Archives for February 2012

Saturday Live

Post categories:

Gwyneth Williams Gwyneth Williams 17:29, Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Saturdays feel different on Radio 4 and that mood is caught by Saturday Live.

Whether it is the Inheritance Tracks or the poem or that interview, there is always something that makes me look up from my morning coffee and stop reading the FT magazine. So much so that I began to feel the programme pushing at the edges of its time slot.

There is something about that Saturday mood that wants to carry on in that eclectic mix for just a little longer and with that in mind, I've extended Saturday Live to one and a half hours.

But for all those Radio 4 listeners who love travel and hearing Sandi Toksvig and John McCarthy wander the globe and talk with the intrepid and the travel-worn, fear not - the longer Saturday Live will incorporate some of the wanderlust spirit of Excess Baggage. It makes sense to ask John and Sandi to join in with features or just to show up and talk about their travels. And we're exploring ways in which Radio 4 travellers can join us online with some of their own experiences. So from May 5th the splendid Richard Coles will be joined by Sian Williams - someone I've long wanted to hear on the network - for a jointly presented hour and a half of Saturday Live.

I am delighted to have Sian back on Radio 4 and I can't wait to hear her hosting the programme with Richard. She brings her own unique brand of charm and experience, formidable interviewing skills and we are lucky to have her.

Extending Saturday Live is an idea I have had brewing for quite some time and Sian has been part of my thinking from the start. She is someone I know the Radio 4 audience will take to their hearts. So here it is - an even bigger Saturday Live - I know that the team will cook up something special for us and I wish them luck.

Gwyneth Williams is Controller of BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 4 Extra

Leap for PM

Post categories:

Eddie Mair 13:27, Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Today is a very special day. Like Oliver Reed in his heyday, it comes round only once every four years.

Sandwiched precariously between 28 February and 1 March, it creates children of adults and newlyweds of couples who've been together for years. People who are born or get married on 29 February can only legitimately celebrate a quarter of their anniversaries.

I wondered whether we could use this special day as an opportunity.

All this month on PM, we've been asking listeners whether they'd be prepared to take advantage of this extra day - use it as an excuse to do something different. We spend so much of our lives putting things off. Sometimes it's things we'd rather not do. Sometimes it's stuff we'd love to do but will only get round to "someday".

But because this is an "extra" day, we could perhaps use it as cover for such activities. We could give something a whirl and if it fails, well, it doesn't matter because it's not a proper day.

We floated the idea with our listeners on 1 February, not sure what response we'd get. It transpires there are a lot of people who are ready to use today to take a leap.

There's the apparently mundane... "I resolve to speak Mandarin all day long"...."My partner and I are going to visit some elderly people in the village and take them some home-made produce"..."Often meant to take a roof tour of Lincoln Cathedral but never got round to it. Spurred on by your campaign my husband and I have booked a visit on 29 February".

Then there are the people who are getting some medical attention. We broadcast the plan of one woman to have a cervical smear today and got emails from other listeners inspired by her. After six years, another listener will finally decide the wording for her late husband's headstone. And as you read this, any number of PM listeners are at last scattering the ashes of loved ones having put it off for years.

We've come to the aid of some listeners. A woman who plans to take up the hula-hoop after more than 50 years, will get some training thanks to our intervention. And a woman with sight problems who wanted to raise money by cycling will have Radio 4's Paddy O'Connell on the front of her tandem.

Someone else plans to join the army. Another listener who's been tuning in to us from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan will fly home to the UK today after nine months continuous duty.

Our listeners have been most struck by the struggles of others. In our montage clip, you can catch up with the woman who intends to have some chocolate today - her anorexia has been a problem for years. A man who suffers panic attacks will try to make a bus journey. And don't miss the woman in her 60s who will get a tattoo today.

Leap for PM: Hear what listeners are planning

When you start an unusual project like this, it's impossible to know what response there will be. But we never expected something on this scale. Not just the sheer number of people who plan to take a leap but the rich variety of responses and the fact that listeners have inspired other listeners.

For example, we broadcast details of one listener's plan to write a letter to his estranged brother and others weighed in with similar intentions. A nightclub bouncer will spend today trying to heal a rift with a relative. There was this too: "I am going to write a conciliatory letter to my sister whom I have been on bad terms with for many years".

And in turn, I too was inspired. For a long time I have had a bitter and angry feud with the BBC's Business Editor, Robert Peston. Who knows what it was originally about (I do) and who can remember whose fault it was (Robert's). The point is that I am going to use this special day to try to heal that rift. Mend fences. That's why I've invited Robert to join me in presenting PM tonight in the spirt of the day. Side by side. Shoulder to shoulder. Dust to Dust.

And if Robert and I can do it - what about you?

In Our Time newsletter: Conductors and Semiconductors

Post categories:

Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg 18:03, Friday, 24 February 2012

Editor's note: In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed the Conductors and Semiconductors and the physics of electrical conduction. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - PM.

Conductor and superconductor image


That was a tough one if your knowledge of physics ended in your mid-teens. But once again, particularly by vivid use of easy-to-understand analogies, the three contributors got over to the rest of us what the achievement was.

It's the speed of the whole thing that is astonishing, isn't it?

Just over a hundred years or so ago, electricity was a bit of fun in a circus, or just a marginal part of what scientifically-inclined persons did. And now, with the discoveries swiftly and brilliantly made by one group of scientists after another, we have the forces which go into lightning being controlled in such a way that they make much of the world go round.

I don't want to bang on about this, but if ever there was a staring-you-in-the-face example of pure research leading to a general improvement in the condition of mankind, a multitude of highly skilled jobs and increased global wealth, then this is it.

So afterwards skated down to the office on what seems like a spring day and from there to lunch with Tom Morris, where I discovered that, among other things, he plays a game called rackets, which seems to me to be squash hell multiplied by ten.

The day ties up in a neat circle, because tonight I'll be at the Guildhall as Chancellor of the University of Leeds for a banquet to celebrate The Queen's Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education.

This is a particularly special event because it's the jubilee year and the University of Leeds, with about a dozen other universities, has won one of these prizes. So I'll be surrounded by men and women who have devoted their lives just to pure research, and they'll be in a most ancient hall, and I'll be in the presence of people who are the generators of the future prosperity of these islands.

It's great to go to these ceremonial events now and then. The dressing up in university garb. The processions. The speeches - yes, even the speeches - and meeting a group of likeminded people whose object is to find out more about the way the world works and to bring these discoveries to the rest of us.

The knot will be tied tomorrow morning when we go to Buckingham Palace, where those who did the work will receive the medals from HM The Queen; just in passing, in these pessimistic times, they are the world leaders in their field. Before that I'll be on breakfast television talking about Class and Culture; the first part of my three-part series goes out on BBC Two in the evening. It might seem a long jump. It might seem part of a positive spectrum.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

PS Friday AM. It's one of these "is it real?" situations, wandering around St James's Park early for an appointment with HM The Queen in Buckingham Palace. 'Tis passing strange.

PPS Another freak spring day. In St James's Park I'm sure I can hear the bulbs and the buds having a serious conference. "You go first," they're saying, "I'll just give it another day or two."

Feedback: Radio and pluggers

Post categories:

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 18:00, Friday, 24 February 2012

Roger Bolton

Feedback's presenter Roger Bolton

George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury has been called many things, not least by gay couples who want to get married and who find in Dr Carey an implacable opponent.

This week, however, he was outed as a plugger.

One Feedback listener claims to have heard him mention his new book thirteen times in 20 broadcast minutes on the Today programme and Radio 2.

Mind you I don't think everyone would have noticed because by now we are inured to plugs.

The BBC would once have banned such references and still says it has strict controls on the promotion of products but many feel those controls are flexibly interpreted, particularly in television.

Is there a guest on the Graham Norton Show for example who doesn't have something to sell?

One can understand the dilemma.

Madonna offers you the first sight of her new record and an exclusive interview if... Indeed in some cases artists will forgo fees in favour of a promotional spot.

BBC Radio is particularly vulnerable since it has so many hours of programmes to fill and relatively little money or no money to offer potential guests.

I wish that the plugs could be formalised in the credits of programmes and banned in any other part of them.

On the other hand I supposed this blog is a sort of extended plug for Feedback. So I'd better just shut up and let you get on with listening to it.

By the way, thanks for listening and do feel free to write to us about anything you have heard on any BBC radio station.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback

The Art of Monarchy: The Royal Collection in Context

Post categories:

Rufus Bird 17:20, Friday, 24 February 2012

Editor's note: To coincide with the Art of Monarchy, the Radio 4 blog is running a series of posts by the Royal Collection's curators on different aspects of the collection. In this post Rufus Bird considers Royal art in context - CM.

Abraham Tapestry

As a curator I am faced with considering the place of art (in my case, decorative art) in its historical as well as contemporary context, something familiar to all curators in museums and galleries.

