Archives for March 2012

The British Library and the Listening Project

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Jonathan Robinson Jonathan Robinson 16:24, Saturday, 31 March 2012

(Editor's note: This week sees the launch of a new partnership between the BBC and the British Library. The Listening Project asks people up and down the country to share an intimate conversation with a close friend or relative. Here, British Library curator Jonathan Robinson talks about the Library's involvement in the project.)

At the British Library we are thrilled to be working with the BBC on The Listening Project. Conversations will be broadcast on the BBC, curated by our team of experts and then archived in our vast sound collections. We will receive the first set of recordings from the project in early April, and are excited – and intrigued – to hear the conversations that unfold.

Oral history forms a large and fascinating portion of our extensive sound collections. On our Sounds website you can listen to a huge variety of voices from the recent and distant past. These range from filmmaker Derek Jarman talking about his unconventional parents to the rather charming Mrs Susan Mullenger discussing her childhood in the early 1900s and the local cure for whooping cough: eating a fried mouse.

The Listening Project approach differs from conventional oral history in that the recordings are of unmediated, intimate conversations, undirected by the prompts of an interviewer. This is an exciting prospect; they will document a living relationship, and may well show us as much about the art of listening as that of storytelling. The Library exists to preserve the nation’s knowledge, and to enable researchers to make use of that knowledge, so we are always thinking about how our collections can contribute to learning and research. In The Listening Project, what is said is sure to be fascinating, but equally interesting to researchers will be how it is said and why. What are the conversations that we want to record for posterity? What motivates us to share, to confess, to reminisce?

This isn’t the first time we have teamed up with the BBC to record the nation’s memories. In 1999 local and regional BBC radio stations across the UK joined forces with the Library to create a powerful record of the last century by collecting over 5,000 interviews with people from all walks of life. The result was a programme called The Century Speaks, in which local people reflected on the previous 20, 50 or 100 years, showing how - in that part of the UK - different aspects of life had changed, and contrasting views of the world by different generations.

You can listen to the uncut recordings in the Millennium Memory Bank on our Sounds website. It remains the most frequently used oral history collection at the Library and is sought after by users from a wide range of research backgrounds and perspectives, from academics to school students and social historians to linguists. We believe The Listening Project will be equally rich in research potential. Contributions will be compiled on a monthly basis by the BBC and preserved in our Digital Library. As the recordings arrive they will be made available in the Library’s Reading Rooms at St Pancras in London, ensuring access is provided for researchers now and in the future.

We can’t wait to start listening.

Jonathan Robinson

  • Jonathan Robinson is the lead curator for Education and Sociolinguistics at the British Library
  • You can hear conversations from the Listening Project on the website at, where you can also share your conversations with the BBC and the British Library
  • Tweet us about the Listening Project on @bbcradio4 using #listeningproject

In Our Time: The Measurement of Time

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Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg 16:08, Friday, 30 March 2012

Editor's note: In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed The Measurement of Time. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - EMcN.


I'm dictating this quite late at night after a heavy day in the sun in London. I have seen people stripped nearly naked, lying on the grass in London parks, welcoming the sun like sprites in Ibiza. I have seen people looking tempted at the waters of St James's Park and feared that they might plunge in.

The Measurement of Time

St James's Park was a strange experience today. I have never seen it so crowded. Literally scores of groups, mostly of children. They were encamped almost in regiments. They could have been a miniature medieval army who had amassed in St James's Park just before they took on Parliament, which could be clearly seen in the near distance. But despite the utter crowdedness, the total and charming inability of French children to proceed forward in a crocodile line and their insistence on advancing in a mass as if they were about to storm the Bastille; despite the fact that almost every blade of grass was occupied by largely foreign youth and the green and white deckchairs were fully spoken for, and the rather Swiss-looking wooden restaurant was heaving and creaking with custom, and two pelicans had caused a traffic jam by coming out of the lake and onto a path and entranced everybody by using their long bills to clean their already snow-white feathers, I felt completely comfortable. Yes, there was a crowd, but I was a part of the crowd. And this was a crowd at ease with itself. Nobody was rushing or pushing or irritated or anxious. Perhaps it was the sun. Perhaps it was a holiday. Perhaps everybody, for that moment, felt pretty well-off. I must say that after a couple of glasses of cheap Argentinean wine I felt pretty well-off myself.

Back to the programme. Three things afterwards. For a change there was something that I felt that I had not said and that was had the number 60 come from a notion which the Babylonians had got from a healthy heartbeat of 60 beats to the minute? I didn't want to raise it because mathematics seemed to be so superior to biology at that point. But I would have enjoyed what Kristen Lippincott had to say about it. I think it was Jim Bennett who pointed out that clocks in portraiture replaced the horse as the mark of a man who wanted to seem distinguished. They represented discipline and temperance and a regular life and intellect. The session after the programme was most enlivened by Jonathan Betts giving an extended aria of quotation from a great chronometer maker who thought that chronometer makers were the greatest craftsmen, nay artists, nay individuals, who had ever lived. A sound bite it wasn't and, to be honest, I was glad that it hadn't come out on the programme. But as an exhibition in memory and as a demonstration of the way in which many of us like to elevate what we do to the top of the human tree, it was stunning.

I seem to be running out of Ingrid's patience. It was a very full day. After all, I had to go and get my eyes re-examined, I had a haircut, I went for a drink with my son, I went shopping, and I went to an induction course at the BBC who told me how to do all sorts of things that I wish they'd told me 51 years ago and then I would be alive and talking to you now.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Bookclub: The Archive

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Jim Naughtie 11:23, Friday, 30 March 2012

Ed's note: Radio 4's Bookclub is on at 4pm this Sunday 1st April and is repeated on Thursday 5th April at 3.30pm. You can also listen online after broadcast or download the podcast - CM


Bookclub has reached something of a milestone. After this coming Sunday's programme on April 1, with Anne Enright discussing The Gathering, our entire archive is going to be available as downloads for all of you. And even better, there is no window of opportunity that will close : all the programmes will be available from now on for anyone who wants to hear them. Podcasting, if you haven't used the procedure before, is very easy indeed. Simple instructions are on the website.

This is exciting news. In the past, programmes would exist only in the BBC archives. To have them on audio library shelves, so to speak, is a great breakthrough, and the occasion has caused me to think back over the history of the programme, to 1998.

Our first guest was Sebastian Faulks, talking about Birdsong, his First World War story of love and loss, recently serialized for BBC Television. We'd asked Sebastian to do a dry run, to try out the format, and discovered that we had to find a way of getting a group of readers to relax and not to freeze in the presence of an author whom they so admired. We opted to let them mingle with the writer for a few minutes before the recording, and decided that it was important that we never had a group of more than about two dozen. Anything bigger would become an audience rather than a reading group. And that's how it has stayed. Our second attempt with Sebastian was a great success and convinced us that we had found a format that would work (as with everything, the trick was to keep it simple). And that was the start of everything - more than 160 conversations. I'm glad to say that I've been able to be in the chair for every one, although there have been occasions when it's been a close call...the demands of the news sometimes causing a little awkwardness. But we got there.

What a glittering galère of talent those authors are. So many are memorable - Joseph Heller talking about Catch 22, Muriel Spark on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, J.K.Rowling on the first Harry Potter novel, before the mania had really got a grip. My three producers - first Olivia, then Karen, and now Dymphna - have worked hard to keep the programme fresh, finding a blend of authors that would keep listeners alert month-by-month and suggesting a range of reading that would mix the familiar with the new, the light with the dark, the long and the short. We've been so proud to bring you heavyweight novelists from home, and just as importantly, quite regularly from abroad - Mario Vargas Llosa, Richard Ford, David Grossman, Jane Smiley, Yann Martel, Jung Chang and Thomas Keneally among them. I think we can fairly say that we've delved deeply into our contemporary literary culture - the generation of Margaret Drabble, Margaret Forster and Penelope Lively side by side with younger writers like Andrew O'Hagan, Zadie Smith, Sarah Waters and - about to come up - Ross Raisin.

Glasses on open book

Naturally, I've been thinking about at some special moments. William Trevor, the sublime Irish writer, in Dr Johnson's house just off Fleet Street, where the floors creaked so spectacularly that the recording took twice as long as usual, Alan Bennett at the British Library, where he was so entranced by early scripts of Beyond the Fringe, winkled out by the archivist, that his natural reserve disappeared and he opened up wonderfully. Clive James speaking movingly about his mother, and his guilt, Douglas Coupland with tears in his eyes as he spoke of past traumas, and some famously reticent writers responding with enthusiasm to a group of readers who, to their surprise, knew the book backwards. I'm thinking particularly of John Irving, Paul Auster, Jonathan Franzen and Martin Amis. Only one expressed unhappiness about a question (she thought she could tell the readers what they mustn't say...and she failed). Antonia Fraser giggled like a very grand schoolgirl, Lynne Reid Banks was swept back two generations to the writing of The L-Shaped Room, John le Carré gave us his own portrait of George Smiley (and Alec Guinness) and Armistead Maupin took us to San Francisco in the grip of a famous social revolution. Hunter Davies swept a generation of older listeners back to their youthful days of Beatlemania (we recorded the programme on the site of The Cavern in Liverpool) and in a prison in Surrey, Tony Parsons found a group of prisoners who were willing to use his book, Man and Boy, as a reason to talk about their families and the experience of leaving them.

As a sucker for a thriller, I'm also glad we've had P.D.James, Colin Dexter and Donna Leon and the great Elmore Leonard, as well as Ian Rankin and Henning Mankel. Where do I stop?

Naturally, we are still on the trail of some writers. Wouldn't Philip Roth be fun, if you see what I mean? And I'd give anything to speak to James Lee Burke, one of my favourite American writers. Seamus Heaney, of course. Poetry has always been an important strand in Bookclub - we've managed to turn regularly to some of our most interesting poets, and I will never forget recording with Wendy Cope in the basement of Broadcasting House with the sight, on screens, outside the studio of New York in rubble - it was the afternoon of September 11, 2001.

Enough, however, of memory. The archive is all yours, and available from next week. Dig and delve and enjoy it all.

