Archives for August 2012

Al Murray, Tim Key and lots of rum: The Horne Section in Edinburgh

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Julia McKenzie 14:14, Friday, 31 August 2012

Editor's note: Producer Julia McKenzie gives us a behind the scenes look at recording Alex Horne Presents The Horne Section: Edinburgh Special - listen to the programme on Sunday at 19.15 - CM

Alex Horne

Alex Horne at the Edinburgh Fringe

The Horne Section have become a must-see act at the Fringe as there's no one really doing anything like them, and they are brilliant at what they do. I saw them performing a preview show in a tiny venue in Camden, London before their first Edinburgh a couple of years back and loved the combination of Alex Horne and his five piece band.

Alex isn't especially musical and tries to operate the band as though they are a rather cumbersome piece of technology whereas they are in fact superb, very tight musicians and the end result is an alchemy that only their long-standing friendship, patience and trust makes possible.

Our first series for Radio 4 aired earlier this year and as we're between series it's been great to have this opportunity to do a one-off up in Edinburgh. We recorded the show in the special BBC compound at Potterow where all sorts of performances and masterclasses have been happening during the festival.

Although it is generally rather hectic and everyone looks more ill as the month progresses the key advantage of doing a radio show at the fringe is that everyone is in the same place, so it's easy to meet up and rehearse, and there are also plenty of comedians held captive there which makes guest booking a bit easier. We were thrilled to have Al Murray and Tim Key agree to be guests in this show - they are both performers who have won Edinburgh comedy awards in their own right, and also sell out their own shows consistently.

Al Murray

Al Murray appears as a guest

As is traditional with most artists who have been hoofing the stage night after night, often in more than one show, and not eating anything green for the entire month of August, all of the band seemed to go down with a sore throat and a cough - so that was a bit of a worry when we had to do a run-through with most of them rasping and hacking away.

Dramatically there was even more of a scare when Alex had a really quite serious accident a couple of days before the show which involved another comedian who shall remain nameless (but there might be a clue in this blog) and some rum. The drinking of the rum was not the problem. Paramedics were involved and the group had to cancel one of their own Horne Section gigs in order for Alex to recover. But Nurse Showbizz nursed him back into the limelight and he made an excellent return to form and the radio show went ahead as planned with no further mishaps, and you can hear the results here.

We do have one other surprise appearance in the show who I have not listed and you'll need to listen to the end to see who. Sadly only those in the audience on the night will have seen whether he wore any underwear, and yes that really happened, if you were there.

Julia McKenzie is the producer of Alex Horne Presents The Horne Section on Radio 4.

Bookclub: Victoria Hislop - The Island

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Jim Naughtie 09:00, Friday, 31 August 2012

Editor's note: Radio 4's Bookclub is on at 4pm this Sunday 2 September and is repeated on Thursday 6 September at 3.30pm. You can also listen online after broadcast or download the podcast. Here, Jim Naughtie talks about the themes that are discussed in Bookclub this week about The Island by Victoria Hislop. - PM


Victoria Hislop author of The Island

Crete is an atmospheric island. I remember once walking the gorge that seems to split it in two, and becoming entranced by the stories that Patrick Leigh Fermor tells inimitably in his memoir of the war of how the partisans hid in those crevasses as they pursued their daring fight against the invader. There's an atmosphere there that is a combination of remoteness and antiquity, a feeling that it has special ways that have never changed. But I didn't visit Spinalonga. Victoria Hislop's novel, The Island, a best-seller that seemed to come from nowhere uses that place to spin a marvelous yarn. Spinalonga was the leper colony.

Victoria was hypnotized by it when she went across from Crete by chance, taken by the story of the people who were effectively imprisoned there, held by their incurable disease, and separated from their families just across the water. It's a story, she told this month's group of readers, that made her cry regularly while she was writing it. The central character is Eleni, a schoolteacher who contracts the disease and whose husband, Yorgis, has travelled back and forth to the island with food supplies before his wife is diagnosed and has to go there. The book contrasts the two worlds of Spinalonga and Plaka, across the water, which has no leprosy but in some ways emerges as a rather darker place. In that sense, the story is about the resilience of human beings who can find ways of never abandoning hope.

The story comes out through the travels and investigations of Alexis Fielding, who's travelled to Crete from London to piece together her family history, and she discovers the story of Spinalonga. Like many of us I suppose, she underestimated how recently there were colonies where the incurables were confined, and it is a shock. Victoria described her feelings on going there for the first time. "My first impression of going to Spinalonga was that people hadn't lived miserable lives there. I don't believe in ghosts - white phantoms - but I believe in atmosphere very strongly, and in Spinalonga, people left something of themselves behind, and the atmosphere was not unhappy."