Those working with the Royal Collection have further considerations however:

  1. How does this object relate to its surroundings, given that it may hold a prominent location in a Royal Palace?
  2. Does it in some way reflect the institution of the Monarchy?

An example of the former might be the magnificent pietra dura (literally 'hard stone') mounted commode by Martin Carlin in the Green Drawing Room in Buckingham Palace - one of the great masterpieces of French eighteenth-century cabinet-making. This lives in one of the State Rooms, the principal reception rooms for visitors to Buckingham Palace, and along with the other contents of the room, projects magnificence: the intangible aura that we have come to expect to surround a monarch.

So objects need to be appropriate to their settings.

An example of the second question might be State portraits, perhaps the family group by Winterhalter: The Royal Family in 1846, a contemporized self-image of the royal family as conceived by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, presently displayed opposite an earlier royal family group: The Great Peece, by Van Dyck, of 1632. Both are displayed in significant spaces within Buckingham Palace, and were painted to project a particular image of Monarchy that is as powerful today as it was in 1846 and 1632.

If a nation is defined by its history, then the art that monarchs choose to surround themselves with, either privately or for political means, in some way reflects that journey: Henry VIII's tapestry collection is littered with politicized examples. Even during the Interregnum in the 1650s, The Abraham Tapestries, the cream of Henry VIII's art collection and Mantegna's The Triumphs of Caesar, which had only recently been acquired by Charles I, were reserved for Cromwell's use. This, during what was perhaps the most charged moment in the history of our nation.

The Royal Collection has been formed through acquisitions (reflecting the collecting tastes of successive monarchs) as well as gifts. The continuing tradition of the exchange of gifts between Heads of State has contributed enormous richness to the collection - one splendid example of this might be the gold pre-Inca crown presented to Queen Victoria by the President of Ecuador in 1862. It is usually on display in the Grand Vestibule at Windsor Castle alongside a number of other splendid gifts, but from March to November this year it will be displayed in The Queen's Gallery, Edinburgh. So this remarkable item is not only a magnificent object, but also symbolizes important diplomatic and cultural relations between two nations. While this is a sort of 'internal' exhibition loan, from one Palace to another, The Queen has been generous in loaning parts of the Royal Collection to exhibitions around the world. A notable recent example was the loan of 33 drawings to the Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery. The Queen was the lender of the largest number of individual works to that excellent exhibition.

In 2012, the public can enjoy the Royal Collection in so many different ways: there are over 3,000 items on long-term loan to regional and national museums. A current example is the loan of the three magnificent bronze portrait busts by Leone Leoni of Charles V, Phillip II and the Duke of Alba. They normally live in the Queen's Guard Chamber at Windsor, but are enjoying a change of scenery in the Renaissance sculpture galleries at the V&A. Later this month, 135,000 records of individual works will be available to view on a revitalized Royal Collection website, giving global access to the Collection online.

You may not be surprised to learn that the majority of the 1m visitors to Windsor Castle do not come to see the Rembrandts, the Van Dycks, the collection of French eighteenth-century furniture, or the unrivalled collection of Sèvres. They come to visit the home of The Queen; the magnificent collection on display is a bonus. This brings them into contact with art, as it is the art collection that furnishes the rooms in the Palace they come to visit. Those who seek out the art, come specifically to see the masterpieces that in many other nations might reside in a national museum. In Britain we are fortunate in possessing several magnificent national art collections in London, Cardiff and Scotland, as well as a Royal Collection.

As the Art of Monarchy demonstrates, the Royal Collection undoubtedly contains many masterpieces, but it is not always about great art. It contains a large number of fascinating curios, which might never make it into any museum or gallery. The Royal Collection is a great group of objects that in some way both reflects and symbolizes the activities of successive monarchs as part of the rich tapestry of our nation's history.

Rufus Bird is Deputy Surveyor of The Queen's Works of Art The Royal Collection

  1. View more images and listen to the third programme in the Art of Monarchy series: Faith
  2. Learn more about The Royal Collection on the Royal Collection website
  3. Visit the Art of Monarchy website

Shelagh Delaney on Radio 4 Extra

Post categories:

Polly Thomas 17:41, Thursday, 23 February 2012

Shelagh Delaney

Shelagh Delaney in 1961

Originally from Salford, Shelagh Delaney was just 19 when her first play, A Taste of Honey, was first produced at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1958.

It was an immediate sensation. Her funny, sharp dialogue, vivid characters, the uncompromising picture of young, ordinary people straining at the leash to live (or tethered horses, as she described them once) changed the face of British theatre.

Shelagh went on to write award winning screenplays for stage, television and film as well as prose fiction. By and large, however, she was seen as the writer who broke the mould with A Taste of Honey, and her later work was dwarfed by that mighty first achievement.

However, the common assumption that she stopped writing in the mid 90s, is very wrong. Shelagh was an avid radio listener, and she found a natural home there in her later years. I had the great fortune to produce all of her radio plays from 2000, and I am thrilled that 4Extra are marking Shelagh's wonderful relationship with radio by repeating some of that work, four plays now and A Taste of Honey in October 2012.

I first worked with Shelagh in 2000, on her radio dramatisation of her short story, Sweetly Sings the Donkey. I was a little nervous about working with such a great name in British drama. Shelagh quickly put me at my ease - she was a warm, generous person, with a dry wit.

In Sweetly Sings the Donkey, the cast is primarily thirteen year old girls, quite a tough casting challenge. Shelagh hadn't been in production for a while, and loved being in studio. One of the young cast had a birthday during the studio, so Shelagh presented a cake with candles.

Inspired by this experience, Shelagh wrote Tell Me Film, produced in 2003. She took the young characters of Sweetly and imagined a return visit to Blackpool to celebrate their 60th birthdays. The four older actresses did a wonderful job, and Shelagh was delighted by their performances. She was so pleased that she wrote a third play for the same characters and actresses, produced in 2004 - Baloney Said Salome.

In Out of the Pirates Playhouse Shelagh wrote for five eleven year olds. The play is about the rite of passage of children moving from junior school to the next "big school". The play highlights one of Shelagh's singular talents - her ability to pick absolutely right music that isn't the obvious choice. The opening track for this play is Tomorrow, an acapella track from the powerful vocal group Sweet Honey in the Rock. It captures perfectly the intensity of the children's experience, yet seemingly belongs to a completely other world than that of Salford eleven year olds. Shelagh made connections that the rest of us often miss - and we are the richer for her perception.

Shelagh Delaney was one of the truly great dramatic writers. She never stopped writing, and her later years were marked by a prolific and successful flowering of new drama. We are lucky that they have been preserved and are being given another airing.

Polly Thomas is a Radio 4 Extra producer

  • Sweetly Sings the Donkey is on Tuesday 28 February with the other plays on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of the same week. A Taste of Honey will be on in October.

What Time Is it Eccles?

Post categories:

Sarah Wade Sarah Wade 18:00, Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Spike Milligan

Spike from The Goon Show, 1958

Classical music in the morning, jazz in the afternoons, half an hour for lunch (battenburg or a danish) and to open the French windows and talk to the birds. The Magic Roundabout at five to six and then a bath.

"The public perception of Spike is this scatty, mad person. He wasn't like that at all. He was very disciplined. And he was fairly regimented really."

Ever present in The Goon Show re-runs every week on Radio 4 Extra - it's hard to believe that it's ten years since the death of "the godfather of alternative comedy" Spike Milligan, on 26 February.

The Spike Show: Milligan Remembered commemorates his life and work and is presented by Spike's agent and friend, Norma Farnes for Radio 4 Extra.

Recording on location - a few of the digital radio station's team travel to Bayswater, the former home of London Associated Scripts. This famed HQ hosted many of the comedy greats of the period including Steptoe creators Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd, Johnny Speight and Eric Sykes.

With a blue plaque to the "Author and Artist" on the building, we ring the bell and are welcomed in by Norma.

In the hallway you can see the staircase down which Spike never walked but ran, always jumping the last few steps.

Radio 4 Extra

The room where we record is filled with photographs, Spike's typewriter and "DON'T TOUCH" is written in Spike's hand on the fridge plug. With this setting and Norma's unique comic and moving memories we are able to capture some of Spike's spirit in our three hour special.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

I have had the privilege of listening to some wonderful and moving archive for the programme. We remember Spike's life and work and hear from his friends, children and Spike himself and some of the comedy which made him famous.

"It's ten years" says Norma, "but I still miss him."

Sarah Wade is a producer for Radio 4 Extra

The More Than Words Listening Festival

Post categories:

Clare McGinn Clare McGinn 11:27, Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Radio 4 More Than Words Listening Festival takes place in Bristol on March 16th, 17th and 18th this year. It's a celebration of sound, storytelling and the art of listening but also a celebration of a unique and enduring partnership with the city.

In 1934 the Lord Mayor of Bristol, one Herbert John Maggs, cut the ribbon to open four radio studios at 23 Whiteladies Road. Each was specifically designed for a different purpose - orchestral, dramatic, sound effects and "talking".