I should say a word about Anne Enright. The Gathering won the Man Booker Prize in 2007, in a year which seemed to promise a win for Ian McEwan (On Chesil Beach) and it therefore became a book which attracted a wide following. It is lyrical, with a beautifully spun story, but it also travels to dark places. The Hegarty family is gathering for a wake in Ireland, after the suicide of Liam, one of twelve children, in the sea off Brighton. We're taken on a journey by Veronica, his sister, who tells the story and reveals a great deal about the working of memory - what is true and what is a dream? She's recalling sexual secrets from childhood, and no-one can read it, I think, without recognising how complicated the unravelling of such thoughts and preoccupations must always be. Anne spoke movingly about her characters, about the Irish experience of a previous generation - when so much, she says, was not talked about - and also about her way of writing. The Gathering took three years of constant work - writing, revising, polishing, cutting passages and then restoring them. I was interested that she used the word 'epic' for the book, because that is precisely what it is, although it is quite short. The sweep, the deep involvements of the characters one with another, mean that it takes on the feeling of a much longer story. Perhaps it is the presence of death - and the summing up of several lives - that imparts that feeling. I don't know. Certainly it was a memorable conversation, rich and funny, revealing of the writer's craft, and deeply humane. That's true of so many editions of Bookclub, thanks to the warmth and the collective insight of our readers.

Do try to come to a recording if you can: our next is with Michael Ondaatje on 17 June in Central London - talking of course about his Booker Prize winning novel The English Patient. Instructions on how to apply are on the website.

And enjoy the archive. It is precious to those of us who've looked after the programme for all these years, and I hope to you too.

Happy reading


Jim Naughtie presents Bookclub

  • Visit the Bookclub website where you can listen to thearchive of author interviews, download the Bookclub podcasts and sign up for the email newsletter.
  • Follow Radio 4 on Twitter and Facebook.

Feedback: Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 09:04, Friday, 30 March 2012

Roger Bolton

Feedback's presenter Roger Bolton

When I was a schoolboy I used to think that the world was divided into those who loved the Goons and those who were baffled by their alleged humour. Indeed I first began to worry about Prince Charles when I watched him go into hysterics in the presence of Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe.

I remained stone faced.

Later on I experienced the same sense of disengagement when readers raved about P G Wodehouse.

At this point I can see some readers of this blog rolling their eyes in disbelief. Don't like the master!

No, sorry, don't. Prefer David Lodge or Reginald Hill any day.

I have another confession. It took me two series to appreciate the genius of Fawlty Towers. I watched the first series from behind the sofa, covered in embarrassment. Is any comedy universally loved?

I find it difficult to believe that anyone could fail to recognise that Hancock's Half Hour, Round the Horne, and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue are in the comedy Premiership, and I would nominate The Now Show for promotion from the Championship.

But some comedies still divide the country, none more so than Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show.

On Feedback last week we broadcast emails from highly critical listeners who couldn't understand how the Count was ever commissioned in the first place and who called for his immediate decommissioning - "Rubbish", "drivel," and "a waste of space" were among the politer descriptions of the show.

After our programme Elizabeth Messenger emailed us to say "I am sitting here in stunned rage over the comments in tonight's Feedback. How can anyone NOT find Arthur anything but hilarious? In fact I think this is the best series yet.


More than 100 other correspondents wrote in similar vein.

So we thought we should bring together some fans and critics of Count Arthur and let them battle it out.

Mike Saunders and Stephen Brain are in the Count's corner. Ian Green and Rachel Jones are trying to knock him out of the ring. We asked all four to listen to the final episode of the series.

This was Ian's assessment:

Next week on Feedback Caroline Raphael, Radio 4's Commissioner of Comedy, is coming into our studio to explain why she commissioned the Count and whether he has a future. Please let me know what else you would like me to ask her about any Radio 4 comedy.

Roger Bolton

The Listening Project: Six Degrees of Conversation

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Tony Phillips Tony Phillips 18:24, Wednesday, 28 March 2012

(Editor's note: Friday 30 March sees the launch of The Listening Project, an ambitious new partnership between BBC Radio 4, BBC local and national radio stations, and the British Library. We are asking people up and down the country to share an intimate conversation with a close friend or relative. Some of these conversations will be broadcast across BBC Radio and archived by the British Library, preserving them for future generations. Here, Commissioning Editor Tony Phillips talks about how he devised the project.)

The Listening Project has been a long time coming. Like many ideas it has its origins in several places and people. The idea of inviting two people to record a conversation they really want to have - and asking them to share it with the BBC and the British Library - was not simply a notion I had discussed with Radio 4 Controller Gwyneth Williams over many coffees over many years. In truth my fascination with personal testimonies goes back to when I was a vaguely employable actor but determined to go to university, read a few books and figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. These are the six steps that led to The Listening Project:

1. I found myself in a bookshop flicking through a little book called To Be A Slave by Julius Lester. It was based on oral history interviews recorded in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers Project with former slaves in the Deep South. What struck me most was the preface: "If you want to know what it was like to be a slave you need to talk to the person who wore the shoe". 

2. I went from theatrical obscurity to life as an undergrad at the University of East Anglia reading American History. They didn’t do oral history. I stumbled across the work of the great Chicago-based oral historian Studs Terkel (below) and relished his conversations with everyday Americans in books like Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.

Studs Terkel 

3. Discovering Studs prompted me to have a go at my own oral history project, which led me to the BBC.

4. As a young features producer in 1993 I had a watershed moment hearing a documentary called Ghetto Life 101 made by US documentary producer Dave Isay. Isay trained up two little African American kids and invited them to record their lives in the projects of Chicago's South Side.  Who better to tell that story than those two kids LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman, who "wore the shoe"?

5. A decade later I read about a project called Storycorps. A booth was set up in Grand Central Terminal (below), New York, with the simple aim of recording conversations between two people who were friends or family members. Perfect for radio, perfect for a kind of oral history. This was Dave Isay’s project; Studs Terkel officially opened the booth.

Storycorps booth in Grand Central station

6. I went about trying to bring this spirit to the BBC. And so originated the Listening Project. With BBC stations across the country, the British Library and our audiences, we are attempting to capture this nation in conversation - conversations we all need to have but conversations I hope we all enjoy listening to and learning from.

  • You can hear conversations from the Listening Project on the website at, where you can also share your conversations with the BBC and the British Library
  • Tweet us about the Listening Project on @bbcradio4 using #listeningproject

Feedback: The Budget

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 14:20, Friday, 23 March 2012

Roger Bolton

Feedback's presenter Roger Bolton

This week on Feedback we've been looking at coverage of the Budget and, in particular, the phenomenon of so called "pre news" i.e. speculation, informed or otherwise.

In the view of veteran commentators like Moneybox's Paul Lewis this year's leaks have been unprecedented. Well I say leaks but as Paul points out what really went on was an extraordinary amount of selective briefings by the Treasury and No 10, attributably of course.

It is all a far cry from those days when the contents of the budget were as closely guarded as the movements of Prince William in the Falklands.

Indeed the post war Labour Chancellor Hugh Dalton had to resign because he gave away some small details of his budget minutes before he delivered it.

When I was a very young producer in the early 70's, working on BBC Budget specials, the first we heard of the budget details was in the slightly rushed and hushed tones of one of our reporters who had popped out of the Chamber of the House of Commons during the speech to talk to us by phone, before popping back in again, hoping he hadn't missed too much in the meantime.

Later the Treasury agreed to send a representative to our studio with a copy of the Chancellor's speech which was released, agonisingly slowly, page by page, after, not before, the Chancellor had read it out.

There was extensive "spinning" of course, but it was after the speech not before it.

The aim of this year's selective briefings was, of course, to get favourable headlines for the Government, and help set the agenda in a way which benefits the Coalition. How should, how did, BBC journalists respond to this avalanche of "pre news"?

That is one of the subjects in this week's programme.

Here are my interviews with Paul Lewis and former Radio 4 editor Kevin Marsh. It starts with a chat with Feedback listener Elizabeth Balsom.

In a few weeks I will be interviewing the Controller of Radio 4, Gwynneth Williams, about some forthcoming schedule changes she has announced, and of course about anything you want me to ask her.

Details of how to get in touch are on the Feedback pages of this website.

And I would just like to make clear that, despite, hundreds, nay thousands of requests for me to declare myself a candidate in the race to be the next BBC Director General, I will not be doing so.

You see the present DG used to be my researcher and I always think of him as "little Mark Thompson" despite his being well over six feet tall.

Of course if he would like to succeed me as presenter of Feedback he is welcome to try, but perhaps he needs a period of decontamination first, and, as far as I am aware, there is no vacancy.

Roger Bolton

Roger Bolton presents Feedback

In Our Time newsletter: Moses Mendelssohn

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Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg 09:30, Friday, 23 March 2012

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

Moses Mendelssohn


I think that the reason I enjoyed this programme so much was that it brought into clear focus the splicing and the contradiction and the internal opposition on nature of great religion and the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century.

I've always thought it was completely simplistic to think that the Enlightenment came and wiped the slate clean of all previous knowledge. That the great knowledge systems built up by people every bit as clever as those in the Enlightenment were suddenly not fit for purpose and we had a new dawn. It seems to me that we carry the past with us wherever we go and there are few clean changes, and if so, they are brutal and short-lived and the pendulum then swings back. It's evolution and merging that brings about the eventual big changes.

Religion had a great deal to offer the Enlightenment, as enlightened people in the Royal Society, for instance, from Newton through to Priestley and Clerk Maxwell, were well aware of. In the person of Moses Mendelssohn we had a supreme example of a religious scholar and a believer in one of the great world faiths, who was also entranced by, and became part of, the Enlightenment; led, as it seemed then, solely by reason.

Of course it gets more complicated. Mendelssohn also read the work of the Scottish Enlightenment, where reason is not by any means the only instrument available to pick through the complexity of thought. In fact, it arrives second to the forces of sensation, according to the great philosopher Hume, and it is in that cauldron of sensations that love, spirituality, honest doubt, uncertainty, inexplicability, surprise by joy, and all that we shall never know but of which we have perhaps intimations, dwell. I think that Moses Mendelssohn was aware of that, but his scholarship from the commentaries on the Jewish Bible had led him into a way of thinking which had a great deal in common with the scholarship of the Enlightenment. It was fascinating - even in the short time I had - to read of the way he took on the Christian ideas, the Spinozan ideas, and the ideas of the later Enlightenment, and returned them in full measure, as well as cleaving obstinately and intellectually to his roots.