Alexis learns the story of the two daughters of Elena and Yorgis, Anna and Maria, who are really black and white, ying and yang. Maria is the less beautiful of the two, but much more of an angel by nature. (Victoria discovered as she was writing that she was interested in how beauty can begin to corrupt a woman's character...and that's what happens to Anna). Through them, and Yorgis, who moves back and forth to the island - the only character who can inhabit both worlds, as he has done for years - Alexis lifts the layers in the family story, which naturally enough produces some surprises. I won't give them away.

And I suggested to Victoria that in part The Island was a meditation on secrecy, and in our discussion readers expressed their attraction to the idea in the book that secrecy can sometimes be an affliction that is as desperately sad as leprosy itself: that the deceptions and cover-ups that we practise are a part of our lives, and a disease that, to some degree, we are all condemned to suffer. Sometimes the inmates of Spinalonga, cut off from the world, live more fulfilling lives than those they leave behind.

Our next programme will be with the American writer Marilynne Robinson discussing Gilead on the first Sunday in October, and our next recording is in London on October 15 when we'll be talking to Andrew Miller about his Costa-winning novel, Pure. A treat.

Happy reading


Jim Naughtie presents Bookclub

Desert Island Discs Prom - Live Chat

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Jane Long Jane Long 08:03, Friday, 31 August 2012

To mark the 70th anniversary of Desert Island Discs, a unique concert is taking place on Monday 3rd September as part of the BBC Proms. Kirsty Young will be joined by former castaways live on stage at the Royal Albert Hall to share some of their musical choices.

We'll be running a live chat during the concert, so come to this post on Monday evening at 7pm to join in the conversation as you listen.

Feedback: Woman's Hour / Men's Hour

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 14:35, Thursday, 30 August 2012

Editor's note: This week Feedback looked at the Bank Holiday Edition of Woman's Hour which broadcast simultaneously with Five Live's Men's Hour. You can hear the programme again here. PMcD.

Roger Bolton

I was extremely nervous doing Feedback this week, not something I usually feel. The reason? I had to conduct a discussion with two of the brightest and toughest BBC radio editors in the business, and with one of its sharpest young journalists, Tim Samuels, and with Jane Garvey, she of the gentle but lethal put down, someone who is, for my money, just about the best in the business.

All at the same time.

Having been a programme editor I would have been quite happy talking to them through their headphones and telling them what to do, but chairing a discussion with them? Surely they would want to take over and tell me what I should be asking.? Strangely they were as good as gold, which is equally worrying.

Did I miss the tough question?

We were discussing a radio first. The programme teams from Radio 4"s Woman's Hour and 5Live's Men's Hour had collaborated to make a joint programme, transmitted on both networks simultaneously.

Why, what was the point, and are more collaborations planned?

You can hear the programme on Listen Again. It was about "Secrets" and had some fascinating revelations.

The presenters were encouraged to reveal one of their own.

Jane pretended once more that she leads a rather dull domestic life, and Tim told us about having the hair on his back removed.

In our Feedback discussion I resisted the temptation to ask Tim to remove his shirt, and to confess to a promiscuous and bi sexual lifestyle. I know revealing mine would make me more interesting.... but I don't have one, I'm afraid.

PS: Also this week we asked you to send us your views on what the new Director General's priorities should be. We plan to hand deliver a bound volume containing your suggestions to George Entwistle on his first day in the job, September 17th. I'm sure you would not want him to have an empty in-tray.

Happy Listening,

Roger Bolton

Roger Bolton presents Feedback

Radio 4 Drama: Jack's Return Home

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Nick Perry 09:00, Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Editors note: You can hear Jack's Return Home on Radio 4 on Tuesday 28 August 2012, 23:00. Here, Nick Perry writes about the dramatisation of the 1970s crime novel by Ted Lewis that became the film Get Carter. PMcD

ted gateshead

You've probably seen Michael Caine in Get Carter but it's less likely that you've read the novel it's based on.

Ted Lewis's classic British thriller Jack's Return Home is actually set in North Lincolnshire. For the movie, writer-director Mike Hodges switched the action to Tyneside. You'll remember the scene at Newcastle Racecourse, and Alf Roberts out of Coronation St being chucked off the Trinity Square multi-storey car park, and the Wallsend ferry shootout. For the radio adaptation we decided to take the story back to its original setting, an unnamed town near Doncaster, often supposed to be Scunthorpe. Actually it's an amalgam of Scunthorpe with various fictional elements, a bit like Hardy's Wessex, but with fewer smocks.

By "we" I mean me and the serial's producers Toby Swift and Sasha Yevtushenko. We liked the deadpan delivery of the book's main character, Jack Carter, as he relates the often brutal events of the story. We wanted to make use of that tone by having Jack's first person narrative woven through the scenes in a classically Chandleresque way.

Hugo Speer as Jack nails it with a performance of great precision and a surprising degree of warmth - his character is, after all, a professional killer. His Jack seethes at the mean-spiritedness of what he calls the New Gentry - people who have risen to the top of provincial society on the back of the post-war boom.