Initially "the West" was partnered with Wales but, after campaigning by local councils and MPs, the West of England Home Service was finally granted autonomy in 1937. BBC Bristol flourished but really came into its own during the war years.

The BBC's purpose - as laid out by Lord Reith - was to educate, inform and entertain and, during the war years, radio was a lifeline for the nation. In keeping with his Reithian values it was felt that boosting moral in wartime and keeping the population up to date with news at home and abroad was critical.

As the war escalated Broadcasting House in London became a frequent target for German bombers and the BBC decided to move its major departments out of London. Consequently children's programmes, the religious department, the variety unit as well as the BBC Symphony Orchestra were packed off to Bristol - 700 people in total.

Two extra studios were added to the Whiteladies Road HQ and several other locations in the city were made available to the BBC for recording plays, concerts, talks, quizzes and comedy shows.

With the fall of France in June 1940 Bristol came within the bombing range of the Luftwaffe and so, with the backing of the city council, the BBC headed underground into the Clifton Rocks Railway Tunnel where a transmitter, studio and control room were all concealed. Therefore, when the capital was under attack, London was able to quickly switch transmission to Bristol - sometimes in the middle of a news bulletin.

The point of all of this is to highlight Bristol's special role in the earliest history of the BBC and also to demonstrate the special relationship the Corporation has had and continues to have with the city.

In October 2009 the current Director General Mark Thompson signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bristol creating the Corporation's first ever and only BBC-city partnership. The aim? To formally gather together Bristol's creative industries, community organisations and academic institutions to show that, by working together more closely, sharing expertise, resources and ambitions, there could be cultural and economic benefits for the people of Bristol, the city and the South West. In other words, after a rather long courtship, the BBC and Bristol tied the knot. So how is the marriage bearing up? Well, I think.

In terms of skills training, developing talent, sharing resources and expertise a lot has happened on the ground in Bristol over the last two and a half years. New job opportunities have been created and new alliances have been forged.

Culturally, out of that partnership, has come More Than Words - a weekend festival of listening with BBC Radio 4 at its heart. Radio 4 has been a presence in Bristol since 1967 when it replaced the Home Service. The current Controller of Radio 4, Gwynneth Williams, has put a focus on "the art of listening" for those of us who make programmes for the station and it's a perfect theme for More Than Words.

More Than Words will showcase and celebrate the best of Radio 4 in front of live audiences. We're keen to invite anyone who is curious about ideas and sound to join in and discover Radio 4 for themselves. More Than Words is also about bringing listening to life in Bristol not only through the rich Radio 4 output but through the fantastic partnership events sitting alongside the broadcast elements of the festival. Finding people to take part has been easy. It has worked because we already know each other; already know how to collaborate sharing our skills and talents to create something fresh for Bristol and the wider Radio 4 audience.

On the broadcast side we can promise a special 70th anniversary edition of Desert Island Discs recorded in front of an audience with castaway Jamie Cullum; Pink Mist - a contemporary reworking of Homer's Odyssey from the award winning poet Owen Sheers which takes us from Afghanistan to Bristol through the experiences of real life ex-service personnel living in the city; Anarchic theatre company Peepolykus offer a new comic adaptation of Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles complete with special sound effects.

Poet and broadcaster Michael Rosen will be exploring the words and sounds that make children laugh in a special edition of Radio 4's Word of Mouth programme recorded with schoolchildren at the Bristol Central Library while writer Lynne Truss invites you to the beach in Tidal Talks as residents of a rockpool reveal the truth about life between the tides with Alison Steadman, Geoffrey Palmer and Tony Robinson.

Cerys Matthews will be centre stage for a special edition of With Great Pleasure and, as if that weren't enough, Great Lives, Loose Ends, Broadcasting House, The Wondermentalist Cabaret, Any Questions and Poetry Please are some of the other riches on offer.

Many of Radio 4's key presenters will be there including Kirsty Young, Jonathan Dimbleby, Clive Anderson, Arthur Smith, Harriett Gilbert, Paddy O'Connell, Fi Glover, Matthew Parris and Roger McGough.

On the ground in Bristol we will be running special More Than Words masterclasses and workshops on everything from poetry, pervasive media, digital and multiplatform storytelling, writing, comedy and active listening. Sound Adventurers from the city will be sharing their work and wisdom including internationally renowned artist Luke Jerram the creator of The Sky Orchestra , The Aeolus and who famously has installed 500 pianos across the globe from New York to Sydney bearing the simple instruction "Play Me I'm Yours".

Expect the unusual and surprising from a host of storytellers, poets, musicians, sound artists, performers and inventors as well as new work from some of the brightest young talents in the city and beyond all working in an extraordinary way with sound and pictures.

In a way, we are staying true to our roots and the purpose of the four studios originally built in Whiteladies Road in Bristol 1934. At Radio 4's More Than Words festival we will offer the orchestral, the dramatic, sounds effects and "talking" but with a 21st century twist.

Radio 4's More Than Words Listening Festival takes place in Bristol between Friday March 16th and Sunday March 18th. Even if you can't get there in person please do check us out online, on social media and by listening to our programmes on Radio 4. More details to follow.

Clare McGinn is Editor of Audio & Music Production at BBC Bristol

Family quiz "Keep It In The Family" on Radio 4 Extra

Post categories:

Fred MacAulay 13:40, Monday, 20 February 2012

Ed's note: Fred MacAulay is a regular guest on many Radio 4 panel games, most notably on The News Quiz. But this week and next, he's sitting on the other side of the mic, hosting The 4 O'Clock Show's brain-teasing Keep It In The Family. Each day, two parent and child combinations (mum and son, grandpa and grand-daughter, auntie and nephew) go head to head to prove they're the brainiest family in Britain. The quiz is recorded in BBC Scotland's studios at Pacific Quay in Glasgow - PM.

Keep it in the Family

Fred MacAulay with two of the teams competing in The 4 O'Clock Show's Keep It In The Family

Hosting Keep It In The Family is different from just about any job I've done before.

I'm not playing Paxman on University Challenge nor John Humphries on Mastermind. Nor am I in a situation where I'm expected to be funny like on News Quiz or some of the other Radio 4 panel shows. That's because we're dealing with a mix of adults and children who might well be in a studio for the first time in their lives. Making them feel comfortable and confident so that they'll contribute is almost as important as me getting through all the questions without making a mistake.

Sometimes there's no lack of confidence, especially in the children. Also we've been very fortunate that there haven't been too many mismatches where one family romps away with a win. I always feel that the quiz works best when all four are participating and we get correct answers from all of them. I've enjoyed doing Keep It In The Family - the only down side is that I don't get any chance to chat with Mel! Maybe we should do a special with The MacAulays versus The Giedroycs?!


Mel Giedroyc presents The 4 O'Clock Show weekday afternoons on BBC Radio 4 Extra at 4pm. Keep It In the Family with Fred MacAulay runs on the programme from Monday 20 February to Friday 2 March on Radio 4 Extra. If you miss any episodes you can catch up via the 4 O'Clock page on the Radio 4 Extra website.

Feedback: The Moral Maze

Post categories:

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 16:59, Friday, 17 February 2012

I think that one of the most terrifying things I have done in broadcasting is to chair the Moral Maze.

It can't have been much fun for the audience either, I'm sure they preferred Michael Buerk, who is very rarely absent from the presenter's chair as he values this programme as much as any he has done.

Why was it so terrifying for me? Well the panellists of course. David Starkey was a member on one occasion and he paid little attention to me, sinking his teeth ever deeper into what he saw as the woefully inadequate arguments of a witness.

In one edition I presented, live as usual, Dr Starkey was being particularly vituperative, so the producer walked into the studio and put his hands around the good doctor's neck and appeared to squeeze. Whatever he did it was effective and I got a word in edgeways.

The other difficulty is the geography of the studio. The desk is oval, with the presenter at one end, two of the panel on each side and the witness opposite the presenter. This means of course that when the panel turned to the witness they turn away from the presenter. I was reduced to plucking unavailingly on panellists' arms to shut them up. And at the end of all this I was supposed to help the witnesses make their points, summarise the arguments, develop some key observations, and get the programme out on time, before the pips.

Michael seems to paddle calmly over the surface of the water, seamlessly directing affairs.

However this week on Feedback we had a number of emails suggesting that he hadn't done his job in last week's edition about the monarchy, and allowed one of the witnesses, a particularly feisty Joan Smith, to be "trampled" by Michael Portillo. Others saw it differently, but I put the criticism to Michael Buerk, when I interviewed him in the Moral Maze London office, which looks as if it was last refurbished by Lord Reith.

I began by asking MB what made a good MM edition? Did he always hope for a punch up?

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Roger Bolton presents Feedback

The In Our Time newsletter: The An Lushan Rebellion

Post categories:

Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg 14:46, Friday, 17 February 2012

Editor's note: In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed the An Lushan Rebellion, a major uprising against the imperial rule of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - PM.