The contributors were exhilarating, I thought. It was non-stop, full throttle intellectual engagement. It was also a recording, as you may have guessed. We'd done Vitruvius about an hour beforehand. So I said I went to the office and roamed around a little. I chose one of the hottest days of spring to buy a coat in a sale. Quite a heavy coat. So that hotted things up even further. What else? Well, as I write this, I'm about to go to Australia to give a lecture on the impact of the King James Bible. When you get this, I will (I hope) have come back from Australia, having given the lecture, and be ready to get on with the history of the measurement of time.

I'll have experienced quite a bit of time on those flights. You can tell the batteries have run down by that last sentence so I'll stop now!

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

The People's Passion: Cathedrals: Who comes here? Why do they come?

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Eloise McNaulty 15:05, Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Editors note: The writer Nick Warburton talks about his inspirations for The People's Passion dramas, where stories of the Passion and the present collide, in the lives of people passing through one fictional cathedral. EMcN

Arundel Tomb, Chichester Cathedral

Arundel Tomb, Chichester Cathedral

When we were first discussing The People's Passion, Jonquil Panting (the producer) and I would go to some of London's places of worship to talk. We might meet in Southwark Cathedral, or take a walk from Bush House along Fleet Street to St Paul's.

On one occasion, in St Martin-in-the-Fields, we watched a group of workers, directed by a capable verger, setting out chairs for a concert. While they were doing this, a middle-aged woman, apparently unaware of the bustle with the chairs, sat deep in thought in one of the central pews, and, in a side pew next to us, a man wrapped in a heavy coat was fast asleep. He hadn't simply nodded off; he'd come in for the purpose of sleeping and was stretched out in full possession of the pew.

Two of the questions at the heart of these plays are: "Who comes here?" and "Why do they come?" During that brief visit to St Martin-in-the-Fields we saw people who'd come in to shelter, to work, to be alone and to ask questions. On another day we might've seen people who were there to volunteer or to make music, to protest or to look for sanctuary, to light a candle for a friend or, indeed, to worship.

In the clip above from the first play - Coming To Jerusalem - an old man stops to talk to one of the cathedral volunteers. "Look up at these walls," he says to her, and he tries to explain what the cathedral means to him.

A cathedral is a huge public space, created over hundreds of years out of vision and craftsmanship and toil. "There were those who dreamed it," says the old man in another of the plays, "and those who crafted the dream, making it into glass and wood and stone. Then there were those who laboured; who broke bones doing the work, who swore at the stone and the weather, and got it done."

But cathedrals are private places too. The massive endeavour of their creation is evident in the buildings themselves, but they're also full of small and touching details of people's lives - in windows and carvings and memorials. While I was writing the plays, I visited several of our great cathedrals and I've used some of these details in our cathedral - our new cathedral for The People's Passion.

It's a cathedral built of sound by Jonquil and studio manager Pete Ringrose and it's been done with huge skill and artistry. You can hear the cathedral spaces - the nave, the side chapels, the upper galleries and the aisles. You can also hold your breath and hear the stirring sound of cathedral silence.

One of the places I visited was Chichester, and I found myself back there last week. In Chichester Cathedral you can see the Arundel Tomb, a fourteenth century monument to a knight and his lady made famous by Philip Larkin's beautiful and enigmatic poem - "Side by side, their faces blurred, the earl and countess lie in stone."

I stopped to look at it again. Beyond the monument, in the north aisle, a man had placed a chair against the wall. He stretched, he nodded, and, in only a matter of minutes, he fell asleep. He couldn't have been our original St Martin-in-the-Fields sleeper (could he?) but he'd surely come to the cathedral for the same purpose.

I stood in the nave and looked across at not two but three figures sleeping there, linked in spite of the six or seven hundred years which separated them. I felt lucky to have seen all three.


There's still time to join in The People's Passion. Many choirs are just starting their rehearsals. Find a choir that's taking part and download sheet music, backing tracks and mp3s.

Please get in touch if you want us to add your choir to the list at You can also let us know how you're getting on by following @BBCRadio4 and tweeting using the hastag #bbcpeoplespassion.

More Than Words Festival - Day 3

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Clarissa Maycock 11:05, Monday, 19 March 2012

The final day of the More Than Words Festival included pirates, spheres & grumpy crabs - with many other listening experiences along the way.

The Bluesette Trio

The Bluesette Trio perform at the More Than Words Festival

A second day of workshops in took place yesterday (Sunday 18th March) in Bristol University's Merchant Venturers Building, including a masterclass from storyteller Peter Snelling and a workshop about creative technologies from Bristol's Pervasive Media Studio.

Music performances continued all day in the atrium, including music from the Bath Choir, the Bluesette Trio, eclectic band Baajo, Lade Nade & the Silhouettes and composer Victoria Bourne playing the Alphasphere. The Alphaspere is a new music instrument, invented in Bristol, made of forty-eight pressure pads arranged round a sphere. The sound generated is different depending not only on which key you press, but also on how strongly you press it. The result is a very unusual listening experience.

Victoria Bourne and the Alphasphere

Victoria Bourne demonstrates the Alphasphere

There were more BBC show recordings, including Radio 4 favourites Broadcasting House and With Great Pleasure. St George's hosted Broadcasting House at 8.30, which was transmitted on Radio 4 a short while later. Paddy O'Connell had some seafaring Bristolian visitors in the shape of the Aardman puppets which will be featuring in their upcoming movie "The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists". From the open ocean to the bottom of the sea, Alison Steadman, Tony Robinson and Geoffery Palmer starred in Tidal Talks at the QEH Theatre. @servicejunkie took to Twitter to congratulate Tidal Talk's star Alison Steadman, saying "your Sea Anemone was exceptionally funny! Bravo!" However @davidsonlizzie claimed "for me, Geoffrey Palmer took the prize. His gruff and grumpy hermit crab had me giggling uncontrollably."

Pirate puppets

Aardman's Pirate puppets visit Broadcasting House

Cerys Matthews and her guitar took the audience at St George's on a journey from Wales to Spain via Dylan Thomas during the recording of With Great Pleasure. @emmafurious enjoyed the event, exclaiming "What a Mothers Day treat! @stgeorgesbris @BBCRadio4 #MoreThanWords event With Great Pleasure @cerysmatthews what a voice."

Cerys Matthews

Cerys Matthews records With Great Pleasure

The festival concluded with a final Sound Adventurers workshop which showcased innovative listening experiences such as Harriet Bowman's Field Song installation, a series of magnetised hanging sculptures which play music when you walk through them.


Baajo perform at the Merchant Venturers Building

Here at Radio 4 we hope everyone who took part in More Than Words enjoyed it, whether it was to attend a workshop or the recording of a show. Or, if you are like @jorence you may have enjoyed the atmosphere for simpler reasons... "There's nothing quite so entertaining as watching a @BBCRadio4 audience jockey for the best seats at a #morethanwords event".

To celebrate Radio 4's More Than Words Festival, I have been blogging from Bristol during the weekend. Previous blogs can be found on the Radio 4 website. I work as a producer on the Radio 4 and 4 Extra Interactive team - CM

More Than Words Festival - Day 2

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Clarissa Maycock 11:00, Sunday, 18 March 2012

Poetry, comedy, music and art are celebrated during the second day of the More Than Words Festival.

THe Riff Raff Choir at More Than Words

The Riff Raff Choir perform music at the More Than Words Festival

The University of Bristol's Merchant Venturers building hosted a whole day of workshops inspired by the festival's theme of the "art of listening" yesterday, including poetry workshops, a guide to writing radio comedy and a masterclass with Jonathan Dimbleby.

Many art and audio projects were showcased, including the innovative sound installation "field song" by Harriet Bowman, Ben Socrates and Charles Gershom, where participants walk through a magnetised framework of hanging metal sculptures to play music.

Field Song installation

Harriet Bowman demonstrates her innovative Field Song project

On Twitter we asked festival goers to tell us about their experiences. @noseyparkyn went to the comedy workshops and commented "Steven Canny at #morethanwords provided awesome overview of what makes brilliant comedy brilliant. Educated and entertained". @MaryWL1 added "just had poetry tasters - amazing! Bugsy Rapper inspirational" and @ZenaMarks commented "How lovely to be in Bristol during @BBCRadio4's #morethanwords sound festival".

Ben Baddoo performs in the Merchant Venturers Building

Throughout the day live music was performed in the atrium of the Merchant Venturers building. Performers included the Riff Raff choir, a capella group Original Sing, Ghanaian percussionist Ben Badoo, BBC Introducing's Alice Jemima and Irish band Perfect Cure, who provided some very fitting music for St Patrick's Day.

Loose Ends recording

Clive Anderson and the Loose Ends panel

The BBC recordings continued in venues across Bristol. On Saturday morning the children's section of Bristol Central Library, usually home to readings of nursery rhymes, was taken over by A Load of Nonsense with Michael Rosen. St George's hosted Loose Ends, where Clive Anderson was joined by former Blur member Alex James and Aardman's Peter Lord. Lynn Truss also spoke to Clive about her play "Tidal Talks", which is being recorded on Sunday at the close of the festival. There was also a performance from music legends the Stranglers.

Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey performs at the Wondermentalist Cabaret

In the evening an episode of Matt Harvey's Wondermentalist Cabaret entertained the audience at St George's with comedy-infused poetry accompanied by music from one-man-house-band Jerri Hart. The audience were invited to crowd-source a poem during the interval, with everyone writing one line of poetry each.

Matt Harvey and Jerri Hart

Matt Harvey and one-man-band Jerri Hart

Other shows recorded include a new adaptation of the ever-popular Sherlock Holmes mystery Hound of the Baskervilles and Owen Shears' poem Pink Mist, a dramatic poem set in Bristol about a soldier struggling to return home.

Today (Sunday 18th March) the workshops continue and there are more BBC recordings including Broadcasting House, With Great Pleasure with Cerys Matthews and the drama Tidal Talks.

To celebrate Radio 4's More Than Words Festival, I will be blogging from Bristol during the weekend. Previous blogs can be found on the Radio 4 website. I work as a producer on the Radio 4 and 4 Extra Interactive team - CM

More Than Words Festival - Day 1

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Clarissa Maycock 10:57, Saturday, 17 March 2012

Jamie Cullum is castaway as Bristol hosts the Radio 4 More Than Words festival.

St Georges Bristol during More Than Words

St Georges Bristol is one of the venues for the More Than Words Festival

Bristol saw the More Than Words festival open in style last night with a special edition of one of Radio 4's flagship programmes. Desert Island Discs was recorded live in front of an audience at St Georges in Bristol.