Their town, their existence, is rainswept, humdrum, untouched, at the fag end of the '60s, by the summer of love, and governed by corrupt ganglords. We wanted to capture something of the period flavour, partly through resonances in the dialogue but also through our choice of soundtrack music. We looked for British records mainly from 1970, the year the action takes place, with the accent on less well-known acts: Badfinger not Beatles, Groundhogs not Stones. The slightly off-centre musical choices reflect Jack's view of his hometown as a place out of step with the times.

In one respect we did have an advantage over the movie. Hugo Speer is a son of Yorkshire and so had little or no discernible trouble with the accent. By contrast, in Get Carter, Jack comes home to Newcastle after an eight year absence, but when he opens his gob he sounds just like Michael Caine. Now, that doesn't stop us enjoying the movie, and that alone tells us a lot about verisimilitude in drama. We can get along without it very well.

But what helps us to accept this anomaly in the film version is the way that Jack's connection to the place is very much played down. In particular his past life with his brother - such a large part of the book - is pretty much passed over in silence. It's a missing dimension which, as it unfolds, adds emotional complexity and a couple of major twists to the plot, which we were able to reinstate for the radio version.

And then there's the ending. I love films that don't end until the last few frames, and Get Carter is a classic example of this. What can I tell you about the ending of the radio version without giving anything away? Nothing. Except to say that the ending of the film is not quite the same as the ending of the book, and the ending of the radio version is not quite the same as either of them.

Ted Lewis died in 1982, aged just 42. He wrote nine novels, all of which - with the sole exception of Jack's Return Home (and even that is marketed as Get Carter) - are currently and unjustly out of print. His work is, unaccountably, not mentioned in numerous supposedly comprehensive surveys of British crime fiction and yet his best writing deserves to be ranked alongside the best of anyone working in the genre in the past 50 years. Check him out.

Nick Perry 14th August 2012

Feedback: The New Elizabethans

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 09:08, Friday, 24 August 2012

Roger Bolton

This week, to mark the return of Feedback, I am going to discuss one of the programme's most closely guarded and expensive secrets. Who writes the script? Is it the overpaid presenter, ie me, or the underpaid and overworked producer (who is standing over my shoulder as I write this)?

The reason for raising this controversial, not to say embarrassing, issue is because this week some of our listeners have asked whether Jim Naughtie has written all the scripts of his series the New Elizabethans, and if so, whether he is responsible for the factual errors in some episodes. (To be fair, lots of people wrote in to say they loved the series as well).

Well of course, we at Feedback never make mishtakes and so need never apologise so that is not an issue, but what about the question of authorship? The New Elizabethans is a series of essays and we are assured that all have been written by the Bard of Aberdeen himself.

Feedback is rather different. It is a multi item programme driven by listeners and the producer sees everything you send in. She and I then discuss what we should feature but the final decision lies with the production team.

After I have done the interviews or discussions the producer decides on the running order and then does a draft script, containing the essential information.

I then turn it into, (well I was going to say " a vastly improved and finely polished masterpiece" -but she is still standing behind me) , er Bolton speak.

However, I would never agree to say anything I fundamentally disagreed with, and as I get decently paid for working less hard than the producer, its right that she should get the credit and I should take the blame.

Anyway back to that master wordsmith Alexander James Naughtie and his New Elizabethans.

In Feedback this week I talked to his producer and to one of his subjects, Professor Stuart Hall.

Next week on Feedback, well, I don't know yet, that is up to you.

Happy Listening,

Roger Bolton

Roger Bolton presents Feedback

  • Listen again to this week's Feedback, get in touch with the programme, find out how to join the listener panel or subscribe to the podcast on the Feedback web page.
  • Read all of Roger's Feedback blog posts.

The New Elizabethans: Goldie

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Pete Tong Pete Tong 15:16, Thursday, 23 August 2012

Editor's note: Nominations for The New Elizabethans were sent in by Radio 4 listeners and then a panel of experts decided on the final list.  Radio 4 broadcast profiles of the New Elizabethans daily (Mon-Fri) at 12.45pm. Here, Pete Tong gives a personal view of the contribution he believes Goldie has made to the UK Urban music scene. PMcD.




Goldie's inclusion as a New Elizabethan seems to have ruffled more feathers than any other nominee, but to me it seems the vast majority of the outraged either don't know who he is or incorrectly assume he's a part time actor and reality TV participant. If that was all he was, I'd be waving the flag in protest alongside you. Those of us more familiar with his contribution to British urban music are not surprised to see him included, and are pleased that the wider world has acknowledged that the UK's musical heritage didn't end with punk rock.

The UK's two biggest music and youth culture stories since punk have been dance culture and the evolution of British urban music. In many ways their stories are intertwined. But perhaps Goldie's nomination needs more context for those who are less familiar with how far the UK urban scene has come. In 1976 we would have been talking about the UK's black music scene, in 2012 it's urban because it captures all the sub-genres; from R&B to Hip-hop, Drum & Bass, UK Garage, Dubstep and Bassline; music for any creed, gender, ethnic background or religion.