The An Lushan Rebellion


So Chang'an was the biggest city in the world in the 8th century and, by the sound of it, the most extraordinary. Frances Wood's description of the varieties of spectacle and people and entertainments on offer was in itself spectacular.

I think we should have defined the role of the concubine a little more closely and explained why everyone who was important in that story seems to have been excessively fat. Presumably by necessity. There was a sumo feeling about it for me.

But how wonderfully they rolled it through, the three of them. For a while I was out there in the ocean that was China, with the borders breaking up and Tibetans coming in, and incursions of mercenaries from near Samarkand, and warring warlords and separate courts...

Back into the London air and a walk to my office in Soho. London is back to its summer with a mild, chill climate. Worked there, a meeting, down to the Lords, off to another meeting; and then in Whitehall a wonderful spectacle which might begin to make London, if not the biggest city in the world (as Chang'an was) but, as some people think, the greatest, the most magnetic city in the world.

Down Whitehall came a long line of Congolese protestors. They were heading for the railings opposite Downing Street and they were escorted by policemen walking at that slow pace that we thought they used to walk at only in the past. They still can walk at that slow pace.

And on the way down they were singing these songs; women with pushchairs, men in dark glasses, children, ageing adults chanting for freedom and democracy in the Congo. It was wonderful music and just an inspiring sight, frankly. The police walked calmly and on the outside of the procession, ie. the road side, there was a white tape which, fragile though it was, kept the protestors in a very manageable line.

But, for me, the best thing of all was that when you came to the end of the line, there was a man following the procession, carefully winding up the white tape so that everything would be neat and tidy when the congress eventually reached the railings opposite 10 Downing Street. There was a line of yellow-tunicked policemen in front of 10 Downing Street and behind them the great gates.

I can't be the only one who has a little pang of pride that once upon a time Downing Street was just another street, and you could walk in and look at the door used by the Prime Minister of not only a country, but countries and even an empire.

It seemed to be such a proud and magnificent contrast - the "humble street" from which so many red patches on the globe were run.

There was even, within living memory, tales of a Prime Minister who hadn't particularly liked the house and used to go home to Hampstead on the bus. On the bus! Nowadays, he would go home to Hampstead surrounded by armoured tanks.

I wonder what would happen if we dropped all security for a few days and had a go without it? Might freshen things up.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Starting on Monday: Wordaholics

Post categories:

Gyles Brandreth 11:57, Friday, 17 February 2012

Ed's note: Wordaholics, Radio 4's new comedy panel game all about words, starts on Monday 20 February at 11.30am. You can find out more and you'll be able to hear the programme shortly after transmission on the Radio 4 website. On the Radio 4 blog Wordaholics presenter Gyles Brandreth takes us through his early years on BBC panel shows - PM

Gyles with Wordaholic panellists Natalie Haynes, Paul Sinha, Mike Rosen and Arthur Smith

The first time I chaired a panel game for Radio 4 was forty years ago.

I was just down from university and the then head of BBC Light Entertainment - a splendid man called Con Mahoney who had been in the navy and wore blazers with brightly polished buttons - evidently thought I was the early-1970s answer to Jack Whitehall. (Well, you can't win them all.)

The show was a word game I'd devised called "A Rhyme in Time" and because I was a new boy to radio comedy and all too obviously wet behind the ears, Mr Mahoney decided he had to pack the rest of the show with what he called "safe hands".


As the senior panellist, he chose Cyril Fletcher, a brilliant, erudite and very funny actor, writer and comedian (the word "stand-up" didn't exist then) - the Stephen Fry of his day - who had been going since the 1930s. He was one of the first faces on BBC Television when TV started in Britain before the Second World War. As the bright young spark on the show, Mr Mahoney picked Graeme Garden, who was just starting out on The Goodies and had that quirky way of thinking (and looking at life) that I associate now with a comic genius like Milton Jones.

Even in 1972 (years before any of us had thought Meryl Streep might one day be prime minister) we realised that we had to have a female on the team and Mr Mahoney selected the Natalie Haynes of the day, a funny and deeply knowledgeable columnist and writer called Caryl Brahms. Among other things, Miss Brahms was the co-author of a wonderful (and then quite famous) series of comic novels. (If you've never read No Bed for Bacon by Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon. You are in for a treat. Guaranteed.)

We recorded the programmes in London, at the Playhouse Theatre, underneath the arches by Charing Cross Station. (The Playhouse was then leased to the BBC. Later it was acquired by Jeffrey Archer. Now it's the home of the musical, "Dreamboats and Petticoats".)

At the first recording, Caryl Brahms gave me a tie as a good luck present. It was a truly  hideous tie: bright orange with brown swirls. Fortunately, she had left the receipt in the bag so I was able to change it. When I arrived at the tie shop, the manager said at once, "You"re one of Miss Brahms's young men, aren't you?  They all come back to change their ties.")


We had a lot of fun making "A Rhyme in Time". David Hatch produced the first series. He went on to head up BBC radio and was knighted. The second series was produced by Simon Brett who went on to write the most marvellous murder mysteries about a drunken actor-turned-detective called Charles Paris. (More treats guaranteed.)

They were happy shows and we did a series or two before I introduced Cyril to Esther Rantzen and he went off to be on That's Life. Graeme Garden graduated to I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. Caryl Brahms died. (I wore the tie she gave me to her funeral.).  And I went on to TV-am and Countdown and a couple of decades in colourful jumpers.


And now, here we are in 2012, forty years on, back on Radio 4 with another word game. It's a little different ... No Cyril Fletcher, Graeme Garden or Caryl Brahms on Wordaholics, but plenty of amazing words, a lot of laughs and me and the actual Jack Whitehall and Stephen Fry and Milton Jones among others. Oh, yes, and Natalie Haynes, too. We recorded the programmes at the BBC Radio Theatre in Portland Place and if you want to see the tie that Natalie Haynes gave me at the first recording I'll be wearing it soon on The One Show.

Gyles Brandreth presents Wordaholics

PS Wordaholics is a new show that travels the highways and byways of the English language. It's produced by Claire Jones, the David Hatch of her generation and the series starts on Monday. And speaking of Monday and word games, can you take the six letters in the word MONDAY and rearrange them to form another everyday English word... Well, can you?

The Thinking Allowed Newsletter: I'll never forget what's her name?

Post categories:

Laurie Taylor Laurie Taylor 14:54, Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Ed's note: Thinking Allowed is on today on Radio 4 at 4pm and repeated on Sunday. All the listening options are listed at the end of this post - PM.

Open window

Whenever I ran into my old friend Anthony, he was always racing between engagements. He was sorry, very sorry, but he simply had to rush or he'd be late for his next important date.

And it was dates which filled Anthony's life. Although he constantly professed to be in love with his long-suffering wife, Alison, he still somehow found the time and energy to conduct passionate liaisons with at least half-a-dozen other women.

Whenever I managed to make him stand still for more than a minute, I'd question him about his way of life. How could he still be in love with Alison and yet spend so much of his life conducting affairs with Charlotte, Maggie, Jane and Gloria?

"It's nothing to do with Alison", he'd protest. "Alison is a wonderful person. The love of my life. I'll never leave her. But she doesn't want me rutting around her like an old stag. She doesn't want all that messy passion. She wants grown-up, careful, considered love. It's a case of horses for courses."

But wasn't he frightened of being found out? Not at all. He told me that he prided himself on what he called his "well organised duplicity". He carefully chose women who lived in different part of London so as to reduce the chance of being seen in the street by the wrong person and kept two mobile phones so as to reduce the chances of his wife discovering revealing text messages.

He'd also taken out membership of his local gym so that he could readily arrive home in a state of exhaustion without arousing Alison's suspicion.

On one occasion, I managed to hold his attention for long enough to ask about his motives for such behaviour. Was it really all about sex? Did he have a more active libido than other men? Or could it be that the real excitement was not sexual at all? Could it be that what kept him running was the thrill of duplicity, the knowledge that not one of the women he spent time with knew anything whatsoever about his other lives?

After all, I told him, there's plenty of evidence that spies aren't primarily motivated by ideology: they simply enjoyed being in possession of secrets, being more in the know that those around them.

Although he nodded encouragingly at my remarks, I could sense that these were not nods of acknowledgement but nods of impatience. It was clear that I was already using up time that he'd intended to devote to Alison or Maggie or Charlotte or Susie.

I hadn't seen or heard from Anthony for nearly a month, when one night my mobile rang and the display announced his name.

"Laurie, my old mate", he said with breathy urgency. "Look, I'm sorry to bother you but I'm just outside Sloane Square station after having seen Marie, remember her? Red hair. Modern jazz. Drinks like a fish?"

"Oh yes", I said. "Good old Marie."