Kirsty Young's castaway was jazz singer and pianist Jamie Cullum. In a twist from the usual format, the Grammy-nominated castaway performed his selected tracks on St George's grand piano. It is only the second time Desert Island Discs has been recorded out of the studio, and the first time it has been recorded in front of a live audience. St George's was transformed for the event, with the walls decorated with photographs from the festival's "Moments of Listening" gallery. Audience members at the recording were also invited to have their photo taken while listening to a mystery piece of audio and join the gallery.

St George's piano

The piano at St George's Bristol

At 8pm Jonathan Dimbleby hosted Any Questions from Bristol's M Shed, which was also broadcast live on Radio 4. On the panel Deborah Meaden, Billy Bragg, Peter Hain and Ed Vaizey took questions from the audience. One of the issues debated was the problem of poor literacy in primary school children, following a damning report from Ofsted this week. A lively Twitter audience joined the debate using the hashtag #bbcaq. @jongilmartin1 commented "as a speech & language therapist, completely agree with @DeborahMeaden on engaging children in their education 1st" while @Old_Holborn pointed out: "German children don't start school until aged 7. And then design BMWs".

The Any Questions panel

The Any Questions panel - Peter Hain, Deborah Meaden, Billy Bragg, Ed Vaizey and Jonathan Dimbleby.

Across town at a packed Bristol Folkhouse, The Bristol Comedy Night took place featuring sketches and stand-up from Sara Pascoe, the Three Englishmen and compere Stuart Goldsmith. Stuart Goldsmith began by reminding the audience that the gig would not feature swearing because it was being recorded for the radio, then led the audience in a round of cathartic swearing before the mics were switched on. The gig will be broadcast tonight on Radio Bristol.

Wall at St George's Bristol

Wall inside St George's Bristol decorated with photographs of "moments of listening"

Today the University of Bristol's Merchant Venturers building will host a whole day of workshops inspired by the festival's theme of the "art of listening". There will also be more BBC Shows recorded - such as Loose Ends and the Wondermentalist Caberet.

To celebrate Radio 4's More Than Words Festival, I will be blogging from Bristol during the weekend. Look out for more blogs over the next few days. I work as a producer on the Radio 4 and 4 Extra Interactive team - CM

In Our Time newsletter: Vitruvius and De Architectura

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Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg 16:26, Friday, 16 March 2012

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


I did not mention that it was the Ides of March today; indeed, the sole reason is that I forgot. I have since been trying to work out how we could have winkled it in. Not much of the Ides of March about Vitruvius. Yet Shakespeare was haunting the first part of the programme when Serafina did her rapid rundown of the 1st century BC. You wanted to keep saying "wasn't that bit in Shakespeare?" or "where's Brutus?".

Vitruvius and De Architectura Episode Image

It is quite a career for someone to start making ballistic missiles and catapults for Caesar's army in Gaul, and end up sitting in Rome as an aged protégé of the Emperor's sister, writing a very substantial book on the history of architecture. Those lives which travel so far from their beginnings are always fascinating. And I'm becoming increasingly fascinated with people who really start at the coalface quite young and manage to work their way through to enormous achievements. Nelson joined the Navy when he was twelve. A lot of the men who created the Industrial Revolution were apprenticed or chucked into jobs when they were thirteen or fourteen. And so it goes...

The thing that struck me this morning was how very, very powerful knowledge is and how you never know when it will be rediscovered and re-energised. We're used to it in science now. Rutherford splits the atom and says no harm will come of it, but it was an intellectually satisfying thing to do, and a few years later the world could be blown up. And again and again, as we are finding, games that mathematicians play with prime numbers, for example, turn out to be the way in which we run crucial parts of the communications system. Sometimes these developments take hundreds of years. Much the same here with Vitruvius. He petered out when Rome petered out and St Peter's Rome took over. His temples were no longer required in an age of churches and cathedrals. The fascinating thing is that the Renaissance in Italy went pagan. Palladio's churches are built precisely like temples. There is very little about the atmosphere inside them which echoes, even - let alone matches - the heavy, religious splendours of cathedrals, or the simple, religious peace of village churches. These are places which have abandoned a medieval God and are open, it seems, to all influences.

Got up this morning at about five and found a Dickensian fog outside and freezing weather. In the middle of the day people are sunbathing in London parks. London itself is so crowded that you wonder if this is a secret trial run for the congestion of the Olympics. At the moment much of central London is dug up in order to make it spick and span for the Olympics. Those of us who live here have our doubts...

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Feedback: The Art Of The Interview

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 15:21, Friday, 16 March 2012

I sometimes think I am a poacher turned gamekeeper turned poacher.

As a producer and then as presenter of programmes like Sunday on Radio 4, I plotted and conducted interviews designed to expose what I thought were flaws in the interviewee’s position.

Now, on Feedback, I critically examine such interviews on behalf of listeners.
In doing so, I have to conduct interviews with programme makers or executives which are designed to test their arguments and reveal any flaws.    Confused?

I am, occasionally, and certainly feel a little sheepish, or at least that I am in a glass house throwing stones, using the same techniques that are being questioned.   And then there is the problem of interviewing Premier League presenters like Victoria  Derbyshire and Justin Webb, who could do what I am attempting to do rather better.

Oh get on with it, I hear you cry, enough of this existential angst.

OK I will.

If you regularly  listen to Feedback you will know that a significant number of listeners dislike the way some Today presenters interrupt their interviewees, and the number of times they do it.

However it’s not only John Humphrys and Jim Naughtie who have come under fire from our listeners recently.

Listener Michael Brooks criticised the World at One’s Martha Kearney for her “”constant interruptions and belligerent style” when interviewing  Ed Milliband.

And Margaret Angus was “exasperated” when Evan Davis interviewed David Cameron on Today. She said “I wanted to hear what the Prime Minister said - not the constant and aggressive interruption of the interviewer – it was maddening”.

Even the aforementioned Justin Webb has felt the force of complaint as he changed his relatively laid back approach for a more interventionist one.

We invited Justin and the multiple award-winning Queen of 5Live Victoria Derbyshire into the studio to discuss some of these issues. Also present was listener Sarah Wroot.

Here is part one of our discussion, which dealt mainly with the political interview.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash Installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

Next week on Feedback , Victoria and Justin will discuss interviewing members of the public, some of whom can be in a highly emotional state when live on air, and who may not realise the consequences of what they are saying..

Please do let me know what you think  of my interviews about interviews.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback

The Art of Monarchy - Psaultier de David

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Elizabeth Clark 15:46, Thursday, 15 March 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 Elizabeth Clark considers an inscription by Queen Elizabeth I - PM.

French Psalter with inscription from Elizabeth I

Supplied by Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012

However ordinary a book may appear, it can, on opening, turn out to be extraordinary. One such in the Royal Library is a plain little brown Psalter (book of Psalms) (add hyperlink to:). On the second to last page it has a poem, written in the hand of Elizabeth I:

No crooked legge no bleared

eye no part deformed out

of kinde nor yet so uglye

halfe can be as is the inward

suspicious minde

Your lovinge



Facing the neat letters is a drawing of an armillary sphere - a model of the heavens and one of Elizabeth's emblems - balancing on an open book, which a gifted amateur artist added to embellish the words.

Given to The Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, as a wedding present in 1947, this enigmatic book has no title page and no colophon (the publication details at the end of a text), so where and when was it published? Many more questions arise on reading the poem: why did Elizabeth write it and when? Why in this book? To whom was she referring?

This is the only known version of the poem, so it is likely that Elizabeth composed it herself. It is also likely that she did so before 1558, which is when she became queen, as thereafter she wrote 'R' for 'Regina' after her name. However, with no information about whose was the 'crooked legge' or 'inward suspicious minde', we can only guess who it was written for.

When was this book published? Probably before 1538, when we estimate it came to England, because Thomas Becket's name has been crossed out of the calendar of saints' days in the front as commanded by Henry VIII's Royal Proclamation of that year. The date of publication can be further refined by studying the preface, which advocates speaking to God in the vernacular (in this case French rather than in the approved Latin). These are the words of Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples, who published his translation of the Psalms from Latin into French in Paris in 1525. While this is not the 1525 edition - and there is no other edition listed in any major European library catalogue - we can be almost certain that the Psalter dates from 1525-30.

Why did she write in this particular book? It had been thought to be her own volume, but it seems more likely to be an autograph in somebody else's, perhaps as a mark of favour. There are a number of examples of such inscriptions in books of this period, including some by Elizabeth's stepmother, Katherine Parr, who was influential in the Princess's upbringing. But we still do not know why this book was selected for Elizabeth's inscription.

Sometimes it is impossible to find the truth in history. Though we may have many sources for an event - eyewitness accounts, images, official documents - everybody embellishes and everybody misunderstands. Objects such as books can reflect the many possibilities behind people's actions: despite our conclusions, it could be that this book was just a source of scrap paper for Elizabeth. Sometimes not knowing the answers in history is what is most exciting about studying it.

You can see the Psalter on display at Windsor Castle with other objects from The Art of Monarchy series.

Elizabeth Clark is the Collections Information Assistant, Books and Manuscripts at The Royal Collection

Afternoon Drama: Waiting For The Boatman

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy 12:45, Thursday, 15 March 2012

Editor's Note: Stephen Wakelam is the writer of the play Waiting For The Boatman. The programme is broadcast on Friday 16 March on BBC Radio 4 as the Afternoon Drama. PM 

It was the director, Sasha Yevtushenko, who suggested to me - maybe three years ago - the idea for a play about the painter Caravaggio. The anniversary of his death was coming up: 1610. I'd read the Helen Langdon biography and had been knocked out by an exhibition of his late canvases in 2005 at the National Gallery, so didn't need much encouragement.

Writer, Stephen Wakelam (centre) with David Tennant and Peter Hamilton Dyer (who plays the Flemish art dealer Vinck) in Waiting For The Boatman


The life is dramatic enough - murder, scandal, feuds.... For a long time, I couldn't see how to do it. I spent a lot of time staring at reproductions of the paintings and, in doing so, started to recognise certain faces. These were Caravaggio's friends and (it doesn't need much imagining) lovers. There they are, looking out at us, sunburnt hands/necks, dirty feet and all.

Sasha didn't press, had maybe given me up, and the 2010 anniversary of the painter's death had almost passed when the key finally turned in the lock - what I fancied writing was a play about Caravaggio in which the painter never appears. Needless to say, I worked it out carefully as a synopsis before trying this notion on the director. I suppose I was thinking about 'The Third Man' in which the Joseph Cotton character, a decent guy, comes out to Vienna to look up his friend, Harry Lime/Orson Welles and gets a shock. My central character would be not the great painter but his one time associate, Mario Minniti, a Sicilian, the model for 'The Boy with the Basket of Fruit.'