UK Urban music had its heroes and success stories in the seventies and eighties. The Real Thing, Hot Chocolate, Loose Ends, Central Line, Hi Tension, Light of the World, Incognito, Junior Giscombe, Soul II Soul and Lynx are just a few. But you won't often hear many of the major artists or DJ's on BBC1Xtra today quoting them as inspirations or major influences.

The name that comes up time and time again with the current generation is Goldie.

Graffiti artist Goldie came to London in the early nineties and saw Grooverider play as the drum and bass sound was emerging from the ashes of the rave scene. What he saw, and more importantly, heard, inspired him to create his own music. Initially, his only ambition was to make a record that could feature on Grooverider's decks, but he soon made an impact.

In 1995, Goldie's debut album, TIMELESS, was released on my FFRR label. It was an album of ridiculous and unrestricted ambition. All rules and conventions of music making and what had come before were thrown out of the window. This was new music created from a blank canvas.

Compared to the tools available to the bedroom based artist/producer today, it was made with limited resources. Almost twenty years later it still sounds like it comes from another planet and another time.

The sound defines the term 'urban' and the title track is sixty minutes long. These days the record is looked upon as a modern classic, but the irony is that, at the time, it wasn't a commercial success and didn't even get nominated for the Mercury Prize. A year on, as if to prove Golide's influence on British music, Roni Size won the prize with his Drum & Bass album New Forms.

If you need further proof of Goldie's impact, consider this: In 2012 Tinie Tempah and Taio Cruz played the Olympic closing ceremony. Radio 1's playlist is dominated by the sound of UK urban music in all its forms.

New artists like Skrillex sound very fresh but go and have a listen to Timeless or Goldie's second album Saturn's Return and join the dots. If the now-hugely-popular Chase & Status released his Inner City Life today, it would be a massive hit. Goldie laid a huge foundation stone in this story and that is why he most certainly is a New Elizabethan.

Mark Steel's in... Leith

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Sam Bryant 10:35, Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Editor's note: This week Mark Steel went to Leith to record a special episode of Mark Steel's in Town - listen to the programme or watch the Red Button video broadcast. The producer, Sam Bryant, has put together these top tips about Leith from the show - CM.

Mark Steel reading about Leith on a train

'Mark Steel's In Town' has come up to the fringe festival to record a one-off episode of the stand-up show - this time about the Edinburgh district of Leith, home of Irvine Welsh, the Proclaimers, and some of the most bonkers pubs in Christendom. Here's some of what we picked up along the way...

  1. Leith is NOT Edinburgh
    Well, it is. But to say as much to a Leith local seems to be tantamount to perpetrating a hate crime. The district is very much its own place, with a unique mindset that comes from its history of having once been an independent port town full of hard-drinking dockers and sailors - as Mark observes, it's now a mixture of old industrial Britain, and a crazed squat.

  2. Visit the docks
    The docks are the heart of Leith. As well as being the commercial centre of the town, it was once the centre of the thrillingly - often illegally - lively nightlife. It's now home to a bizarre mix of new-Leith Michelin star restaurants and old-Leith warehouses and high rise flats. We met several ex-dockers with great tales to tell of when the docks were in full swing. One of them, Frank Ferri, has some excellent stories of the dancehalls and, bizarrely, the wrestling arenas of 1950's Leith, along with some even better (but sadly unprintable) stories of the powerful effect American-import Old Spice had on the young women of Leith...

  3. Leith's pubs are amazing
    Leith has a brilliantly grimy and eccentric nightlife, but a special mention has to go to the Port O'Leith pub. Everyone in there seems to be having the kind of good time normally depicted in a 1990s American teen comedy movie about frat parties. There's always - ALWAYS - someone dancing on the bar, sometimes in PVC shorts, and often to the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack. As the pub never seems to close, we can only assume this bar dancing has some kind of formal rota system, with dancers having to punch-in and punch-out at the start and end of their gruelling shifts.

  4. Shopping there is unusual
    Leith Walk is one of the best streets in the UK. Recently torn up and haphazardly re-assembled under the almost comically disastrous plans to install trams in Edinburgh, it's still home to some of the most, well, unique shops in Scotland. Some favourites: Borlands, which only sells two things - darts and televisions; Leith Cycles, which held a full birthday party for the endless building works outside its premises; and Robbie's bar, once the centre of Irvine Welsh's circle of literary outlaws, and the venue from which they cooked up a plan to impregnate one of their self-published magazines with LSD and slip it in to John Menzies for sale...

Leith often gets overlooked by those visiting Edinburgh, but we can't recommend it highly enough.

Sam Bryant is the producer of Mark Steel's in Town.