"And that's exactly why I'm ringing. I want to test your memory. You see, I know that I'm due in Highgate Village in about forty minutes to meet up with another woman but the problem is...."

"Yes", I said, helpfully, recognising the distress in his voice.

"The problem is, Laurie, that for some reason or other I simply can't remember her name. I know she wears a lot of Armani and is thinking of writing a novel and has a lesbian sister but somehow her actual name escapes me. Can you help? Highgate? Lesbian? Could it have been Ruth?"

"Yes", I said.   "Highgate. Armani. Novelist. That was Ruth all right."

"Cheers mate", he said, ringing off.

I've not heard from him since although I do allow myself the hope that my little piece of duplicity - "Why are you calling me Ruth? That's not my name" might do something to inhibit Anthony's compulsive philandering and send him home more quickly than usual to his loving wife.

Sometimes people like Anthony fulfil a vital function for other married men. They allow them to feel morally righteous.

Men, love, and the reality of cheating. That will be our topic today when I meet the author of a new book devoted to analysing the problem of male monogamy.

That's at four o'clock today or after the midnight news on Sunday or on our podcast.

Also today. Citizens without frontiers with Engin Isin.

Laurie Taylor presents Thinking Allowed

Who are the New Elizabethans?

Post categories:

Jim Naughtie 09:20, Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Queen Elizabeth II (C) sits in Westminster Abbey, 02 June 1953 on her coronation day in London.

Queen Elizabeth II on her coronation day

How better to paint a portrait of our age than to find the people who have shaped its character?

When Radio 4 listeners get stuck into this, they are going to have a ball. So will I. I’m excited at the prospect of writing sixty profiles of the people who left the most indelible marks on our time; who, from 1952, have managed the changes that have made us who we are. The point is that we’ll hope to produce a glittering galaxy of the very best, not just the most famous.

No doubt there will be a prime minister or two, an artist or an entertainer who’s a household name, a sports star who’s an idol – but our net is going to be cast much wider than that. If you want to offer a suggestion, think of this: do you know of someone who’s embedded in the spirit of our age but isn’t well-enough known? Think of the story of Tim Berners-Lee, the man who more-or-less invented the worldwide web who was unknown to so many people until many years after the internet had become our playground. Surely there are others who are in the same category, prophets with too little honour.

And what of the thinkers? Teachers who pioneered ways of dealing with ideas or language, who may not spring to mind as the most prominent figures of the last six decades but who’ve had a profound affect on how we live our lives; or architects who’ve shaped our cities; or campaigners who’ve managed to set the compass in a different direction.

The trick is going to be in the diversity. We’re going to assemble a panel of distinguished men and women who’ll help with the task, and try to manage the kaleidoscope that we hope will catch the movements in our lives in the course of these sixty years. We’re not making judgements about who’s top or bottom, or distinguishing between people who’ve been “good” or “bad” for politics, giving them some kind of star rating. Instead, we’re hoping to create a picture, with light and shade, humour and maybe some high seriousness, that will seem like a mirror in which we can see ourselves.

It is a truism that every age is an age of change. But what I hope we can do in these portraits is to catch the speed and the quality of the revolutions we’ve all experienced – in our communities, in art and music, between the generations, in our view of the wider world. These are the things that matter, and it’s right that with the happy excuse of a Diamond Jubilee we can try to trace some of the most important changes that have turned the post-war country that welcomed a new queen into a 21st state without an empire, in a globalized world, which seems in so many ways to be a different place.

I suspect that in doing so we’ll be reminded that although so much is different, a great deal stays the same. Continuity is sometimes as remarkable as revolution, and I suspect that some of our New Elizabethans will be people who have understood some of the deepest currents that flow from our past, and learned how to ride them. Countries aren’t invented overnight, and don’t change in the blink of an eye. They evolve. Sometimes the process seems alarmingly fast, sometimes painfully slow, but the working out of that history will emerge from these portraits: we should be able to feel the texture of our times.

Mind you, this is going to cause a bit of an argument. I can hear the debates now about how a particular painter or musician made it on to the list while others were left off, not to mention the political disagreement about whose contributions have been the most significant. I have to say that I will relish that, although I must admit I’ll be comforted by the fact that the list is not my responsibility. I’ll have my views, and will make them known like anyone else. But I’ll have a little deniability…

It will be useful, because I’m sure that this project is going to stir up a good debate. How do you compare a philosopher and a singer, a footballer and a prime minister? The answer is that it’s worth trying to find the strongest threads in our recent history, the ones that hold it together, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.

For my part, the challenge of trying to catch the character and the essence of these 60 people is going to be a thrill. I was born just before the Queen’s accession, so this history is mine too. The New Elizabethans have built the country that I live in, given it colour and life and, in part, made us all the people that we are.

They are worth celebrating.

Jim Naughtie presents Today

The Art of Monarchy: Portraying royalty

Post categories:

Kate Heard 15:39, Monday, 13 February 2012

Editor's note: To coincide with the Art of Monarchy, the Radio 4 blog is running a series of posts by the Royal Collection's curators on different aspects of the collection. In the first post Kate Heard discusses the task of portraying royalty - PM.

George III

Samuel William Reynolds: Portrait of George III.
Supplied by Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012

Around 1806, the artist John Singleton Copley tentatively approached George III to ask if he could paint the King's portrait.

"Sit to you for a portrait?" replied the King angrily, "What, do you want to make a show of me?"

Making a show of the monarch, however, was exactly what artists were expected to do. In an age when the King was at the head of government, yet unseen by most of his subjects, pictures of him were eagerly sought. Allan Ramsay's coronation portrait of the youthfully handsome George III, for example, survives in around a hundred copies, turned out by the artist's studio for £84 apiece to furnish noble houses, ambassadors' residences and town halls.

So in 1810, when the King suffered a recurrence of the illness which had caused a constitutional crisis in 1788-9, portraitists were presented with a problem. How did they present an elderly and unwell monarch who, it turned out, would not appear again in public? George III spent the last decade of his life in seclusion at Windsor Castle while his son George, Prince of Wales, ran the country as Prince Regent. But while George III was barely aware of his surroundings in his final years, the public was acutely conscious of the plight of its monarch. How should artists, facing a continuous demand for images, present a man who had become invisible?

Just as Ramsay had painted copies of his coronation portrait for 23 years, so some artists dealt with the problem by reproducing portraits of George III which had been taken before his last illness. In 1813, for example, the Archbishop of York commissioned Benjamin West to paint a version of a portrait taken 37 years earlier. While West used an existing image to belie the monarch's state of health, a brazen fabrication was produced by the publisher Edward Orme who a few weeks before the King's death issued a print showing him hunting in Windsor Great Park. Happily bouncing along on a horse, George III appears in the best of health. This image was not a reissue of an earlier print but an imaginative invention that sought to capitalise on popular nostalgia for a happier time.

Other artists catered to curiosity about the King's current appearance. Although George III did not sit for his portrait after 1809, the sculptor Matthew Wyatt appears to have seen him - perhaps while working at Windsor on a monument to the King's granddaughter - and made a brief sketch. Showing the monarch with long beard and long bedraggled hair, this was published in 1817 with the words "When we forget him may God forget us".

One artist who went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the veracity of his image was Samuel William Reynolds, whose print of George III is discussed in The Art of Monarchy.

In early January 1820, Reynolds produced a large mezzotint of the King with the long hair and beard that had been recorded by Matthew Wyatt. But before publishing this, he arranged for it to be shown to the Prince Regent, whose comments are recorded on an impression in the British Museum. The Prince praised the print for its "good likeness", but noted that the hair and beard were shown too long. Reynolds amended the plate, and included an inscription noting that it had been issued with royal approval.

By the time the print was published, however, George III had died. This only intensified demand for portraits of the late King. By chance, Reynolds, who was rewarded for his loyalty with the post of Portrait Engraver to George IV, had published a well-timed memorial to the man who had become known as "The Father of his People".

Kate Heard is Curator of Prints and Drawings, The Royal Collection

BBC Arts Editor, Will Gompertz, visits Kew Palace to see a manipulated image of George III. The picture is one of the many items from the Royal Collection featured in Radio 4's series, The Art of Monarchy. In the series, Will Gompertz explores the long history of the Monarchy through the monarchs who have ruled these islands and the works of art they have acquired.

Play of the Week podcast: Private Peaceful

Post categories:

Paul Murphy Paul Murphy 23:12, Friday, 10 February 2012


Last week we blogged about the surround sound and binaural versions of Private Peaceful that are available as part of an audio experiment by the R&D team. Several of you have asked for a download of the version that was broadcast. Anyway, I'm glad to say that Private Peaceful is today's Play of the Week podcast. You can download it until next Friday when a new drama will be available.

Here are some details about Private Peaceful:

Private Peaceful opens with a tick from a precious watch that Tommo's brother, Charlie, has given him in battle. Tommo holds it to his ear to listen through the night, as he awaits the dawn. Tommo relives his childhood in rural Devon. From his first days at school, through the death of his Father, his unrequited love for Molly, to the circumstances that lead him to volunteer to fight in the Trenches. His world immediately comes to fully-dramatised life, in a large-cast, action-packed adventure story.