In my synopsis, Mario would arrive in Naples only to find Caravaggio dead. After some initial hesitation at this Hamlet without the Prince, Sasha signed up to the idea. There was the usual hiatus before we got the commission and I went out to France last June with the best part of a car boot full of Caravaggio books to start the detailed research, which usually gets me underway with the writing itself.

Scraps of dialogue find their way into my notes. A new character appeared - not in the synopsis - when I learnt that, while in Naples (the setting for the play) Caravaggio had a Flemish art dealer, Abraham Vinck. An important aspect was selecting which relevant paintings to include in a 45 minute play. I was particularly interested in a couple which have disappeared or he never finished, and it was one of these, a 'Circumcision,' decided me on a main location - a Dominican Friary in a poor quarter of Naples. I have never been to Naples, but that doesn't matter so much in radio, where the well-placed fillip of detail can do the trick for the listener. I read travellers' accounts and, back in Britain and underway with the play, spent a number of happy hours on Google Maps down at street level, moving my way around the city as a virtual tourist.

There's a moment in the play where Minniti, my central character, looks down from a balcony in what we'd now call a gay bar and thinks he sees someone he recognises. Or, at least, that's what happens in the finished script. I'd got to this scene - though hadn't choreographed it - while house-sitting a friend's house, looked down to the garden where a young-ish workman was eating his packed lunch. He threw his head back, taking a swig of his drink, and my scene was - with his simple lingering gesture - polished off.

Language is a difficulty in any play set four hundred years ago. It's all rather odd, if you think about it. It should be in Italian or one of its (presumably) strong dialects. But I don't run to Neapolitan. I read chunks of one of the few English prose works from around that time, 'Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson,' and also picked up Rousseau's Confessions - a good century later (and in a translation at that) but strong on feelings. They suggested to me odd turns of phrase - giving the narration and some of the dialogue an 'authenticity.' Sasha, the director, got me to develop the underlying emotional line of the story. My clue for this had been something a model of Lucien Freud's (one of his lovers) said. I paraphrase: 'When he was looking at you, you never knew if it was love or work...' Andrew Graham-Dixon's biography of Caravaggio, which came out while I was underway with the play, helped me with useful new information - or intelligent speculation - on Caravaggio's death and how the news, via a boatman, reached Naples; it also gave me my title.

Detailed plot always comes late with me and Sasha pushed me finally to heighten - as far as I wanted to - the detective/conspiratorial element in the script. He was beginning to spot things about the play that I couldn't articulate and helping bring them more to the surface. He did the casting.

It is hard to imagine an actor more on top of his game than David Tennant. To hear him and another distinguished Hamlet, Anton Lesser, was thrilling. We were well served by the actors. I couldn't come in for the last stages of the edit - I had 'flu - so received the finished version in CD form. When I played it to a friend, watching her reactions quietly, she said at the end, 'Was this the play you said you had difficulties with?' 'Yes,' I said, 'it was trickier than most.' 'Not that you'd notice,' she said.

Writer, Stephen Wakelam, February/ March 2012.


See Caravaggio pictures from BBC News

Listen to the programme


Radio 4 Extra - Just a Minute: Without Hesitation

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Peter McHugh 00:45, Thursday, 15 March 2012



On a cold winter's evening I made my way to London's BBC Television Centre. Something rather special was taking place. To celebrate 45 years of a classic radio comedy show, those rich cousins in TV were recording a special series of Just a Minute, featuring its ever present chairman, Nicholas Parsons, joined by regular player Paul Merton and a host of favourite all-star panellists.

I was there for another reason, though. I wanted to find out why it has survived and thrived for so long, from the experts - its devoted listeners. The first thing I noticed when I met them queuing patiently in the cold, were the smiles on their faces. Grins that were there even before I asked them what they liked so much about JAM - as it's fondly known. Just the mention of its name was enough.

I suppose when a show started on 22nd December 1967, and is still on the air in 2012, it must be doing something right. That's what Nicholas Parsons thinks all these years later. As he tells us in Radio 4 Extra's Just a Minute: Without Hesitation, he was never meant to be the chairman. He tells us how he came to sit in the hot-seat - surely one of the hottest in broadcasting with all those brilliant player challenges, across six decades and counting. He remembers how the show was very nearly cancelled before it had a chance to really begin. We find out who managed to save it. Nicholas remembers the show's brilliant creator, his friend the late Ian Messiter, and reveals the inspiration behind those brilliantly simple rules: to talk for one minute on a subject "without hesitation, repetition or deviation".

We hear how the "wonderful blend" of the first classic Just a Minute panel - featuring Clement Freud, Derek Nimmo, Peter Jones and Kenneth Williams - came together. We get behind the scenes of some of broadcasting's greatest ever on-air sulks - by Kenneth Williams, of course.

Was there a bit of real frustration there?

We get the chance to hear great guest performances, like the time Bob Monkhouse joined the fun, in 1980. Nicholas explains how the show has survived the loss of such classic players. He pays tributes to other absent friends that were taken far too soon, like the wonderful comedian Linda Smith. And he lets us in on why the show continues to be funny, winning gold awards along the way.

Of course, at the centre of the story is Nicholas Parsons, himself.

Adjudicator extraordinaire and someone whose shoulders would be strong enough, according to its first producer David Hatch, to suffer the combined leg pulling and ribbing of players like Clement Freud and Kenneth Williams. When Nicholas came into the 4 Extra studio he was, as we hear him on Just a Minute, unfailingly polite and focussed on praising what he thinks is the key element of programme's success: the wonderful skill and humour of its players across the decades.

We get to hear this engine room of success at full throttle as one of game's longest serving players, Sheila Hancock, is joined by Paul Merton and Graham Norton.

Of course, the incredible thing is that no matter who was on the panel, or whatever year it was, Nicholas has been there for every recording. As one of those legion of JAM listeners, I hope that this lack of hesitation will continue for many years to come.

Peter McHugh produces Just a Minute: Without Hesitation

Find out more about Just a Minute in India

Listen to Just A Minute: India Special part 1, Monday 19 March, 6.30-7.00pm


Just A Minute: India Special part 2, Monday 26 March, 6.30-7.00pm


Just A Minute's Indian Adventure – Monday 2 April, 11.30am-12.00noon  

More Than Words - A Quick Q&A with Stuart Goldsmith

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Clarissa Maycock 14:17, Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Editor's Note: Stuart Goldsmith is an actor and stand-up comic who has appeared on CBBC and performed solo shows at the Edinburgh Festival. He is performing at the Bristol Comedy Night which takes places during the More Than Words festival in Bristol this weekend. He looks ahead to the festival by asking himself some searching questions. - CM

Stuart Goldsmith

Stuart Goldsmith is performing at the Bristol Comedy Night.

How do you find Bristolian audiences?

I was born in Bristol but left when I was seven years old – I just felt I'd “done” it. It's lovely to be back though. The audiences are always great, especially in Bedminster where my godchildren live. You're guaranteed a lively bunch who want to have fun, but also want to hear what you have to say.

What are you most looking forward to at the more than words festival?

I'm a big fan of Edward Lear, so the prospect of Michael Rosen recording “A Load Of Nonsense” is pretty enticing – I'm also hoping local poet Caleb Parkin is going to do his stuff about vermin at some point.

Do you find stand-up comedy scary?

It was scary to begin with, but I used to be a street-performer (I've done the Bristol Harbour Festival more than once), and hecklers are easier to deal with than dogs, rain or policemen.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm writing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe, which is going to be all about my faults. I'm trying to be as honest as possible about all the things which make me a terrible person, and hope they resonate with my audience.

What sort of faults are we talking about?

Vanity mostly. Selfishness, greed, abdicating responsibility, and introducing myself to someone that I had slept with. True story. Eek.

Can we look forward to hearing about that at the show on Friday?

God no, it's going to be broadcast on the radio. I don't want my mum hearing it...

How do you cope with the pressures of being so incredibly handsome?

Oh, stop.

No seriously, you're a great-looking guy, it must be tough to get the audience on side sometimes?

Well, I find it helps when I can write my own Q&A questions.

Do you fancy a drink after?

Sure; mine's a pint of cider, a bit of space to myself and a big mirror.

Stuart Goldsmith is performing on the Bristol Comedy Night which takes place at the More Than Words Festival on 16th March. The Bristol Comedy Night will be broadcast on BBC Radio Bristol.

  • Visit the More Than Words website
  • View the schedule of BBC Shows taking place at the More Than Words Festival
  • Visit the More Than Words facebook page and follow BBC Radio 4 on twitter

Feedback: Radio 2 Traffic Control

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 17:26, Friday, 9 March 2012

Roger Bolton

Feedback's presenter Roger Bolton

I'm not sure what I expected Sally Traffic's Radio 2 office to be like.

Perhaps the cockpit of a 747 or a TV studio control room, lights and switches everywhere, incessant phone calls, a multitude of assistants thrusting the latest information into her hand before she rushes into Steve Wright's studio. Not quite.

There's a desk, a chair, a curtain free window with views over pigeon defiled rooftops, a phone line and a computer screen and Ms Boazman herself - and that's it. Not that Sally needs a chair.

When I talked to her this week she seemed never to sit down, checking the phone calls of her motoring friends, peering through cameras from all over the country and accessing the latest police and AA information, before running across the corridor to Steve Wright's studio where she ad libbed her way through a list of jams and accidents, ending dead on time, to no-one's surprise.

As you can see I was impressed by her calm, charm and productivity, but I was also armed with a number of emails from Feedback listeners wondering whether Sally's updates were 'surplus to requirements'.

Surely with all the apps, BBC local radio stations and other technological advances, they said, Sally should cut the traffic, and concentrate on presenting instead. As your prosecuting barrister I did of course press her on these points.

Listeners were also keen to raise questions about the amount of coverage of the Republican primaries in the USA. Most of our correspondents are of the view that there is far too much - and that a lot of it is simply incomprehensible. I put those points to Richard Clark, the editor of the BBC Radio newsroom.

And if you're still confused here is a link to the BBC website where the primary process is explained.