Karaoke, angry swans and a dangerous club sandwich - Radio 4 at the Fringe

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Clarissa Maycock 12:58, Friday, 17 August 2012

The BBC blocks on the Edinburgh site

Clive Anderson called Edinburgh the Athens of the North during Saturday's recording of Loose Ends (and not just to lead into a gag about Greece's economic collapse). For a few weeks in August Edinburgh becomes one of the cultural capitals of the world with thousands of shows taking place at the Edinburgh Fringe - including over 100 BBC shows.

If you come down to Fringe Venue 25 at the corner of Potterrow, you will find a tented village where you can experience the best of the BBC under one roof, including Radio 4 shows and workshops.

Festival-goers queue to see Just A Minute outside the Blue Tent.

The Blue tent is being used almost every day in August for radio and television recordings and has been hosting Radio 4 shows such as The Unbelievable Truth, Just a Minute, Front Row, Dilemma and the Today programme. The tent seats 300 people and Jim Naughtie confessed during the Today recording that being in the Blue tent was much more luxurious than his usual surroundings in the Today programme's London studios.

The Pink Tent

Live performances take place in the Pink Tent

You can hear music and comedy in the Pink tent, where there are free live performances happening every day to keep you entertained while you look around the site or wait to see a show. If you are very lucky, you might even be able to join The Horne Section in a bit of Band-a-Oke (like karaoke, but with musical backing from the famous band).

The radio studio and the green screen

There is also an opportunity to learn more about Radio 4 by attending the workshops '45 Years of Just a Minute' and 'Radio 4 and the Fringe', which give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how we make programmes. At the Information Point you can book an appointment to see BBC staff in action in the working on-site radio studio. You may even be asked to paricipate in a programme. We asked people on site to tell us their dilemmas just before the recording of Dilemma. Here is what the crowd (including Radio 1's Scott Mills & Radio 4 Extra's Arthur Smith) told us they were worried about:

If you don't get into the recording of your favourite Radio 4 show, there is still plenty to do in the BBC Venue. There is a big screen which has broadcast moments from the festival, including Nicholas Parsons discussing 50 Shades of Grey on Just a Minute and Mark Watsons' short story about a disasterous club sandwich on Comic Fringes. You can also have your photo taken in front of our green screen and we will put your picture in a scene of a BBC show of your choice.

Mark Lawson told the audience at Wednesday's Front Row recording that if the BBC at the Edinburgh Fringe was the Olympics, then Front Row would be beach volleyball. And we like to think the Olympic spirit is being kept alive (in a small way) by the on site ping-pong table, which is in near constant use by competitive festival-goers.

It's not just Radio 4 at the venue, there are more BBC shows here than ever before with seven radio networks on site in total. Plus BBC Three hosted an all-night comedy marathon in the Blue Tent which was broadcast live on Red Button.

The BBC Venue

Entry to the site is free, so if you are in Edinburgh, why not come and see us on the corner of Potterrow and Marshall Street? If you are not in Edinburgh, then you can catch up with the highlights of the festival in our Edinburgh collection.

Great highlights from Edinburgh Festival this week include:

Plus there's still plenty more of Radio 4 at Edinburgh yet to come, including Mark Steel's in Town, the Horne Section and The Kitchen Cabinet.

Today in Edinburgh

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Jim Naughtie 17:25, Monday, 13 August 2012

Editor's note: Jim Naughtie presented a special edition of the Today programme from Edinburgh on Saturday 11th August. He wrote this blog about the magic of the festival last week before travelling to Edinburgh - CM.



Where else should Today be in August but Edinburgh? The festival city comes alive, and has a fizz of its own. Jugglers on the Royal Mile, young actors finding their feet in hard-to-find basements and silent church halls, the best story tellers and comics at the book festival and on the fringe and still, beating away, the heart of it all in the International Festival itself which, for more than sixty years, has thrown some of the best artists in the world together and told them to get on with it.

Now, of course, there is more. The argument over the future of Scotland involves the whole of the UK, to make an obvious point that's sometimes forgotten. So when I present the programme from George Square on Saturday (August 11) we'll be diving into the arguments that are now being rolled out ahead of the referendum on independence, probably coming along in 2014. Although Scots have been dipping their feet in these waters for a long time, you can't miss a quickening in the pace. We'll talk about defence, about money and the economy, as well as the more generalized question of whether it's sensible to reconfigure the UK. But, fear not, Liz Lochhead will also be with us, Scotland's Makar, equivalent of the Poet Laureate, because we need a bit of her grit and fun, and Simon Callow will give us a bit of Dickens, because it is His year.

In other words, it will be a true Edinburgh event. I'm told that hundreds of listeners are coming along - they're great folk in Scotland for free tickets - and we'll try to catch something of the spirit of an elegant and vibrant place, even if it is in the midst of a terrible kerfuffle about the trams that are on the way and have - how can I put this delicately? - brought some angst to a city that Voltaire once called the most civilized place in Europe.

There was a time, in the heat of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, when a visiting English scientist said that you couldn't stand on the High Street outside the Kirk of St Giles for more than a couple of hours without shaking the hands of fifty men of genius. Festival-time always feels a little bit like that in the Edinburgh of today.

