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How many times have you been in love? A kind of census

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Hardeep Singh Kohli Hardeep Singh Kohli 10:40, Friday, 25 February 2011

Hardeep Singh Kohli with Barbara and Derek Brown in BBC Radio 4's Alternative Census.

Did you know why Jesus was born in Bethlehem and not Galilee? A kind of census required Joseph and Mary to be in Bethlehem around Christmas a couple of millennia ago. Fascinating. One wonders the Fate of Christianity had there not been a census.

I'm not pretending my alternative census will have any sort of impact similar to that of the coming of Jesus Christ; but nonetheless, it has had a profound impact on me and hopefully this will be shared by listeners.

I love interviewing people. I enjoy the mandate a microphone gives me to delve and duck around people's lives and experiences, stories shared, insight elicited. I never cease to be surprised at how the most tightly structured interview soon unravels into a glorified chat as my producer rolls her eyes knowing she has to wade through the material and attempt to make me sound like I might know what I'm talking about.

And radio affords a greater intimacy than any other medium: the power of the voice, the power of the pause seem somehow amplified on the wireless.

Yet taking the census questions as my starting point I soon became aware of their directness, their lack of tact. Epithets were superfluous in the attempt to quantify the state of the nation. A seemingly innocuous question like "who lives here normally" followed by "who will be staying here tonight" felt like the most personal of intrusions. And one thing I was taught as a young lad in Glasgow is to never discuss Religion and Politics. This caveat would have made the radio 4 census gathering project anodyne in the extreme. People's lives are politics and religion. They're crucial to creating some sort of portrait of the nations we call a United Kingdom.

Luckily my license was poetic enough to throw in a few cheekier, non official Census questions. "How many times have you been in love? Do you remember your first kiss? When were you at your happiest?" I'll never tire of the moment these questions were posed and were invariably followed by a smile, a pause, an intake of breath or some combination of all three!

My over-riding sense of my experiences making this series is how normal and simultaneously surprising we are as a country. And also, how friendly and trusting and giving we are. I felt genuinely buoyed by the people I met, both the set-up interviews and those whose doors we stepped.

There is much generosity of spirit, much kindness and a great sense of community out there, regardless of who lives in what sort of house and who they first kissed.

Hardeep Singh Kohli presents his Alternative Census on BBC Radio 4

  • The picture shows Hardeep with Barbara and Derek Brown. There are more pictures here.
  • Listen to the first of the new series at 1100 today and on the Radio 4 web site for seven days after that.


  • Comment number 1.

    But of course, some particular spiritual folk believe that the census would have been foreseen by the power of the planner. Great to see the power of humour at work as well!

  • Comment number 2.

    Thanks Hardeep for a wonderful alternative look at who is really who in the UK these days. Haven't lived there for over 20 years and this show was as good as a flight back! Cheers and thanks for your gentle, humorous approach. Your love of what you do really does come through! Looking forward to the next one.

  • Comment number 3.

    Thanks for a lovely programme Hardeep. It was an interesting tiny snapshot of the complexity of people's lives.
    My parents, who you interviewed in programme 2 (pictured above), are infinitely complex individuals. I think your interview gave a flavour of the extraordinary choices, drivers and compromises that ordinary people make in their lives.

  • Comment number 4.

    Thank you for a lovely, lovely listening experience. I know MIXXI also uses the word 'lovely,' and that is because it was, it just was. I agree that this world is not getting smaller in that we are so many now, it is hard to know who lives near you especially in London. What a wonderful idea, MORE! I would love to hear MORE! All the very best on your next venture for Radio 4, whatever it is! Being part Indian and part Portuguese, I suggest a look at how the generation born here is changing and what the generation before remembers of life in India.


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