radio Comedy makes over 160 hours of original comedy each year, from some of the country's best new writers and performers. Our topical comedy podcast remains top of the charts with over 1.4 millions downloads every week. Currently on Radio 4, North by Northamptonshire by Katherine Jakeways with Sheila Hancock, McKenzie Crook and Kevin Eldon is delighting both press and punters.

Micky Flanagan's recent series at 6.30 on Radio 4 was outstanding. Funny. Warm. A real treat which resonated with the audience in a very special way. As a direct result of this, TV has now signed a development deal with Micky. And I have every confidence that a second Radio 4 series will be commissioned in the not too distant future. I can also announce now, new commissions at 6.30 on Radio 4 from Lucy Montgomery and Tom Wrigglesworth, both of whom I'm delighted to be working with.

The unique relationship radio comedy has with TV comedy - we are one department - means we are able to do some very interesting things together. One of these is a series which starts to transmit on Radio 4 on Tues 20th July and this is Happy Tuesdays. This is jointly commissioned by TV & radio - i.e. by Cheryl Taylor (Controller, Comedy Commissioning) and myself.

Happy Tuesdays is a series of five scripted comedy pilots in which some of the most exciting comedy talent around have been given the chance to try out new ideas and formats on Radio 4. These may then be picked up by radio and/or TV. In this series Justin Moorhouse has written his first audience sitcom, with Jim Poyser, in which Justin is newly divorced and sleeping in his father-in-law's spare room. In this episode he starts dating again, but somehow, everything seems to have changed since he last tried. Anne Reid is fantastic alongside Justin, playing his Gran and Lloyd Langford makes a great work colleague.

And I'm sure Justin will tell you more later. In another of the shows, ex burger van owner and Greek immigrant, Angelos, who you will know from Shooting Stars, has his own spoof chat show, and again the cast is great. As well as Dan Renton Skinner playing Angelos we also have Katherine Jakeways (again) with Katy Wix and Rufus Jones. Then there is Mr & Mrs Smith, an audience sitcom about a couple, Will & Annabell, who've only been married for a year but following an unimaginative birthday present - a draining rack - Annabelle (played by Sarah Hadland) signs them up for a course of marriage counselling.

Pauline Pepys' Dowry is the fourth in the series. By Beth Chalmers and Amy Shindler, with Olivia Coleman playing Pauline, Samuel Pepys' sister and David Mitchell playing Samuel. Apart from anything else, this has one of the best openings of a script I've read in a long time as Pauline and her friend chat about men they are dating whilst at an outing to the gallows, and yet another execution takes place in front of them. Also starring Sharon Horgan and Katherine Parkinson.

And finally a show that is still being cast, but written by two former in-house Radio Comedy writers, Gareth Gwynn and John-Luke Roberts, a very silly sitcom set in an antique shop, with Arthur Matthews script editing and Tim Mcinnerny playing one of the lead roles.

So to summarise, on Radio 4, a second series commissioned from Micky Flanagan, and brand new series from Lucy Montgomery and Tom Wrigglesworth. But coming up before all that, starting in July, five great new scripted comedy pilots, any of which may get picked up by Radio 4 or TV - what more do you need?

Jane Berthoud is head of radio comedy at the BBC

Reith Lectures 2010 - lecture four: The Runaway World

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick 08:20, Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Reith Mosaic

The 2010 Reith Lectures are now at an end. Four lectures with a science theme by Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society Professor Martin Rees. And for each lecture we organised a live chat here on the Radio 4 blog. Across the four lectures, thousands of people joined in - contributing to the discussion or reading it after transmission.

If you joined in or if you read the discussion while listening to the programmes, we'd be thrilled if you'd take a minute to leave a comment here on the blog: would you like to see more live interaction like this around Radio 4 programmes? Does live conversation of this kind enhance the experience for you? Or does it make it harder to enjoy the programme? And, if you think it works, which programmes should we try it with next? Live discussion, documentaries, drama? Please leave a comment below. Your feedback will help us design more interactive activity for future programmes.

Steve Bowbrick is editor of the Radio 4 blogs

  • Visit the Reith web site to listen to all of the previous lectures and to many from the archive.
  • Get the Reith lectures podcast here - you can download the lectures to listen to on your computer or MP3 player. It's free and you can keep them forever.
  • The picture shows a mosaic of pics from the recording of the third lecture, in the Royal Society's lecture theatre.