Please join me next week on Feedback when I will be talking to Justin Webb and Victoria Derbyshire about the art of the interview. Please let me know what you'd like me to ask them. I might even learn something.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback

Read the rest of this entry

In Our Time newsletter: Lyrical Ballads

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Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg 16:26, Friday, 9 March 2012

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


Usually In Our Time cuts off any reference to the present day. Contemporary analogies are usually inadequate, unfocused and unhelpful. They have a little shine at the time of saying, but when you open them up (opening up the shine is something that we do all the time in Broadcasting House), then there's not a great deal to them. However, Peter Swaab's reference to Wordsworth and Coleridge as Lennon and McCartney was so shocking that it was not only let pass, but let pass with silent approval. Because it's difficult to think of Wordsworth - his grandeur, all those portraits of him with folded arms and head bowed and Helvellyn in the background, all the solemnity that did hedge the Poet Laureate, and Coleridge, the puffy drug addict; always, it seems, past his best, never the first bloom of youth, always the decaying leaf of old age - difficult to see them as what they were and that was two very young men, broke, excited, radical and as passionate about poetry as, yes, Lennon and McCartney were about pop music, especially rock and roll and soul.

Lyrical Ballads

This fits in all too neatly with an idea that I've been pursuing for the last forty years about the continuous spectrum across the arts, but more importantly, it gave me a jolt. It was the particular energy of youth and trying things new for the first time - making it new, I suppose, is a phrase that is useful here - which led to a volume of a mere twenty-three poems, containing not only two of the greatest poems in the language, but an idea of poetry which was to change the idea of poetry. And all this because Coleridge moved near Wordsworth and leapt over a fence and skipped up the garden path, and there was Wordsworth with his sister, already entranced by this vision of genius. Hazlitt, a few years later, was similarly entrapped by the brilliance that was Coleridge.

What ideas they had! Expressed so simply in Tintern Abbey, for instance. What skills and profound notion of antiquity and surrealism as transforming the nature of the ancient form of the ballad that Coleridge put forward in the Ancient Mariner. Did they know that what they were doing would lead to what has happened now? It could be argued that it was Wordsworth's essay at the beginning of the second edition in 1800 that really reached out, but nevertheless that first volume was - "yeah, yeah, yeah".

So I walked down to the office and piled into the usual load of emails - why were they invented? Please let me have one good reason!

Then drifted through London. Bought a coat - a winter coat - just as spring is all about us, and with my wife had lunch with one of my oldest friends and his wife. When I say one of my oldest friends, I have known him for 68 of my 72 years. His mother and my mother were in the Guides together, his father and my father were in the war together, we went to the same school...need I go on? He, with a couple of others, has stayed close friends throughout my life. There's absolutely nothing like it. After the first hour or so of talking about serious matters like the form of Arsenal and what's going on back in Wigton and the 750th anniversary of the granting of the Royal Charter to a market in Wigton, we get on to one thing and one thing only - the recollection of times we spent together when we have made each other laugh so much it was embarrassing, and what happens is that we once again laugh so much that it is embarrassing. I don't really mean embarrassing. I'm just covering my tracks. I mean terrific!

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

PS: He, too, comes from the Lake District, but I very much doubt if he ever went there to see a daffodil in his entire life, or would have considered it in any other light than a very silly thing to do.

PPS: Yes, the daffodils are out in St James's Park, now in full bloom.

More Than Words is Coming Soon

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Clarissa Maycock 15:23, Friday, 9 March 2012

Editor's Note: The More Than Words Listening Festival takes place in Bristol from 16th-18th March 2012. Producer Nicki Ledgard looks ahead to the weekend's events -CM

More Than Words logo

I joined the radio 4 team in Bristol just before Christmas to project manage BBC Radio 4's More Than Words listening festival. Back then 16th March seemed a long way off and the schedule of events for the festival fitted onto one A4 piece of paper. It now stretches to 25 pages. I'm signing off the final copy for the festival brochure today. It's packed...

We have Radio 4 programmes being broadcast in front of audiences and some of them are going out that weekend Radio 4:

  • Any Questions? With Jonathan Dimbleby
  • Broadcasting House with Paddy O'Connell
  • Poetry Please with Roger McGough

Jamie Cullum, Alison Steadman, Tony Robinson, Matthew Parris, Michael Rosen and Cerys Matthews are just some of the celebrities who will be in Bristol for the weekend.

We have fourteen workshops and master classes in the University of Bristol's Merchant Venturers Building. Among the highlights - learn how to write comedy for radio, see an exciting new electronic instrument in performance and experience a sonic installation called Field Song.

AND if that's not enough there'll be 17 amazing performances in the University of Bristol's Merchant Venturers Building. Check out our brochure for more details. You don't need tickets for these.

Looking forward to seeing you at the festival if you can make it - if I'm still standing....

Nicki Ledgard is a Producer for Radio 4

The Art of Monarchy: An Audience with the Spanish Infantas

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Anna Reynolds 11:51, Friday, 9 March 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 Anna Reynolds considers the portrait of the Spanish Infantas - CM.

A portrait of the Spanish Infantas

Supplied by Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012

One of my favourite parts of being a curator is getting the chance to examine paintings in a way that you don't usually have the opportunity to do. Today for example, I was hoisted six metres up in the air on a single-person cherry-picker lift in order to get a face-to-face meeting with the two most famous Spanish Princesses of the sixteenth century.

The only surviving daughters of Philip II of Spain, Isabella Clara Eugenia and Catalina Michaela were born into an enormously powerful dynasty - their grandparents included the King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor. They were painted on two other occasions by the Spanish Court Painter Alonso Sánchez Coello. In one they are toddlers, Catalina supported by an early baby-walker on wheels. In the other they are older - and are probably represented as potential marriage prospects for the most powerful Princes across Europe. Both of those pictures are in Madrid. The Royal Collection painting I'm seeing today may be the missing link between the two.

It hangs in the Green Drawing Room, one of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, where it has been since at least 1863. It is positioned as what we call an overdoor - a painting, usually of roughly square proportions, which is typically set within an ornate panel over a door in a grand residence. Given that the doors within the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are double the height of a standard door our earlier attempt to see the picture using the tallest ladder available only meant we could see the bottom of the canvas. Hence the cherry-picker.

Which is how I came to find myself, first thing on a Monday morning, rising slowly up to meet the Spanish Infantas properly for the first time. I had looked up at them many times, although their all-seeing vantage point definitely gave them the advantage - providing them with the opportunity to watch Heads of State and members of the public pass beneath. But I knew that nothing would touch the moment when I could see them up close for the first time, and examine the details of their faces, their clothes, even their pets under a strong revealing light.

And it certainly lived up to the expectation. Although the painting is partially concealed behind a dark brown varnish, the clothes are painted with veracity and a level of detail that allows you to make out each pearl, each gold thread running through the fabric of their matching dresses. But it is the faces that stand out. Each is personalised, with a luminous subtlety, and the sisters have a knowing countenance well beyond their young age (they are probably only around six and five). Their poise for two so young partly reflects Spanish artistic convention, together with their position as heirs to their father's hugely powerful empire. But I get a sense that their demeanour and expression also have something to do with the loss of their mother at a very young age, and the strong relationship between them as a result. And despite their rigid Spanish court dress and serious expressions they have that plump rosy-cheeked innocence of childhood which has disappeared in their subsequent portraits.

The painting is about to be prepared for an exhibition about court dress opening next May at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace. The Princesses will certainly be two of the child stars of the show. Between now and then the painting will be carefully removed from its architectural frame and taken to the conservation studio. Layers of ancient varnish will be removed, old splits in the canvas re-repaired and a new frame built. And after their time in the spotlight is over, they will be returned to their vantage point, ready to watch subsequent generations of visitors pass through their doorway.

Anna Reynolds is the Curator of Paintings at The Royal Collection

Are you singing The People's Passion?

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Eloise McNaulty 15:29, Thursday, 8 March 2012

"This is water and life. This is grace in his heart."

Editor's note: Jonquil Panting, Producer of The People's Passion for BBC Radio Drama, tells us how you can join in during Easter Week.

A choir singing

The Choir of St. Mary's Church, Nantwich, rehearse The Easter Anthem for The People's Passion.

The clip you can hear above is from one of Nick Warburton's five beautiful plays for The People's Passion, BBC Radio 4's major series for Easter week. In it, singing is filling up the empty spaces in life for one young man who's struggling to find work. As any singer of any level knows, coming together with others to sing lifts the heart, bolsters confidence and connects communities, as well as making beautiful music for us all to enjoy. And the music our young character is singing here, is music you can sing too - along with thousands of others.

Because this Easter week, more than one hundred choirs across the British Isles and around the world will be singing The People's Passion in a unique nationwide premiere. For the very first time, BBC Radio 4 has commissioned a brand new Mass setting and an Easter anthem "Love's Young King", from the award-winning poet Michael Symmons Roberts, and the composer of the Manchester Carols, Sasha Johnson Manning. Michael's fresh and immediate lyrics, and Sasha's uplifting settings, make this moving music for anyone to sing. So as well as accompanying our season of dramas and discussions on air, we've made it freely available for choirs everywhere to sing as part of their Easter celebrations. And, from Dunfermline to the Channel Islands, from North Carolina to Birmingham and Kenya, choirs big and small are joining in. They'll be singing in great cathedrals, tiny churches, schools, shopping centres and supermarket car parks, and 36 BBC Local Radio stations will be following their progress. Here is our list of choirs and performances that you can join

And there's still time to join us! With four weeks to go, many choirs are just starting their rehearsals. You can find out more and download sheet music, backing tracks and mp3s for your choir here.

There are choirs in Kidderminster, Ruddington, Rickmansworth, Dunfermline, Jersey, and Winsley that are appealing for more singers. In Southwell, Notts; Lewes, East Sussex, and Warmley, South Gloucestershire, you can learn and perform the music in just one day. Or simply go along to listen at any of the performances, to be part of this nationwide festival of song.

These are all the performances of The People's Passion we know about. If we've missed yours out, please let us know via our contact form, or tweet #bbcpeoplespassion, and let us know how you're getting on. Choirs: we salute your passion! See you at Easter.

Jonquil Panting, Producer of The People's Passion for BBC Radio Drama

Nominate your New Elizabethans

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Jim Naughtie 09:17, Monday, 5 March 2012

My head is buzzing with names. Since we started the search for sixty New Elizabethans I’ve been bombarded, by email and in conversation, with suggestions for the people who’ve made most difference to this country in the last six decades. I’m glad to say that they are as weird and wonderful mix as we had hoped.