Full details of the production can be found on the Private Peaceful programme page and you can download the podcast for free from the Play of the Week podcast page.

Paul Murphy is the editor of the Radio 4 blog

Feedback: The BBC had "got it wrong on women"

Post categories:

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 16:15, Friday, 10 February 2012

Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson: "Those who say that the BBC has a case to answer about the way it treats older women
on the air are right..."

This week the Director General Mark Thompson wrote in the Daily Mail that the BBC had "got it wrong on women" saying that the Corporation does not have enough older female newsreaders and presenters.

This is a strange phenomenon when, as he also pointed out, there had been a revolution in the number of women in leadership roles in the Corporation.

At one point recently the top three roles in BBC Television were filled by women but that did not seem to make a difference to the number of older women on screen.

Indeed it was a woman, Jay Hunt, who was Controller of BBC One when Miriam O'Reilly was ousted as presenter of Countryfile and subsequently won an employment tribunal against the BBC on the grounds of ageism.

Are things better in BBC Radio where only one of the main five network controllers is a woman, and their boss is a man?

Critics would say that might be why for example only one of the Today programme's presenters is a woman and that on Radio 2 there isn't a woman presenter to be heard for most of the day, young or old. (Though it has just been announced that Anneka Rice will be joining as a presenter.)

But are men alone to blame for this imbalance? Are women afraid to promote older women?

Mrs Thatcher did not seem to see it as her responsibility to change the gender balance of her government or party. Is that the position of women leaders in the BBC today?

They have fought so hard to be regarded as equal that could it be that, unlike the Prime Minister David Cameron, who argued this week for more women in the boardroom, they don't feel they can demand more women in in front of the microphone?

Whatever the truth I do think some great women broadcasters are now underused. In my view that includes Sue McGregor, and in particular, Olivia O'Leary.

In the Feedback mailbox this week there is more support for the idea of a woman DG, and for one of our listener candidates who I "interviewed" on last week's Feedback.

We also ask a teacher and pupil to swop music station for seven days, and I try and find out why iPlayer sometimes cuts off the end of radio programmes but not television ones.

You can hear today's programme online shortly after transmission.

Thanks for listening and do keep writing, whatever age or sex you are.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback

In Our Time Newsletter: Erasmus

Post categories:

Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg 14:08, Friday, 10 February 2012

Editor's note: In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed Erasmus. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - PM.



This is an attempt at the newsletter. I'm full of cold and trying to keep my distance from people I'm meeting for the rest of the day. Then back to Lemsips and a warm fire and early bed.

I had a stack of tissues in front of me this morning but managed to use only one or two.

I'm sure you wanted to know about that!

After the programme the contributors left immediately. Usually they stay for a cup of tea and a chat and a general discussion about why we did not include this, that and the other, and how could we have missed that, this and the other, and then it spirals into additional information which I try to pass on. This time, off they vanished back to their universities to get on with teaching. I never cease to find it very, very impressive that academics of the high distinction that agree to come on the programme - and few could be of higher distinction than the three people who were on this morning - should not only find time to do this, but also fit it in with what's clearly a heavy working load. They write books, they write papers, but most importantly for us, they teach, and the habit of teaching and breaking information down and re-presenting it for minds not lined with learning is gold for the programme we do.

I've a couple more meetings. This is being dictated "between meetings". That's a phrase that heaves up a lot these days. I'm between meetings, he's between meetings, she's between meetings.

If spared after the next meeting, I want to make it to St James's Park which I haven't properly looked around for a few weeks. I think that last week I celebrated the lack of winter. Well, it's arrived and if St James's Park is as snow-locked as the pavements around my house, then I will veer away down Horse Guards Parade, which is surely cleared and swept and gritted for the horses, and arrive, I hope safely, at the next stop.

And now, off for a Lemsip.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

PS: Is it an insult to Erasmus to put him as a PS? Since I came across him at school, Erasmus has always been to me the ideal of a great free scholar, roving Europe, amassing information, encyclopaedic, being able to enter into any discussion or debate of the times, and I was pleased that his scholarly gentleness - which I'd always thought was his deepest characteristic - could be accompanied by fury and was certainly underpinned by obstinacy. I wish we'd got around to Erasmus's influence on William Tyndale, though.

PPS: Have got to the park. The lake is frozen, almost the full length of it. But no ducks skating. Pigeons have taken over the ice and walk very carefully. Canada geese have gone up the slopes to mingle with the stumps of snowmen. Still full of French people.

The Bookclub newsletter: Art Spiegelman on Maus

Post categories:

Jim Naughtie 12:01, Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Ed's note: The subject of this month's Bookclub is Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman. It's a biography of the author's father, Vladek Spiegelman, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. It's also the only comic to have won a Pulitzer Prize. As always you can download the programme as part of the BBC Books and Authors podcast - PM.

Art Spiegelman at Bookclub

Art Spiegelman and Jim Naughtie at the recording of Bookclub

I first met Art Spiegelman in New York on the first anniversary of 9/11 to talk about the cover he created for The New Yorker the week after the attacks, showing the two towers as shadows on a dark sky, images about to disappear.

For the city, it became one of the images of the event that would remain as poignant as the news footage of the chaos and the smoke, even the terrible shots of people throwing themselves to the ground from the high windows when they realized there was no escape.

We spoke in his studio in the Tribeca district not for from Ground Zero, and I got a vivid account of his passion for the power of the cartoon, the single image, the simplest of drawings. He came to Bookclub to talk about Maus, the graphic book that made him famous in 1986, and had a great story to tell.

Turning the holocaust into a picture story - a graphic novel - was bold enough, but it was a stroke of brilliance to come up with the device that turned the Jews into mice and the Germans cats. He told us that when a journalist at the Frankfurt Bookfair said that some people might think that it was rather tasteless to deal with Auschwitz in such a way, he was glad that he had the presence of mind to suggest that building Auschwitz in the first place might be thought to have been a little tasteless.

Maus was a worldwide success, and became the novel that spawned a genre. None, it's safe to say, has surpassed its power. However, our discussion went beyond the reasons for that success - the way the story lends itself to cartoon story-telling and the use of the comic imagination - because the story of his family that lies behind it is particular intriguing, and perhaps surprising.

His parents, born in Poland, had different ways of dealing with the events they had witnessed in the camps. His mother would make references to the experience all the time, his father wouldn't. He said it wasn't yet time to tell the story, and it was only long after Art's mother's suicide in the 60s that he began to hear in detail what had happened.

The father-son relationship was not a happy one - indeed, sometimes it was positively hostile and distressing to them both - but it was one of the reasons why he was able to come up with the story.

"I tried to follow a very specific narrative, what happened to my mother and father and in a way it was an Oedipal quest. How did my parents ever get together and hatch me, as it were. They were supposed to be dead before they could do such a thing."

The focus on a particular relationship in the story - between a boy and his father - allowed him to paint the big picture, and to cast it in an intimate human light. Otherwise, as he put it, how could you reveal the scale of the awfulness?

The act of writing Maus was the trigger for at least a partial recovery in his relationship with his father, because he sat down for three days to listen to his story, which he agreed to tell for the first time.

"We had an area for an actual relationship, even if it was closer to the journalist and the - what's the other side of that relationship - the victim? That allowed us to have real time together - and the book Maus by having that framing device of the conversations between the father and the son, that is our relationship. You're not getting 1/8th of it, you're getting 4/5ths of it."

Art Spiegelman

Art Spiegelman

He spoke of how he discovered after writing the book how unusual his experience was. The second generation of the survivors' children was growing up and when he began to meet them he found that many of them were shocked at how cruel he could seem to be to his father, because they grew up with a mandate that was "my parents suffered so much I can't make them suffer any more". He wondered if it was a bad molecule inside him that meant such a thought hadn't occurred to him.

He reflected on the idea - familiar in Christian literature, as well as holocaust stories - that suffering redeems. It doesn't attract him. "Actually, all suffering does is cause pain and good people suffer, bad people suffer and all you can say is that suffering stinks. It was important for me in Maus not to turn him in a martyr."

But don't let me suggest that this was a gloomy discussion. On the contrary, it was funny, warm and self-deprecating. The boy who loved comics grew up into the artist and storyteller who had an original way of conjuring up the most complicated and distressing images and relationships. He has a lively sense of the absurd, and a deep belief in the power of the pen.

That's why, despite everything, it was such fun. I do hope you enjoy the programme. Art Spiegelman on Maus is repeated this Thursday, February 9 at 3.30pm. And you can listen online or download the Bookclub podcast to keep and listen at your leisure.

Our next recordings are with Anne Enright on 27 March talking about her Booker prizewinner The Gathering, and then on 17 May, the Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson discusses Gilead with us. If you'd like to come, tickets are free and available from our website.