The Woman's Hour balloon debate

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick 09:30, Wednesday, 16 June 2010

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This morning's Woman's Hour balloon debate was a huge hit with the studio audience and I've just closed a very busy parallel live chat on the same theme. Click 'replay' to see all the comments we published. Some were typed directly into the chat and others sent via Twitter using the hashtag #WHballoon.

If you listened to the programme or joined in here, please tell us what you thought of the event and of the live chat. Should we run more chats like this around Radio 4 programmes? If so, what could we do to improve the experience? What would get you involved? Tell us in a comment below. I'll make sure that Woman's Hour editor Jill Burridge and debate producer Anne Peacock get all your feedback.

Read more about the balloon debate, the candidates and their advocates on the Woman's Hour web site. The Radio 4 interactive team filmed the event and you'll be able to watch their video on the same page.

Steve Bowbrick is editor of the Radio 4 blog

Reith Lectures 2010 - lecture three: What We'll Never Know

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick 08:30, Tuesday, 15 June 2010

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The third of Professor Martin Rees' 2010 Reith Lectures was recorded in the Royal Society's lecture theatre in front of an audience of fellows of the society, working scientists, journalists and public figures. Listen to the lecture and join in with the conversation about Professor Rees' big theme - the outer limits of what we can know.

To join in, listen to the programme live, click the 'play' button in the chat window above and type your comment, send an email to or tweet using the hashtag #Reith. We'll publish as many of your comments here as we can during the lecture and, afterwards, once the chat has finished, we'll open comments on this blog post so that you can leave your reactions and ideas at your leisure.

Steve Bowbrick is editor of the Radio 4 blog

  • Visit the Reith web site to listen to all of the previous lectures and to many from the archive.
  • Get the Reith lectures podcast here - you can download the lectures to listen to on your computer or MP3 player. It's free and you can keep them forever.
  • The picture shows the audience for the third lecture, gathered in the Royal Society's lecture theatre.

From Fact to Fiction - recording and editing

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Matilda James Matilda James 17:38, Friday, 11 June 2010

From fact to Fiction readthrough

Editor's note: the five day sprint from idea to completed drama is over and tomorrow afternoon you'll be able to hear the results of the 'From Fact to Fiction' team's labours - a topical play inspired by the news. Today Matilda James finishes the story - SB

So our third actor did say yes - and we were cast by Thursday lunchtime. Final drafts came in mid-afternoon and scripts were emailed out to the cast ready for an early start this morning.

We're recording in studio S6, Bush House, kicking off with a readthrough at 9am. Doon Mackichan and Eliza Caitlin Parkes are our freelance actors, to play Jessica (part-time PR officer for a charity) and Kerry (her cleaner) respectively.

Sam Dale, who is playing Felix, Jessica's husband, is a member of the BBC Radio Drama Company and his acrobatic gymnastic ability will be called upon later on as we realise we need to recreate the half-time commentary at a football match.

FFTF bottles

First of all though, the readthrough goes really well - the actors' understandings of the characters match each other and those of Gurpreet and Abigail, and the duration is pretty spot on - once it's all edited, with music, scene transitions, annos etc, we've got an absolute maximum of 13-and-a-half minutes duration to fit the Radio 4 slot.

And we've got 3 hours to record it all - it's always a bit tight for time recording From Fact to Fiction, as there's a World Service programme that uses the studio at 1pm for a live transmission. And Eliza's got to learn the words to Lady Gaga, and we've got to record some rowdy nightclub drunkards (involving willing volunteers from the office upstairs) so things need to go to plan.

The SMs (Studio Managers) have been searching for paving stones for a scene on the doorstep (not that easy to find in a news studio) and we've got a selection of bottles (lots of bottles), crockery and cutlery to make up our spot effects. We start recording, and it sounds great - lots of drinking and bottle clinking and trying to get the perfect wine-bottle glug. Gurpreet, Abigail and the actors talk over small line amendments, and I mock up some commentary for the scene where they're watching the England v USA match for Sam to voice up in his best Alan Shearer voice - can't be too specific or refer to any match results, as none have happened yet! We decide we don't need any extra recording of people being drunk as there's plenty on Grams (the sound effects library) - apparently bars are favourite places to go hang out and record, who knows why.