I had expected Margaret Thatcher and Paul McCartney, Alan Bennett and Tim Berners-Lee, but maybe not Tim Smith of The Cardiacs and Dan Bricklin, who invented the spreadsheet.

They all go into the capacious hat with the other nominations ready for the great task of sorting them out and coming up with a list that tells the story of our age.

The website is open until March 9 so there is time for more nominations before our panel of wise men and women – soon to be announced – start their deliberations. It isn’t a vote – so write-in campaigns won’t help (as well as being painfully obvious) - but we want the field to be as wide as possible. The sixty should catch the sweep of our times, from the fifties onwards, and they should take us into every walk of life.

The nominations so far show some intriguing patterns. Politics is heavily subscribed, all the way from Winston Churchill to Alastair Campbell, which you might say is quite a span. Science does well, I’m glad to say, with Crick and Watson obvious candidates – along with Rosalind Franklin whose work was so important in their identification of DNA. It’s a category where unsung heroes have their moment – James Goodfellow invented the PIN number and Jock Kinneir (note – correct spelling) the road signs that we’ve known since the sixties.

The usefulness of the unusual names is that they’re going to be placed alongside the obvious figures who’ve dominated our landscape (although I’m surprised at one or two who’re not there yet…). I confess that I hadn’t expected Shirley Bassey or Keith Floyd or Damon Albarn. But there they are.

And one other surprise is that the arts, at this stage, are rather underrepresented. More writers please…like the names that have been thrown at me by listeners – Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, Graham Greene, W.H.Auden. I’m glad that Jan Morris and C.L.R.James have popped up, so keep them coming. And what of musicians? We have a good list of rock and pop stars so far, but too few, I suspect, from the classical world. Likewise, the stage. Start chucking some theatrical names at us.

Sport is coming along nicely, with Henry Cooper slugging it out with Alex Ferguson and plenty household names….and we’re beginning to get a good list of people who have made us laugh. Even if some of them, I confess, have left me cold over the years. But it’s not a matter for me…

True to form, our awkward squad has assembled for the occasion. Not only have people nominated the Kray brothers but also Peter Rachman, whose activities as a landlord fifty years ago became a byword for predatory housing discrimination. Christine Keeler is there, and someone has nominated a bete noire of our own time, Fred Goodwin, on the grounds that he has some similarities with Sir Walter Raleigh, which I’m afraid escape me. The argument is that each of them, in quite different ways, put a stamp on our time. Who can argue with that?


Christine Keeler

True to form, our awkward squad has assembled for the occasion. Christine Keeler is in there.

I am glad that the decisions are not mine, for it’s clear even now that there is going to be some passionate debate about who should emerge from the pack. The more you think about it, the more you start to wonder who counts as a big beast, and who is a bird of passage. Speaking of which, David Attenborough is piling up a great many nominations – the prize for having entranced three generations.

We’re going to have a fine list for the programmes which I’ll write and present from June onwards, painting a picture of each of the characters and fitting them into a mosaic that represents our last sixty years.

Famous or infamous, obvious or obscure, do let us know why you think there is someone who should be considered. At the moment the sixties are doing better than the fifties, men are outnumbering women by about three to one, but we’re avoiding to heavy a concentration on contemporary figures, which is good. The more names we have to juggle with, the more chance there is of getting it right.

Although I know it will be impossible to stop the arguments…

Jim Naughtie presents Today

Nominate your New Elizabethans on the Radio 4 website

Max Hastings, Mary Beard, John Guy and Lola Young discuss who the New Elizabethans on Start the Week. Listen now.



Bookclub: The Line of Beauty

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Jim Naughtie 15:30, Sunday, 4 March 2012

Ed's note: Radio 4's Bookclub is on at 4pm this Sunday 4 March and is repeated on Thursday 8 March at 3.30pm. You can also listen online after broadcast or download the podcast - CM

Alan Hollinghurst

Alan Hollinghurst, author of The Line of Beauty

Should we speak about The Line of Beauty as a gay novel? It is one, in the sense that we'd describe a story of spies as a thriller, because the story turns on the sexual adventures and dreams of the central character, Nick. The book is also an expedition into a world that Alan Hollinghurst knows will be new to many of his readers, and maybe unsettling. Set soon after the arrival of AIDS in the eighties, it's a picture of a sub-culture that's in the process of becoming a branch of the mainstream, and therefore you can say that the novel has a kind of revelatory purpose. The story is not told for those who already know the world it describes, but in large measure for those who don't: therefore it's quite fair to call it a gay novel. Alan told us in the programme that he was perfectly content with that description, so long as it wasn't used as a way of suggesting that the book was restrictive in its reach. It isn't, which is why it won the Booker prize in 2004 and became a bestseller.

It became clear in the course of our conversation that his intent was to look back at a time of (relative) repression in the 80s from the vantage point of the new century when attitudes had shifted dramatically, in one of the most striking changes in public morality in modern times. Alan would be the first to argue that the difficulties/prejudices/misunderstandings he explores in the novel were still there in 2004, to a greater degree than some would like to admit, but the times had certainly changed. Nick's arrival in London in the mid-eighties (which Alan told us had an autobiographical tone) was a much more nervous and intimidating one for someone trying to establish his sexual identity than it would have been a couple of decades later.

The "line of beauty" of the title comes from Hogarth, a serpentine line with two contrary movements that he found particularly attractive and compelling, and one of our readers - who said he reckoned he had been a touch homophobic when he started the book - said that he found the intertwining of straight and gay worlds implied in that image a satisfying one. He was given the authorial nod of approval.

The story follows Nick through his London adventures (they are rather different in character from those of his Dickensian namesake) and tries to capture the atmosphere of the Thatcher years at their zenith, before her last victory in 1987. It's a time of excess - in Nick's case, with large quantities of sex and cocaine - and also of collisions. He lodges with the family of a friend whose father is a Conservative MP and we're taken through a story of secrecy, suppressed lust, wild experimentation, scandal (though not Nick's) and, eventually, fear. There is even a cameo appearance by The Lady herself, and Nick manages to pluck up the courage to take her on to the dance floor at a party in Notting Hill only with the help of cocaine.

Around him is a family that catches some of the social attitudes of the time, and his friends reflect a mix of generosity and greed, prejudice and affection that paint his life in rich colours. He is the innocent abroad - one of our readers felt an echo of Nick Carraway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby - and the novel has something of the picaresque about it, structured around a journey that takes him from the heady excitements of his first experience of London, through his patient research on the style of Henry James and the contrasting sexual adventures that he starts to enjoy, to the gentle melancholy of an acceptance that at least one lover has been taken by AIDS and it may be that he will follow.

In the course of our discussion, we talked a good deal about the style of the book, which is greatly admired. Alan's writing method is a highly individual one. He begins a story only after a long period of research, in which he assembles the world of the novel, and then he writes steadily and slowly from beginning to end, perhaps only completing 300 words or so each day. The joy of it is - he says - than when it is over, there is no serious revision to be done. The book is there. An exception to his patient pace was the opening of The Line of Beauty: he says he sped through the first couple of pages in a kind of trance. They were just right.

After his first novel, The Swimming Pool Library, which won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1989, readers familiar with his work will not have been surprised by the uninhibited sexual scenes, in which only the characters display any hang-ups, never the author. And it's a measure of the changing attitudes that are explored in this story, that although they no doubt still take some readers by surprise (and shock others) they seem now much less of a talking point than once they were. They are simply there.

It is a gay novel, and why not?

I hope you enjoy our discussion, on Sunday March 4th at 4pm and again on Thursday March 8th at 3.30pm.

Our next recording is with Philippa Gregory, talking about The Other Boleyn Girl. If you'd like to come to that edition, on Monday 23rd April in Central London, tickets are free and available from our website.

Happy reading

Jim Naughtie presents Bookclub

  • Visit the Bookclub website where you can listen to the cast archive of author interviews, download the Bookclub podcasts and sign up for the email newsletter.
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80 Years of the World Service

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Gwyneth Williams Gwyneth Williams 15:30, Friday, 2 March 2012

We are celebrating eighty years of the World Service this year.  And this is also the year that Bush House is to close and colleagues will join us here in Broadcasting House.

Before I came to Radio 4 I was Director of the English World Service and one of my last commissions was to invite Hamid Ismaelov, the well -known and much translated Uzbek writer and Head of the Uzbek service, to serve as the World Service Writer in Residence.  

He has written a poem which was broadcast this week on The Strand -  the World Service daily arts programme-  in honour of Bush House.  I thought you might enjoy it. Gwyn.

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

A poem by Hamid Ismaelov:‬

‪From my childhood spent in a clay hut of a mountainous Uzbek village‬

‪to my life in a Soviet Moscow in a shanty two piece flat,‬

‪I used to dream of a grand house‬

‪with a marble staircase.‬

‪That dream was quite regular:‬

without any intention I dreamt again and again that house with marble columns and stairs, leading upwards.‬

‪I read Freud, I read Yung, I read other interpreters  trying to understand what does that dream mean?‬

‪A gypsy fortune-teller told me in Sverdlovsk: 'You'll have a grand house in your future, the house with marble columns and stairs leading upwards'.‬

‪My life is nearly ending, but living in an ex-council town-house I often think what about was that empty promise, that dream which never came true? ‬

‪But dreams aside all of a sudden I realised that over the last 18 years  almost a third of my life I lived in that house with marble columns and stairs in between leading upwards.‬

‪I haven't noticed it until we've been asked to leave it.‬

‪Bush House - the Noah's Arc of nations,‬

‪the runway where voices take off and fly over the Earth,‬

‪the kingdom where echoes of dead are kept alive,‬

‪the thinking brain, the watchful eye, the sharp tongue and the caring heart of meridians,‬

‪Bush House - an English pub, an Uzbek chay-khana, a Spanish tavern, an African hut, a Russian kabak,‬

‪where views and opinions fly around vibrating the globe,‬

‪Bush House - a cold mirror in front of that old, beautiful and furious world...‬

‪A house of my unnoticed but fulfilled dream...‬



Anoushka Shanka performs for The Strand at the live concert to celebrate 80 years of the World Service.

Anoushka Shanka performs for The Strand at the live concert to celebrate 80 years of the World Service.