I've had some of my happiest times in those weeks when all the rules are lifted, and anything goes. Brilliant musicians, surprising plays and one-person shows, daft theatrical enterprises that go wrong, fireworks and out-of-tune pipes. There's nothing like it.

I hope we're a bit serious, and a bit festive. In August, Edinburgh becomes - how can I avoid the comparison? - an annual Olympics, fired up against the backdrop of Arthur's Seat, the Castle, and the elegant terraces of the New Town. I confess I bias - those BBC obligations always kick in - because I live part of my life there, as much as I can. I love it, and so do the people who zoom in from everywhere for festival month. I'll be at the Mass for Life by Delius in the Usher Hall tonight; I'll see some stand up comedy over the weekend; there are some shows I want to catch; and, above all, I'll surf the streets to find something new.

  • Listen again to the Today programme from the Edinburgh Festival.
  • Read Radio 4 Commissioner Caroline Raphael's blog post about finding talent in Edinburgh.
  • Visit the BBC's Edinburgh Festival website.

New Talent at the Edinburgh Fringe

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Caroline Raphael Caroline Raphael 14:04, Friday, 10 August 2012

Editor's note: Caroline Raphael is the Commissioning Editor for Comedy and Entertainment, BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 4 Extra. Follow her on Twitter - @CSRaphael1 - for updates and thoughts on this year's festival.

Edinburgh Year 34! I've been going to Edinburgh each August since I was student in 1978. This year as ever I'll be looking for shows to commission for Radio 4 later in the year, comedians and writers to develop series with and new for 2012 brand new comedians for a new show this October, Fresh from the Fringe.

If you are fortunate to be heading north for the Fringe Festival too, - or South or East or West depending on where you live -then you have a chance to see some of the current Radio 4 performers and writers in the flesh.

The Boom Jennies

The Boom Jennies

Loads of Radio 4 names will be there but here are some of the names you might be less familiar with or perhaps were less aware were on Radio 4 or who have literally just been commissioned to appear on the network.

Tim Fitzhigham will be heard on Radio 4 later on this year recreating an astonishing challenge from history. Tim is rather good at setting his own challenges including rowing a paper boat down the entire length of the Thames.

Can be seen in Edinburgh in Tim Fitzhigham: Stop The Pigeon.

If you enjoyed Rory Bremner's Tonight heard recently on Radio 4 (and about to record a Festival special) you will have caught Nick Doody's often blistering contributions.

Can be seen in Edinburgh in Look at This Massive Picture of My Face.

The Boom Jennies are a three woman sketch group . You might have caught them on a recent Sketchorama but you will be hearing more of them on Radio 4 as they have their own comedy show Challenging Jane. Think boys' own adventures for girls!

Can be seen in Edinburgh in The Boom Jennies: Mischief and Catriona Knox: Hellcat.

Thom Tuck

Thom Tuck

At last year's Festival I was utterly charmed by Thom Tuck's first solo show in which he demonstrated a slightly freaky interest in straight to DVD Disney films! We went onto broadcast that programme and have now commissioned a series from him.

Can be seen in Edinburgh in Thom Tuck Flips Out

Someone else whose 2011 Edinburgh show we broadcast was John Osborne's John Peel's Shed. It was an endearing personal memory of winning a box of John Peel's records. He's taken it back to the Festival this year. And you will hear more of him on Radio 4.

You may not be aware but two of the stars of the blissfully wonderful long running comedy Clare in the Community are Edinburgh and comedy regulars. Nina Conti plays Megan and Sarah Kendall plays Libby. Nina is also one of the best ventriloquists I've ever seen. Not only can she do the whole speaking without moving your lips bit, but the characters she creates for her 'puppets' are so compelling they begin to exist in their own right. The highlight of one of her early shows was Monkey taking over and becoming her. Shiveringly scary! Ventiloquism on radio....? Well, would not be the first time!

Can be seen in Edinburgh in Nina Conti: Dolly Mixtures and Sarah Kendall - Get Up, Stand Up.

Yasmine Khan is one half of Akram and Khan. With another writing and performing partner Aisling Bea she will be broadcasting a not always straightforward retelling of some Irish myths and legends.

Can be seen in Edinburgh in Ford and Akram: Bamp!

Jigsaw are Dan Antopolski, Tom Craine and Natt Luurtsema. The clever thing about Jigsaw is that each tiny sketch is a fragment that piece by piece they build into a chaotic picture of their lives. Their first series will go out on radio 4 next year.

Can be seen in Edinburgh in Jigsaw: Getting Jiggy.

From BBC Radio 4 Extra come Peacock & Gamble - stalwarts of the Radio 4 Extra Comedy Club. Wonder how seriously we are supposed to take the title of their Edinburgh show?

Can be seen in Edinburgh in Peacock & Gamble Don't Even Want to be on Telly Anyway. Who needs to be on telly when you can be on Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra!