From Fact to Fiction booth

Yesterday, Thursday, was the day of the debate in the Scottish Parliament. We've kept an eye on the developments during the week - the opposition added a wrecking amendment on the subject of minimum pricing, but this will now get debated again before anything gets ratified into law. There are links to more information on the news story on the programme's web page.

And so this afternoon, producer Abigail and Pete, the SM, are editing. When they're done, it'll be checked for compliance, then I'll listen through to it, and send it over to Radio 4. And it'll go out tomorrow evening, and again on Sunday. Lovely. All in a week's work... Now, as soon as those last boxes are ticked, we're all going for a drink!

Matilda James is Broadcast Assistant on From Fact to Fiction

Photography and the Law

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Joshua Rozenberg Joshua Rozenberg 15:21, Friday, 11 June 2010

photography protest

Editor's note: Joshua Rozenberg launched Law in Action, Radio 4's magazine programme about the law, over a quarter of a century ago and now, after 23 years away, he's back to present the programme again. In his first programme he covers the changing law about photography in public places - SB.

"You can't take pictures of my building," I was told by the rather insistent woman who identified herself as the building manager.

My producer and I had been following an architectural photographer around the City of London. The man with the camera had told us what might happen.

First, the private security guards would order us to stop taking photographs from the public footpath - even though they were taking pictures of us on CCTV.

If we refused to stop, they would call the police. We could then expect to be searched under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Officers could inspect the pictures recorded on our camera.

Then - unless we really were terrorists - we could carry on taking pictures for as long as we liked.

All this went through my mind as the building manger and a burly security guard tried to shoo us away. What should we do?

To begin with, we stood our ground. The photographer carried on snapping. I continued holding a large and very visible microphone. And my loyal producer, wearing headphones, continued recording.

Eventually, the building manager lost patience. "Call the police," she ordered the guard standing behind her.

Two thoughts went through my mind. An audio recording of me being searched under anti-terrorism powers would be a great way to start the new series of Law in Action. On the other hand, it might just persuade the BBC that I should never present the programme again.

For one thing, we were shortly to interview the Assistant Commissioner of the City Police. He might be slightly less generous with his time if we had wasted the time of his constables.

And, for another, I have managed to reach the age of 60 without troubling the police over any more than a couple of minor motoring matters. Did I really want my name linked to anti-terrorist searches on a police computer somewhere?

I made an excuse and left. We began Law in Action with the building manager instead.

And the police later assured me that I hadn't been breaking the law.

Joshua Rozenberg is presenter of Law in Action on BBC Radio 4.

From Fact to Fiction - all systems go

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Abigail le Fleming Abigail le Fleming 18:05, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

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Following our initial meeting on Monday, writer Gurpreet Bhatti delivered a first draft this morning. It's amazing what the From Fact to Fiction writers do in the time we give them. Gurpreet's already found her characters and the shape of the play.

She's stayed with her original choice of news story as inspiration - minimum pricing for alcohol, which is being voted on by the Scottish parliament this week. In the spirit of the series, her play uses the emotions and issues at the heart of the news story as its motor - it's about a woman who becomes unhealthily involved in the life of the student who cleans for her.

I discussed the team's notes on the script with Gurpreet this afternoon, and now she's hunkered down producing draft two, while we cast and get hold of the right music. It's a three-hander, of whom we currently have two confirmed - crossing fingers for the third!

I've also gone through the first draft with our SMs (studio managers). There'll be two of them working on it on the day - one 'panel' SM, who records the actors, and one 'spot' SM, who makes sure all the right props are there making all the right sort of noises and the right times. We record most of our dramas in a lovely studio in Broadcasting House, full of wonders: not just stairs, but stairs that lead somewhere! A working kitchen with running water! A spot FX store full of everything you can imagine that makes a noise!

We record FFTF in a much less glamorous room in the bowels of Bush House, so we need to be careful the scripts are actually achievable with our resources here. My last FFTF featured stairs in a big way, a mistake I won't be repeating!

Roll on tomorrow morning, with draft two and (hopefully) a 'yes' from the third member of our cast...