Happy reading

Jim Naughtie presents Bookclub

Dickens in London

Post categories:

Jeremy Mortimer 15:26, Monday, 6 February 2012


Dickens described London as a "Magic Lantern spectacle".

Everyone knows the line about how speech radio wins out over some other mediums ("because the pictures are better") and although putting pictures together to complement a radio programme sounds quite straightforward, getting it right can be a tricky business. It's a bit like cooking - too much emphasis on the pictures and the sound feels flat, not enough and they feel like a distraction.

Back in 2008 BBC Radio Drama and Film London got together to work on The City Speaks - two afternoon dramas for Radio 4, comprising six fifteen-minute plays, each of which also functioned as the soundtrack to a film.

Six writers, six film-makers, and six radio drama directors - the result was a wonderful mix of stories and films about London. And as we thought about where to go next with this very particular approach, we all agreed that we couldn't do better than to celebrate the master storyteller of the capital, Charles Dickens.

Writer Michael Eaton - who is steeped in Dickens's work - decided to tell the story of the novelist's life through his essays on walking the streets of London. So we start with Dickens as a boy, getting lost on his very first visit to the city, and we finish with Dickens walking away from his final public reading at St James's Hall, Piccadilly. We recorded the radio dramas early in 2011, and put them together with Neil Brand's music before film-maker Chris Newby started work in earnest. Chris chose a slightly different approach to each of the five films.

He did some location filming - notably at Crossness pumping station and Abney Park cemetery - but he also worked with puppeteers, used archive film footage, and animated an extraordinary range of material - including some flotsam and jetsam from the Thames.

There is definitely a difference between listening to the dramas on their own or listening while watching Chris's films. The films bring another dimension to the stories and the characters. At times they comment on the plays (which can be fun) but they are wholly consistent with Michael Eaton's approach to Dickens, and to Dickens's own writing.

You can watch the Dickens in London films on the Red Button on television between the 6 and 11 Feb (Turn your digital television to BBC One or BBC Two, press the Red button on your remote control and select "Dickens in London"). Or you can watch the films on the Radio 4 website.

Jeremy Mortimer is executive producer, BBC Radio Drama

In Our Time newsletter: The Kama Sutra

Post categories:

Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg 13:22, Monday, 6 February 2012

Editor's note: In last Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed The Kama Sutra. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - PM.



Will real winter never come to London this season? The continuing blue skies are extremely unsettling. The so-called cold is a bracing chill on the cheeks and an occasional tingle in the toes. It's funny that cold air feels clean.

I've had a slightly back to front day today; gone into meetings and come down to the Lords. I'll be setting off to wind through St James's Park and Green Park later in the afternoon.

A good first comment in the Lords from a lish Labour peer - "I enjoyed sex this morning". Up the stairs and a noble baroness looked - I don't know whether it was reproachfully or with amusement - and said "You're getting in very deep these days". So I went to the library.

There is a sliver of opinion which seems to think that talking about one of the most influential books on sexual pleasure in the Indian catalogue, and one which has spread around the world, is somehow improper. I admired the way the academics took it full-on. I think all of us felt a little tense at that time in the morning and there was understandable unease at the appearance of the hairy caterpillar, which took us all by surprise. However, the conjunction of pleasure and sexuality and religion is extremely interesting. I wish we'd had more time to talk about it. My fault. I got there at minute 36 when I'd intended to get there at about minute 29. Still, they put their shoulders to the wheel and I think a clear impression was left of the wholeness of Hinduism in this regard.

It is strange that a century or so after the Kama Sutra, St Augustine, who had said "O Lord, make me chaste, but not yet", went on to demand chastity as the preferred way forward. I wonder if he was ever challenged on the point that if everyone became chaste the human race would die out in a couple of generations? I suppose that was too rude a question to ask a future saint.

The Christian religion has many positive strains and huge achievements to its credit. Sex is not high on the list. It represents sexuality through a great variety of women, and sometimes way beyond the bounds of what most of us would think was permissible.

Still, I think I stray from my subject. Perhaps a deep breath of the Scottish Bill with their Lordships. Everyone who is speaking seems to be a deep Scot and intent on explaining why Scottish students are charged nothing to go to university, whereas our lot have to pay through the nose.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Thank you from the Radio 4 Appeal

Post categories:

Sally Flatman Sally Flatman 22:20, Saturday, 4 February 2012

Sam Renke

Sam Renke presents this week's appeal for the Brittle Bone Society

The Radio 4 Appeal has got off to a flying start in 2012. The first four charities of the New Year have together raised over £50,000.

So I just wanted to say a big thank you to our listeners.

I also wanted to share the feedback from the charities. National Nightline wrote "We're really overwhelmed by the support". African Initiatives said: "The appeal has exceeded our expectations, it really does mean so much to our small charity that so many people have given money to support the life changing work that we do."

Joss Ackland's wife died of Motor Neurone Disease and he made a very heartfelt appeal for the MND Association, donations ranged from £3 to £1000. The Bishop Simeon Trust told me that it was: "a real boost - to know that other people are supporting your work."

This week's appeal is for the Brittle Bone Society and it is presented by one of their trustees: Sam Renke. I know that it is very important to her that through this appeal she can be a voice for the other members of the Brittle Bone Society.

"One of the most amazing experiences I have had with the charity was attending our first youth event VOICE in 2010. This conference enabled me to exchange experiences of living with the condition of OI with people from across the UK. It was the first time in my life that I felt one hundred percent comfortable in my own skin, surrounded by people who understood me completely without prejudice or judgment. I came away from the event with a whole new array of knowledge about OI - Brittle Bones and how others cope on a day-to-day basis. The people I met were determined and inspirational in their own way, meeting them encouraged me to have more drive and to truly believe that anything is possible regardless of disability."

Thank you for your continued support.

Sally Flatman is the BBC Radio 4 Appeals producer

Feedback: FOOC

Post categories:

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 20:30, Friday, 3 February 2012


Bush House canteen, 1960

On Wednesday this week I was sitting in the entrance hall of Bush House off the Strand in London, home of the BBC World Service although not for much longer.

By the end of the year almost all of its present inhabitants will have moved a mile or so north west to the newly refurbished Broadcasting House, which will host the Corporation's News centre.

I felt rather nostalgic.

I sat in the same place on my first day in the BBC in 1967, a young trainee from the north, overpowered by the lofty building and the lofty people in it, many of whom adjourned to the bar at every opportunity to discuss past glories and present conquests.

The best thing about Bush for me in those far off days was the canteen which provided, at very reasonable and subsidised prices, dishes from every part of the world.

However many of the producers seemed bored by the food, living off coffee and cigarettes, wearing black roll necked sweaters and probably planning revolutions in their home countries, from which many had fled or been exiled.

It give me quite a jolt to realise that, back then, not only was the Iron Curtain uncracked but Spain and Portugal were not yet democracies and Mao's Little Red Book was being touted as more important and relevant than the Bible.

By the time I reached Bush, From Our Own Correspondent, had already been broadcast from there for more than 10 years.

FOOC, as it is inevitably known in the BBC, and best pronounced without a northern accent, has hardly changed its format in 55 years and judging from our in tray is still greatly admired, though as you will hear even fans can be critical. Fooc's editor is Tony Grant. You can hear him in today's programme on the website.

By the way it's not too late to send us your application to be the next Direct General of the BBC.

Even though Mark Thompson has not made public his intentions, the BBC Trust says it is engaged in "sensible succession planning" to replace him.

So do let us know if you think you are up to the job and we may organise an on air preliminary interview as we did this week for listener Rwth (sic) Jones.

I hope the internal candidates are listening as they could pick up a few valuable tips.

Thanks for listening, and reading.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback

Private Peaceful: Drama in surround sound

Post categories:

Rupert Brun Rupert Brun 13:39, Friday, 3 February 2012

Ed's note: This Saturday's Play on Radio 4 is Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful, dramatised by Simon Reade. Directed on location by Susan Roberts, there are several different audio versions of the drama in surround sound available to download. Here Audio and Music's head of technology outlines the different listening options and how to get them - PM.



Following our successful experiment offering A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in surround sound at Christmas, we are now giving you the chance to hear a drama in surround sound. This time it will be available to download.

There are two versions of Private Peaceful to try, one is designed for use with normal surround sound speakers and the other gives an impression of listening on surround sound speakers using normal headphones.

To find out more about Michael Morpurgo’s play Private Peaceful, visit the programme page.

To listen in Surround Sound on speakers

You need to download the audio file of the play and player from the internet by following these instructions, then install the player on a Windows PC connected via a surround sound card or HDMI cable to a multimedia amp or "home cinema".

Once you have accepted the terms and conditions you will be able to install the player.

When you’ve downloaded the player or the audio file, connect the surround sound output from your computer to the amplifier input using separate leads or an HDMI lead, then just drag and drop the downloaded audio file onto the player and it should play.