In Our Time newsletter: Benjamin Franklin

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Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg 14:09, Friday, 2 March 2012

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


Well, although we tried as hard as we could, we covered only a fraction of the field that is Benjamin Franklin. One of the more important aspects we left out was his belief in "the virtue of modesty". He did not patent his inventions but thought they ought to be free for others. He gave libraries and other lending institutions to the people. In his Autobiography he not only articulated the American Dream, but also very firmly pointed out that a principal aim in life was to serve the public and to return to them what you might have been given. He left his great wealth to the public and for the public good.

Benjamin Franklin

One aspect we missed out was his relationship with George Whitefield, the Anglican minister and friend of the Wesley brothers, who preached so successfully in America. All of them were forced out of the Anglican Church and became Methodists. Whitefield was an extraordinary man. Not very tall, not very charismatic to look at, but he could command audiences of thirty thousand in open country, and did so regularly up and down the eastern seaboard of America in what was called the First Great Awakening.

Franklin was astounded that he could reach so many people and made measurements to satisfy himself that this was humanly possible. It turned out it was. But he also went to so many meetings to do his experiments that he began to listen to what Whitefield had to say. Although Franklin was against any institutionalised Christianity, he was a believer in God and he became a disciple - if I can use that word - of the charismatic speaking manner of Whitefield.

He himself had little time to cultivate the art of public speaking. To be charismatic to a mass of people was not the way he wanted to live his life. Yet, in article after article in his newspaper, he extolled what Whitefield was doing - mostly in the extraordinariness of his speech and articulation and the operatic reach that he had, but also in the 'gospel' that he preached - the humanity and Sermon on the Mount backbone of Whitefield's message appealed to Franklin very much indeed. It was these men (the Wesley brothers and Whitefield) who first took the gospel to black areas in America. It's worth remembering that if you were baptised a Christian, you couldn't, in principle, be a slave.

I then went out into the almost absurdly brilliant late winter/early spring sunshine of London in all its glory. You could see why Franklin, once he got here, never wanted to leave until the aristocracy forced him out.

Down Regent Street, into Savile Row to see how little fashion changed, then through the Burlington Arcade, and across the street there was a crowd, a host. The Queen was about to visit Fortnum and Mason with the Duchess of Cambridge, out shopping while Prince William was away.

And then onward to my barber to have the spring haircut and then into St James's Park, of course.

Look, I go to St James's Park a lot but I can't keep writing about it. Nevertheless, it is fantastic at the moment. And there is this combination once more - the daffodils are out and elegant French teenagers are out in hordes and the pigeons are larking about as if they were - well, larks. There was a man sitting on a bench who had heard the Benjamin Franklin programme and wanted to have a long conversation about it, but after I said I had to get a move on, he gave me a message for Jeremy Paxman and I left.

When I came into the Lords the first remark from a Labour peer was "It's outrageous. It was absolutely outrageous". It took me, I must confess, a few nanoseconds to realise that of course he was talking in the lingua franca of the male members of the House of Lords - football. He was a Tottenham supporter and after being behind 2-0, Arsenal had gone on to beat them 5-2.

There's something that earths you about the Upper House.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

The Art of Monarchy - 'White Gold'

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy 11:51, Friday, 2 March 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 Kit Maxwell considers porcelain in the Royal Collection - PM.

Porcelain in The Royal Collection

Supplied by Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012

Porcelain ranks among the Royal Collection's greatest treasures, yet the importance of the material and its significance as a demonstration of wealth and status has become somewhat lost in the twenty-first century, when porcelain or 'china' is available in every high-street homestore - we can even buy it with our groceries at the supermarket. It's difficult to imagine that this opaque, vitreous material, now industrially produced around the world, was once so precious and highly sought after that it was known as 'white gold.'

Until the early eighteenth century the method of its production was a closely guarded secret of the Chinese and Japanese, and porcelain was only available in the West as costly imports. However, this compelling and enigmatic material soon became an essential component in the furnishing of princely apartments; Europe became gripped by 'porcelain mania', and as fortunes were spent on this precious cargo, China was dubbed 'the bleeding bowl of Europe'.

For several centuries, the monarchs and princes of Europe vied with one another to be the first to discover the secret of porcelain manufacture and to add a porcelain factory to the glory of their state. Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland was the happy monarch to first succeed in this endeavour, having essentially imprisoned an alchemist to this purpose (actually, he wanted to turn base metal into gold, to replenish the royal coffers, but the accidental discovery of porcelain was the next best thing). The essential ingredient was a particular type of high-firing clay known as kaolin, which it's alleged the alchemist chanced upon whilst attempting to make crucibles strong enough to resist the high temperatures necessary to melt the base metals. This momentous discovery resulted in the foundation of the Meissen factory, just outside Dresden, in modern Germany, in 1710.

The workers at Meissen were jealously guarded, to prevent the factory's secrets being spread. However, espionage soon became the order of the day, and several workers were enticed to defect to other countries and within a decade or so there were several notable European porcelain factories.

In France, the absence of known deposits of kaolin resulted in a slightly different type of porcelain; less resilient to high temperatures than 'true' porcelain, this became known as 'soft-paste' porcelain.

Its different composition gave it a slightly creamier tone and enabled a wider range of luxurious colours to be fired into the glaze. What initially had started out as a substitute porcelain, in the absence of kaolin, soon overtook the production of 'true' or 'hard-paste' porcelain in other European countries and came to dominate the European market for luxury goods.

At the head of soft-paste porcelain production was the royal factory at Sèvres, just outside Paris. It had started out, in the 1740s, as an experimental concern in the disused royal château of Vincennes, but had quickly caught the attention of the Louis XV and his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. The king was so impressed by the factory's productions that, in 1756, he bought it out right. With the support of the most powerful monarch in Europe, the factory attracted the most talented alchemists, designers, sculptors and artists of the day (including the painter François Boucher). Its wares were at the very cutting edge of fashion, reflecting contemporary trends in textile patterns and colours, the latest sculptural forms of the rococo and neo-classical styles, and often incorporating painted scenes adapted from fashionable pictures. New designs were launched every year and previewed in the king's apartments at Versailles. A single teacup and saucer could cost several times the annual salary of a labourer, and Sèvres porcelain was the must-have brand in royal and aristocratic houses across the continent.

Following the French revolution, the dispersed collections of the ancien régime were eagerly snapped up on the art market. Without a doubt, the most voracious buyer was George IV. Although many of the items were already several decades old when he acquired them (first as Prince of Wales, then as Prince Regent and finally as King), they had lost none of their allure as unmistakable signifiers of princely magnificence. So obsessed was George IV with Sèvres, that he was buying it until the very day he died (an event which had a noted impact in the salerooms), and the British Royal Collection can consequently boast the finest assemblage of Sèvres porcelain in the world. From dinner services to pot pourri vases, visitors can see much of the collection at Windsor Castle or in the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace.

Once you get your eye in and imagine the context in which, and for which, it was created - the rich brocades and silks; the carved, painted and gilded wood panelling; the heady perfumes; the whitened complexions heightened with rouge; the powdered hair and flickering candles bringing to life the gilded decoration - you can soon appreciate how evocative these objects are of a brief period of unparalleled luxury during the final decades of the eighteenth century in France.

Whilst the ruling houses of Europe considered a privately owned porcelain factory an essential asset, the British monarchy left the success of porcelain manufacture to the entrepreneurial spirit of its people. This resulted in a remarkable run of comparatively short-lived factories, producing wares of considerable artistic and technical accomplishment. These did not escape the attention of the royal family. Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, purchased an extremely fine dinner service from the Chelsea factory in 1783. It was a gift for her brother, the Duke of Mecklenburg Strelitz. Its style is overwhelmingly rococo, with many of the shapes inspired by gold and silverwares, demonstrating the close competition between precious metals and porcelain on the dining table. The service re-entered the Royal Collection as a gift to Queen Elizabeth (consort of King George VI and the future Queen Mother) in 1947. It can be seen in the Bow Room at Buckingham Palace during the annual Summer Opening of the State Rooms.

The service commissioned by William IV from the Yorkshire-based Rockingham factory in 1831 is, however, arguably the most ambitious and accomplished service made by a British manufacturer. It has a nautical theme, reflecting the King's service in the navy and Britain's maritime achievements. Encrusted with coral and shells, it's also decorated with the national flowers of the United Kingdom, with modelled exotic fruits to represent Britain's overseas dominions. It was such a work of skill and craftsmanship that it wasn't completed until Queen Victoria's coronation, some seven years later. The service is still used at State Banquets for the third and fourth courses and parts of it are on display in the China Museum at Windsor Castle. It has particular significance this year as the inspiration for The Queen's Diamond Jubilee commemorative china; the delicate 'Brunswick blue' ground overlaid with gold oak leaf swags remains every bit as appealing as it was over 150 years ago.

Kit Maxwell is Art of Monarchy Project Curator at The Royal Collection

Feedback: The World Service at 80

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 11:26, Friday, 2 March 2012

Roger Bolton

Feedback's presenter Roger Bolton

Last Wednesday something unprecedented happened in the Bush House car park on the Aldwych in London's West End.

It took place in what looked like a hospitality tent brought over from a racecourse or a country fair. Inside there were long racks of scaffolding to which several lights were attached, throwing a mixture of red and white light onto the red carpets below.

Large blown up photographs of the great and the good, from Michael Palin and David Attenborough to Kofi Annan and King Abdullah of Jordan, and accompanied by laudatory quotes, looked down on a rather bizarre scene.

Four trestle tables had been pushed together and were surrounded by a large number of stools, on which sat, rather uncomfortably, the editors.

Their 9am meeting on the day's BBC World Service news agenda was being broadcast for the first time. Unsurprisingly, the participants were being unusually polite to each other.

Standing above them were cameramen zooming in to whoever was speaking, sound recordists with their microphones on long poles swinging backwards and forwards, and an assortment of invited guests and journalists like Feedback's presenter.

The reason for this remarkable broadcast was to celebrate, and of course promote, the BBC's World Service on its 80th birthday, which takes place shortly before Bush House is deserted in favour of the new BBC News Centre at Broadcasting House, a couple of miles away.

When the World Service began expectations seem to have been rather low. It was then called the BBC Empire Service and the then BBC Director General , John Reith, announced that "The programmes will neither be very interesting nor very good".

After the meeting on the news agenda finished I talked to one of the participants, Steve Titherington, the Senior Commissioning Editor, Global News.

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By the way, the World Service has just announced that 7 million Iranians now tune in to its broadcasts, a rise of over 85% over 3 years.

Perhaps that explains the recent harassing of the families of those who work for the Persian Service.

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

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