Abigail le Fleming is producer of From Fact to Fiction

From Fact to Fiction - making a topical drama

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Abigail le Fleming Abigail le Fleming 09:00, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

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Editor's note: From Fact to Fiction is Radio 4's topical drama series. Each play is written, recorded and broadcast in a week, in response to the news. Producer Abigail le Fleming takes us through the process, starting on Monday morning. We'll publish further snapshots from the process between now and transmission on Saturday - SB

In the hot seat this week is award-winning writer Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti. She came in to Bush House on Monday to pore over the newspapers with us as we picked up and rejected various stories. David Cameron's speech warning of drastic changes to Life As We Know It was on all the front pages. Gurpreet thought perhaps she might spin off this story with a play about a young couple with a child on the way, anxious about the future. I was struck by a story in Saturday's Guardian about covert surveillance cameras in Birmingham, to which Gurpreet responded with a lovely idea for a comedy about a man who installs CCTV in his house to monitor his family. But the cuts/pregnancy story was feeling a bit general, and we didn't think the CCTV story would still be running by the time we go out on Saturday.

Abigail le Fleming and Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti

Lucy Proctor from News stepped in with a very useful run-down of the news diary for this week. We discussed and rejected Gaza (too huge), Cumbria (too intrusive), Bhopal (not really current enough, despite the recent convictions). We knew we couldn't touch the World Cup, as that's being well-covered already. We talked for a while about the Labour leadership contest - could we satirise this by dramatising it as a tale of principle vs ambition in a less rarefied context than Westminster? Perhaps a charity where the employees are all scrabbling for that golden promotion?

Lucy was clearly taken with the fact that this week marks the end of the International Year of the Priest, but that was just such a delightful thing in itself we didn't think it necessarily needed to spin off into drama.

What really interested Gurpreet from Lucy's list was the issue of minimum pricing of alcohol, which is being debated by the Scottish parliament on Thursday. As we talked about this question, it seemed to chime with other stories this week: people being paid to recycle in Windsor, people being paid to lose weight/give up smoking elsewhere. And it poses some questions - can you really control people through financial incentives and disincentives? Is the new government really striving for less of a 'nanny state' than the old one? The issues of power and control here really fired Gurpreet's imagination, and she's gone away to cook up a first draft.

Abigail le Fleming is producer of From Fact to Fiction

Reith Lectures 2010 - lecture two: Surviving the Century

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick 08:20, Tuesday, 8 June 2010

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The second of this year's Reith Lectures, 'Surviving the Century', is now over. You can replay our live chat here in the this blog post. Do so while listening to the lecture itself. Many listeners joined in with the conversation about the lecture and its themes, here in the live chat, on Twitter (using the hashtag #Reith) and in email. Get the Reith lectures podcast here - you can download the lectures to listen to on your computer or MP3 player. It's free and you can keep them forever.

Now we'd like you to tell us what you thought of the lecture and its themes but also of the live chat itself - did it add anything to the experience for you? And if so, should we try this with other Radio 4 programmes - and which ones? Click 'comments' and leave yours. We'll be doing this again for the third lecture, next Tuesday 15 June at the same time (0900). In the meantime, we'll continue to scan the #Reith hashtag on Twitter and remember the Radio 4 Facebook page is also a good place for discussion of our programmes and web sites.

Steve Bowbrick is editor of the Radio 4 blog

Leaving Normal: a new comedy about gay adoption

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Ian Iqbal Rashid Ian Iqbal Rashid 09:50, Monday, 7 June 2010

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I was recently at the home of Hari and Matt (I've changed the names) - a friend from childhood and his partner, respectively - now new adoptive gay dads to two older children. The kids come from troubled backgrounds and are having difficulty settling into their new homes. They're testing both the limits and patience of their new parents.

But when I see Hari in action with the kids, I see and hear his dad, Mr Syed - who terrorised us all in childhood with his authoritative, sphincter-tightening reprimands. Hari who has definitely not been a fan of the type of parenting he received is now channelling his dad without even being aware of it.

It's been interesting to observe the parenting styles of my gay friends who now have children. Most of them are adoptive parents, who have spent years of time and energy negotiating with agencies and lawyers to gain custody. For some there has been little time or space - and certainly little in the way of cultural context - to imagine or interrogate the kind of parents they might want to become. Does the fact of their gayness necessarily mean a different approach to parenting? How to negotiate the discrimination that now might inflect their kids' lives? How do the sometimes non-traditional values and lifestyles of queer culture co-exist with parent-teacher nights and car pools?