The special player will only work for the two weeks we are running this experiment, after which it will stop working and you should uninstall it. After the experiment, you will still be able to play the audio in stereo using a variety of media players.

To listen in Binaural Sound on headphones

You will need to experiment to find out which one works best for you; it will depend on the shape of your head and ears and the type of headphones you are using.

Once you have downloaded the audio, you can play it on your computer or put it in a mobile mp3 player or smartphone to take with you and enjoy at any time. There is no time limit on the binaural version and it should play on most devices but if you switch to a different type of headphones you may find you need to use a different binaural version of the audio

Strange though it may seem, different versions may also be affected by the size of room you are listening in and this is one of the properties we are seeking to examine with this experiment.

We'd like your feedback

We welcome comments on this blog, but if you have a question please check the FAQs first. We would also like you to complete the short survey to help us understand how the experiment worked for you; it covers both the loudspeaker and headphone experiments.

Find out more about the feedback we had from the last surround sound experiment with Radio 3’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

Rupert Brun is head of technology, BBC Audio & Music

Play of the Week podcast: Sea Change

Post categories:

Jeremy Mortimer 12:03, Friday, 3 February 2012

Ed's note: On the blog we've been featuring the Play of the Week podcast that's available on Fridays to download and keep. This week's drama Sea Change is from Radio 3 rather than Radio 4 which is perhaps even more reason to feature it here in case some of you missed it. It tells the story of the struggle to establish the coalition government of 1940 - a story of idealism, blackmail, and political skullduggery - PM.

Sea Change

Like 2010, the government of 1940 was a coalition which also ruptured previous political alignments. New political alliances and social organisations - which had first arisen in the Bridgwater Bye-Election of 1938, but which had been ignored by the London-based political and media establishments - united in their fight against appeasement.

Suddenly and dramatically, in May of that year, this new united front rose against the government and, in the space of only three days, overthrew it. Somewhat surprisingly, the magnificent story behind this overthrow is little known. It is a story of ferocious loyalty and betrayal, outrageous media manipulation, blackmail, prejudice - and not a little courage.

Jeremy Mortimer is executive producer, BBC Audio Drama

The Thinking Allowed Newsletter: You cannot be serious!

Post categories:

Laurie Taylor Laurie Taylor 15:04, Thursday, 2 February 2012


"Do we have to talk about football?" Theresa asked as we sat around the table at her place sipping our after-dinner coffees.

"I haven't talked about football all evening', protested her husband Jeremy. "I've deliberately avoided the subject."

"I know you have", said Theresa cuttingly. "I've watched you trying to avoid the subject for the best part of three hours."

"And what exactly is that supposed to mean?" said Jeremy.

Although most of my attention was concentrated upon unwrapping a second chocolate mint, I could readily have explained the entire meaning behind Theresa's remark.

This was not the first time she'd complained about the quality of our conversation. There was the occasion last December when we'd all gone out for a pre-Christmas meal to the local Italian.

We were still tucking into our minestrones and tricolore salads and chatting amiably about the problems and perils of having tedious relations over for Christmas, when she suddenly announced that she was tired of such a trivial topic and wanted to have a serious conversation. Jeremy was first to respond. "What about, darling' he asked.

"I don't know what about, darling" she hissed back. "I only know that it doesn't happen when we four all get together. All we do is take turns telling anecdotes and making jokes."

Jeremy inclined his head. "Darling" he said sweetly, "you're absolutely right. We never ever have a properly serious conversation. So let's get down to one immediately. Who'd like to start us off? Who'd like to be the first to say something serious? Any volunteers?"

"Stop it, Jeremy" said Theresa, "you're doing exactly what I was complaining about. Trying to be funny."

"No, I'm not" said Jeremy leaning. "I'm merely illustrating the absurdity of your request. You can't decide in advance to have a serious conversation. Any more than you can decide in advance to fall in love. You have to allow it to emerge."

"But with us it never ever emerges" said Theresa, "as soon as anyone touches on anything significant someone makes a joke and off we go into another round of monologues. We don't talk to each other. We talk at each other. We don't even entertain the possibility that a good conversation might generate some insights, might bring us closer together. We're not even good listeners."

"Frankly" said Jeremy, snapping a grissini, "I've never believed in the concept of a good listener. There are no good listeners. There are only people waiting with varying degrees of impatience for their turn to speak. It's like the man with sixpence in his ear who goes into a shop and the man behind the counter says. "Excuse me, but do you know you have a sixpence in your ear?" And the man says "I'm sorry. I can't hear you I've got sixpence in my ear."

"Black pepper" said the waiter. "You're right on cue" I said. Co-operation and conversation. That's one topic addressed in a new book by sociologist Richard Sennett called Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation.

I'm talking with Richard and philosopher John Gray about that book in this week's programme on our podcast and repeated on Sunday.

Also in this profgramme: Why do the Brits drink so much?

Laurie Taylor presents Thinking Allowed

RAJAR listening figures for Q3 2011: "In an average week 10.83m adults listen to Radio 4..."

Post categories:

Gwyneth Williams Gwyneth Williams 10:00, Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Rajar listening figures. A picture by Adam Bowie.

I have been waiting for my usual Rajar Day telephone call - this time it is long distance as I am on holiday.


It is rather good news so congratulations to everyone who has contributed to our programmes. Chris Hutchings is our new audience guru here on Radio 4 so I thought I would pass you onto him for a more detailed analysis of who has been listening to what and for how long.


Chris Hutchings writes:

The latest RAJAR figures are in for Radio 4 and overall it's good news. In an average week 10.83m adults listen to Radio 4, that's 280,000 more than last quarter, 515,000 more than this time last year and tantalisingly close to the best ever figure of 10.85m.  We've also seen a strong performance in terms of share of listening, with the current figure of 12.5% the equal highest that Radio 4 has seen.


News, drama and comedy all continue to attract large audience numbers.  Each week 7.15m of us tune in to the Today programme, whilst just under 5m tune in to The Archers.

4 Extra also continues to perform well, attracting 1.55m listeners each week and retaining its position as the UK's No.1 Digital-only station (despite some impressive audience numbers for 6 Music and I Xtra).

Gwyneth Williams is Controller of BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 4 Extra

Winners and Nominees on R4 and 4 Extra: Audio Drama Awards

Post categories:

Jeremy Howe Jeremy Howe 15:41, Wednesday, 1 February 2012


BBc Audio Drama Awards 2012

On Sunday evening Broadcasting House London hosted the first BBC Audio Drama awards. When comedian Johnny Vegas gave the award for best Audio Drama to Radio 4's Lost Property he said that Radio is CGI for the soul. In a movie CGI is very expensive, on radio it is wonderfully cheap: we tell the story, you bring your imagination. That is true alchemy.

Radio 4 and 4 Extra will be giving you a chance to hear some of the winners and nominees from the Awards.

Katie Hims' Lost Property won the top Oscar - it is a three part Afternoon Play about a family who have an uncanny knack of losing each other. I hope you agree that it is both heart breaking and heart warming, with Rosie Cavaliero - who won Best Actress at the awards - giving the most beautiful performance. The last part went out today at 2.15pm, but I heard them in the wrong order and it still floored me; all three are available on Listen Again until next week. You might need to have a handkerchief nearby.

Next week we are broadcasting Nick Perry's Referee (Tuesday 7 Feb at 2.15pm) for which Andrew Scott won the award for best supporting actor as Koch. It is a piece about how a top flight soccer referee is corrupted, and Koch - more sinister and elusive even than Moriarty who Andrew plays on BBC One's Sherlock - is his nemesis.

On Wednesday 8 Feb there is a second chance to hear Gerontius, for which Stephen Wyatt won the Tinniswood Award for best original radio script. It is an ambitious, clever, moving piece about the beatification of Cardinal Newman.

4 Extra will be broadcasting a week of winners and nominees.

Hugh Hughes' Floating is on at 11.15am and 00.45am on Tuesday 7 Feb. It won the award for best scripted comedy. I promise you, you will not have heard anything quite like this story of how Anglesey breaks free from Wales, floats half way round the world until seagulls come to the rescue.

On Wed 8 Feb Nick Warburton's Setting a Glass will go out at 11.15am and 00.45am. It was shortlisted for the Tinniswood (which Nick has won before), and is a hauntingly beautiful play about loss.

On Thursday 9 at 11.15am and 00.45am the raucous gypsy drama Atching Tan by Dan Allum and on Friday 10 at 11.15am and 00.45am Marcia Layne's wonderfully bizarre play about dreadlocks, The Barber and the Ark - both writers were nominees for the Imison Award for first radio plays - two writers with enormous promise, two writers to watch out for.

I think it is important to celebrate awards - we hope you enjoy celebrating them with us by tuning into award-winning drama on Radio 4 and 4 Extra.

Jeremy Howe is commissioning editor for drama, Radio 4

More from this blog...


These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.