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Brochure (or Comedy Catalogue as I call it) is enormous so I may have missed someone. I'll tweet others as I find them and do let me know what you recommend.

Radio 4 at the Edinburgh Fringe

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Clarissa Maycock 12:12, Thursday, 9 August 2012

Radio 4 is returning to the the world's largest arts festival this month - The Edinburgh Festival. Over 100 shows and masterclasses are taking place on the BBC's pop-up site in Potterow - including many Radio 4 shows.

There's a great line-up of comedy programmes heading to Edinburgh - Just a Minute, The Unbelievable Truth, The Horne Section, The Wondermentalist Cabaret, Dilemma and John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme are all being recorded during the Festival. Also, Mark Steel will be heading out into the Scottish capital's suburb of Leith for a special edition of Mark Steel's in Town.

The Horne Section

The Horne Section is one of the Radio 4 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe

It's not just comedy coming from Edinburgh - Jim Naughtie will present the Today programme from Edinburgh on Saturday 10th August and editions of Front Row and Loose Ends will take place at the festival. There'll also be episodes of Four Thought, The Philosopher's Arms and Tonight taking place, and Jay Rayner will be presenting an episode of The Kitchen Cabinet at the festival.

There are still some tickets available for the programme recordings on the BBC, apply for tickets on the BBC shows and tours site. These shows will be transmitted on Radio 4 over the coming weeks.

On top of the programmes being recorded there are also masterclasses featuring Radio 4 talent. Nicholas Parsons and Paul Merton appear in conversation for 45 Years of Just a Minute. There'll also be the chance to hear from Radio 4 Commissioning Editor Caroline Raphael and Head of Radio Comedy Jane Berthoud as they talk about Radio 4's relationship with the festival during Radio 4 and the Fringe.

A recording of The Unbelievable Truth

David Mitchell records The Unbelievable Truth in Edinburgh

On Radio 4 Extra Arthur Smith will be taking the Comedy Club to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to chat to some of the comics currently vying for audiences.

Apply for tickets to the masterclasses on the BBC shows and tours site.

We will be gathering the best of Radio 4 at the Fringe in our the Edinburgh collection.

Inside The Ethics Committee: Ventilation in Children

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Pam_Rutherford 17:17, Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Editor's note: Inside The Ethics Committee returns this week with the subject of Chidren in Intensive Care. You can listen again to the programme or download the series for free. PM

Joan Bakewell


What happens when children born with life-limiting, degenerative illnesses become so ill they need lifesaving treatment but that treatment has its own serious risks? Should they be kept alive at all costs?

Ben and Ayisha both have conditions which mean their muscles are getting weaker and weaker over time and they both end up in hospital because the muscles that control their lungs get too weak so they can't breathe on their own.

Ben is two and a half and Ayisha is 6 months old. They both end up in intensive care with ventilation to allow them to breathe. Ben needs to be sedated because of the discomfort of having a tube down his windpipe to help him breathe. Ayisha has a mask covering her face which pushes air in and sucks it out. She also needs intensive, painful physiotherapy to clear the secretions that build up in her lungs.

Both could have a surgical procedure called a tracheostomy where a tube is inserted directly into the neck and connected to a ventilator. This would mean Ben could come off sedation and Ayisha could remove the mask. With a tracheostomy both could go home. Ayisha's prognosis is that she is unlikely to live until her 2nd birthday and her muscles will get weaker. Already she can't suck or swallow and she could get to the point where she can't open her eyes. Ben's condition is rarer and the team don't know how severe it is and how quickly his condition will deteriorate.

Tracheostomy isn't pain free - they would both need regular suction to clear their lungs.

  • Should they be given a tracheostomy?
  • Does it risk them being kept alive but being too weak to express any emotion or able to see or interact with the world around them?
  • If this treatment is given, how do parents and doctors decide when and if it should be withdrawn as their health declines?

Joan Bakewell is joined on the panel by: Dr Paul Baines is Consultant in Paediatric Intensive Care Medicine at Alder Hey hospital, Deborah Bowman, Professor of Ethics and Law at St George's Hospital, London, John Wyatt Emeritus Professor of Ethics & Perinatology at University College London and Sally Flatteau Taylor, Founder of the Maypole Project that supports children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

Pam Rutherford is producer of Inside The Ethics Comittee

Live webchat with Chris Addison

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Frankie Ward 16:00, Friday, 3 August 2012

Chris Addison as Ollie in The Thick of It

The eighth series of Chain Reaction is now in full swing and continues tonight at 6.30pm with actor Rebecca Front on hosting duties. She'll be talking to her co-star from political comedy The Thick of It, Chris Addison. (You can listen to a sneaky clip here.)

After tonight's programme ends, you can grab your own slice of the interview action by heading to this page and joining our live webchat with Rebecca's guest, Chris Addison. He'll be on the BBC Radio 4 website from 7pm and will be with us for a full hour, answering as many questions as he can.