In Leaving Normal, the new Woman's Hour comedy-drama I wrote and directed, Luke (Paul Nicholls) who abhors the traditional parenting he grew up with under his strict mother Nicki (Imelda Staunton), finds himself now wondering if maybe it's the way to go - after his orphaned niece and nephew are suddenly placed in his care. Sammi (Nikesh Patel) his partner, erased all prospects or possibilities of parenting when he came out. He now refuses to engage with the role of 'dad', believing it's a kind of sell-out to his hard-won gay identity and life-style - much to the chagrin of his mother Dolly (Meera Syal) who desperately wants her own grandchildren.

But the truth is that there are no rules on offer. Most of my friends are travelling through the parenting wilderness map-less. They're pioneers, moving forward, without even the benefit of cultural role models to emulate or use as a reference point. But that too is beginning to change. And I hope that Sammi and Luke and Leaving Normal will go a small way towards redressing that even further.

Ian Iqbal Rashid is writer of Leaving Normal on BBC Radio 4

The eSportsmen: cyber athletes

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Kate Russell Kate Russell 14:17, Thursday, 3 June 2010


It didn't look much like a central hub of operations for one of the most successful professional gaming teams in the country. Just an ordinary suburban semi-detached, painted lemon-yellow. But as soon as we walked through the door of Mike 'Odee' O'Dell's family home, it was obvious this was no ordinary three-up-two-down. Team shirts & boxes of tech kit were stacked high in the hallway and stuffed into every conceivable nook and cranny. His two young daughters were busily tapping away on computers, and a sullen-looking young man sat frowning in concentration at a 50-inch plasma TV in the living room, practicing for a big FIFA World Cup match that weekend. Upstairs it was no different. The master bedroom was more office than peaceful retreat, with trophies and gigantic prize-cheques - most of them bigger than both Mike's daughters put together - littering every surface. Two things struck me during our brief visit to the UK headquarters of Team Dignitas. This man is seriously dedicated to his work and his wife must be an absolute saint!

One of the team's star players, David 'Zaccubus' Treacy, agreed to meet us for a chat about his life as a professional gamer. Hiding beneath a huge floppy hat I was expecting his interview to be a bit of a struggle. Computer gamers don't have a reputation for possessing highly developed social skills. As a gamer myself I am thoroughly opposed to this generalisation, and as soon as David started to speak I realised I had utterly misjudged him from his appearance. This young man was friendly, open and eloquent. Despite having suffered with dyslexia throughout his school years, he was clearly very bright and ambitious. The difference here was that his ambitions centred around becoming the best video gamer on the planet. Now you might think that sounds like a waste of a person's drive and passion - but when you consider he has the potential to earn in excess of $100,000 in a year, and travel the world on expenses while he's doing it, it begins to sound a lot more palatable.

The final stop on our tour of the UK gaming fraternity was the Gadget Show Live in Birmingham, where Team Dignitas were contracted by hardware manufacturers to battle head to head against members of the great unwashed public. Young lads bashed away at computers worth thousands of pounds as their parents looked on, somewhat bemused. They were routinely wiped out by a few carefully planned flicks of a Team Dignitas mouse-hand on the other side of the partition.

Dr Dominic Micklewright, a sports psychologist from The University of Essex was also at the event. He ran some scientific tests on our gamers and see if any comparisons could be made with professional athletes, he subjected the poor victims to a rigorous session of bouncing, cycling and reaction-time tests. They were sharp - as sharp as any good athlete who takes his sport seriously. But when it came to the fitness tests - well, let's just say there can be no denying that most avid computer gamers probably do need to get out into the fresh air a bit more often!

Kate Russell is presenter of The eSportsmen on BBC Radio 4

Reith lectures 2010 - lecture one: The Scientific Citizen

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick 08:30, Tuesday, 1 June 2010

This morning, during the first of this year's Reith lectures, we hosted a live chat about the lecture and the topics discussed here on the blog. Lots of listeners joined in, by typing comments directly into the live chat here, by sending email to 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 2010 podcast. If you joined in, please leave a comment below to tell us what you thought of the exercise. Would you join in again? Would you like to see this kind of live conversation around other programmes? How could we improve it?

And don't forget to join in again next week, at 0900 on Tuesday 8 June. The lecture's title is 'Surviving the Century.'

Steve Bowbrick is editor of the Radio 4 blog

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