Please note that this is a moderated webchat, which means that we'll be receiving and reading all of your comments before selecting those we think Chris can answer.

If you're wondering what to ask, why not take a look at our interviews with our first Chain Reaction pair Jeremy and Rebecca Front?

Bookclub: Michael Ondaatje

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Jim Naughtie 16:00, Friday, 3 August 2012

Editor's note: Radio 4's Bookclub is on at 4pm this Sunday 5th August and is repeated on Thursday 9th August at 3.30pm. You can also listen online after broadcast or download the podcast - AI


Michael Ondaatje


The point about The English Patient is that the patient isn't English. He is a Hungarian count, but his identity has gone, burned away by the injuries of war when his aeroplane crashed in the Sahara desert. He told his Bedouin rescuers that he was English and that was what he remained. We meet him in an Italian villa where he is being nursed, and Michael Ondaatje's novel turns his hidden character into an unstoppable force, changing everyone who comes in contact with it. Although Count Lazslo Almásy's body is broken, he is a powerful source of emotional energy. Ondaatje told this month's Bookclub readers (Sunday 5 August at 4pm) that the story began simply, with the idea of a conversation in the night between a nurse and a man lying in a bed. That was all. Then, gradually, his background began to swim into focus - the war and the desert, the accident that nearly killed him. How was he burned? Then - who is the Canadian nurse Hana? What will happen to them as he tells his story?

"My books tend to go forward in plot, but backwards in an archaeological way, to find out what happened before," Ondaatje told us. He works slowly - the book took six years to write - and methodically. Piece by piece the story comes together, without any grand plan pinned to the wall that he can follow like a map. In The English Patient he brings back two characters from a previous novel, In the Skin of a Lion, because they seemed to fit, and above all because he liked them. He'd been sad to see Hana go, so back she came. So did Caravaggio, who is a spy, and has come to the villa on the trail of Hana. With Kip, the Sikh who is a sapper in the British army, and who searches for the bombs with which the area is mysteriously booby-trapped, they start to spin their tale.

As Ondaatje explained, there are two worlds brought together in the novel - Renaissance Italy, whose spirit still survives in the faded villa, and the empty desert, a place where every sand dune has a character of its own and every wind has a name. The count was an explorer, and the story is like a journey into the unknown with the only certainty that there will always be another secret to be unlocked. As he writer, Ondaatje began as a poet.

"Writing fiction brought what I love about poetry into fiction," he said. "Some novels declaim," but he wanted poetic intimacy. "The patient talking to a young nurse at night has that whispering element - poetry suggests much more than it gives you." He described it as a shaved-down quality in his fiction. He'd rather leave a suggestion than reveal the whole canvas.

The consequence is a hypnotic effect. Although Ondaatje takes great trouble to paint a background that feels solid - he used real stories he'd picked up in Cairo about the war in the desert, and pieced together the Count's expedition from historical accounts of cartographers' exploits in the Sahara - he still feels that he is a poet.

And of course our readers wanted to probe the question of identity. He's a Canadian citizen, of Sri Lankan Tamil extraction. Wasn't it therefore inevitable that nationality and identity would fascinate him? But no. "That's the last thing on my mind. I'm interested in character." That's why we come to care about the man who has no identity left. I hope you enjoy the programme.

Our next Bookclub, on 2 September (repeated on Thursday 6 September) is with Victoria Hislop, talking about her first, wildly-successful novel, The Island.

Our next recordings are with David Almond on Skellig, in Newcastle; Sathnam Sanghera on his memoir The Boy With the Top Knot, and Andrew Miller on Pure, both in London. Full details of dates and how to apply for free tickets are on our website:

Happy reading.


Jim Naughtie presents Bookclub

RAJAR: BBC stations stand out in strong quarter for digital radio

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Gwyneth Williams Gwyneth Williams 13:41, Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Rajar listening figures. A picture by Adam Bowie.

Rajar day - and another good quarter for Radio 4 and a particularly good one for Radio 4 Extra. Thanks to all programme makers for their work and do keep listening. Now let me hand over to Chris, the Radio 4 audience guru, for some details...

Chris Hutchings writes:

"The latest RAJAR numbers are in and overall it's a solid quarter for Radio 4 and a record quarter for Radio 4 Extra.

Between April and June 10.52m adults tuned in to Radio 4 each week, 213,000 more than we saw in January to March and the 5th highest numbers we've seen under the current RAJAR methodology (since at least 1999).

On average listeners tune in for 11 hours and 55 minutes each week. Whilst down slightly on last quarter (something that is perhaps not too unexpected given the growth in the numbers tuning in), Radio 4 continues to have the most loyal listeners of any UK-wide station.

And looking at sister station 4 Extra, April - June saw the highest audience numbers to date, with 1.64m adults tuning in each week. Indeed, despite a strong set of numbers for other digital stations, 4 Extra remains the UK's No.1 digital-only station."

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

Chris Hutchings is Research Manager, Audiences for BBC Audio and Music.

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