Archives for September 2012

Feedback: Operation Dropout

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 12:56, Friday, 28 September 2012

Roger Bolton

Sometimes, as a presenter or a continuity announcer, you can feel like an actor, simply reading the words in front of you, not all of which you will have written yourself. Life becomes a bit dull, you want something to go wrong, a situation to arise in which you and you alone stand between triumph and disaster. Of course in these daydreams you save the day and leave the studio to the acclaim of your colleagues, who look at you in a new light, and with the admiration of listeners.

That is the fantasy.

In reality presenters react in very different ways. Some TV hosts , tied to their autocues, just freeze. You can see the eyes go cold, the voice slow to a halt, witness the desperate rustling of papers and then the nervous smile as they wait to be rescued, cheeks flushed.

Others come alive, rejuvenated by disaster, in charge, momentarily, of "their" programmes.

In radio at least the blushes go unseen, but the voice tells all.

I remember in my early days on the Sunday programme losing my way in the script, having to tell the audience that I had done so, and waiting for an understandably irate producer to rush into the studio and sort me out.

On other occasions, when lines to contributors went down, I had to move on to another item as elegantly as possible, or extend an interview until the production team had sorted out the problem.

This of course is relatively easy to do with in a multi item magazine programme. In those days at least breakdowns seemed to be a rare event. Not now, in the view of listeners involved in Feedback's "Operation Dropout".

A particularly long breakdown took place on last week's Any Questions from Stratford Upon Avon.

For over six minutes the Radio 4 continuity announcer, Steve Urquhart, had to fill, not knowing for most of the time if the line would ever be re-established. I talked to him about how he tried to maintain grace under pressure. Here's our conversation, and details of a few more recent drop-outs...

Do let us know if you hear any links go down. The problems are clearly not going away.

Roger Bolton

Roger Bolton presents Feedback on Radio 4.

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In Our Time: The Ontological Argument

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Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg 10:18, Friday, 28 September 2012

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

The Ontological Argument


The Ontological Argument is quite a way down the list of subjects with which I would have thought I would get absorbed. But I did. The notion of a medieval Benedictine monk from Italy, via France, becoming Archbishop of Canterbury and sitting down to compose through logic alone a proof for the existence of God, and both proving it to the satisfaction of some people and not proving it to the satisfaction of others, was extremely seductive.

This, I thought, was what medieval monks should be doing. The idea of beginning with an assertion to which, as it were, "the fool in the psalms" - Anselm's starting point - could simply have said "well, I don't take that proposition as anything other than an assertion" (not the prose of Tyndale, but nevertheless I hope you get the gist) is something marvellous.

The thing about other worlds of knowledge is that the more you examine them and the more you get to know them, the more respect you have for them. It doesn't matter very much whether they seem to be way off-key when compared with "modern" knowledge or information. We have different techniques, discoveries have been made, arguments have been worked through, there are different proofs and so on. But the whole pleasure and virtue of history is to get to know it in the time that it was. And that time for Anselm was the Middle Ages and his attempt to provide in pure logic alone - and in just a few words - the answer to the universe is breathtaking. Perhaps even more breathtaking than Professor Higgs' revelation (he described it as this when the idea came to him on the Cairngorms) that his particle, the Higgs Boson, would be his answer to the beginning of the universe.

I would guess that you enjoyed as much as I did the way in which the three philosophers circled around and circled again the subject at hand. They were so complementary as well as being so complimentary. There's a great resolute, calm, courteous steadiness about Professor Haldane; Professor Millican has a crystalline quality of his own and Clare Carlisle proved to be, I hope you will excuse the word, brilliant at enunciating both the proposition and her reservations about it.

I was going to bang on about the odd week that sometimes happens, seeing an arena performance at the O2 of Jesus Christ Superstar; being invited to a concert at the Albert Hall; going to the book launch of a friend who's written something on the Russian archives; managing to get a couple of brisk walks on Hampstead Heath which is under-discussed in these notes but cannot be over-praised; all the privileges of a lucky metropolitan life.

And now we turn our guns on Gerald of Wales who also wrote about Ireland.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

BBC Food & Farming Awards - the results so far

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Katherine Campbell 17:49, Monday, 24 September 2012

The judges of the Food and Farming Awards have decided on their short lists in each of the nine categories. Dan Saladino, Producer of the Food and Farming Awards, writes about the nominations so far and what happens next.

Our twelve judges in the Food and Farming Awards 2012 BBC Food and Farming Awards 2012 , including Angela Hartnett, Valentine Warner and Charles Campion and Victoria Moore met recently to debate, taste and drink their way through thousands of nominations and decided on this year's finalists.

BBC listeners, viewers and online users had sent in nominations from all over the UK, covering nine different food categories, from Best Food Producer to Best Food Market and from Best Dinner Lady to Best Takeaway. The judging team spent weeks, reading, researching, exchanging ideas and opinion as to who should make it to the eventual line-up of 28 finalists.

It's been close. The stories they've been sent, in every category have been inspirational, from visionary farmers in Northern Ireland, to pioneering retail food shops in north Wales, from a workers' co-operative baking bread to supermarkets trying to rethink their supply chains to source ingredients more sustainably.

Ahead of revealing this year's finalists the judges wanted to publish shortlists featuring all of the nominees they took to the final stage of their decision making, nominees who had really impressed. You can now take a look at these shortlists for all nine categories. It's a fascinating summary of the people, businesses and organisations from which the eventual finalists will emerge.

Then, on BBC Radio 4's The Food Programme on Sunday 30 September, the identities of the 28 finalists selected by the judges will be revealed. Soon after that our judging team will take to the road and travel to meet every one of the food producers, drinks producer, takeaway cooks, public caterers, food markets and local retailers they've chosen as the "best of the best". We'll keep you updated with news from the visits on these pages, and on Facebook and Twitter.

The climax of all of this is the annual BBC Food & Farming Awards ceremony, held at the NEC in Birmingham on Wednesday November 28th. We'd love to see you there, and you're welcome to be in the audience to hear who the eventual award winners are. We'll be joined by Raymond Blanc, Paul Hollywood, Valentine Warner and Angela Hartnett. All you need to do is register for a ticket.

We'll be giving more Food Awards updates very soon - thanks for your interest in the Awards.

Feedback: Royal photos

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 15:35, Friday, 21 September 2012

Roger Bolton

"Shame on BBC News for placing far too much emphasis on the Kate Middleton photos story all Friday evening and beyond"

"What has happened to the respected BBC News? It used to tell us what mattered and what is important to the nation.....If trivial titillation is all the British public is interested in now, the BBC news department is certainly feeding it to them".

Those were the reactions of two Feedback listeners to the news that Princess Kate had lost her top and that, earlier, Prince Harry had lost his bottoms.

How should BBC News have responded?

That was the subject of the interview I did with the Head of the BBC Multimedia Newsroom, Mary Hockaday, this week. Many other listeners felt that, though important, the Royals' stories paled into insignificance compared with the Muslim demonstrations in the Middle East, and the killing, or possible assassination, of the US Envoy to Libya. The BBC has often had difficulty in reporting Royal scandals.

When Edward 8th was squiring Mrs Simpson around town and on yachts in the Mediterranean, events gleefully covered in the American and European papers, Lord Reith's response was to remain silent. Only when the issue was raised in parliament was it reported on his BBC.

Later, when Princess Diana's affairs were featured on the front pages, they were usually reported, if at all, in the BBC newspaper reviews, not in the main bulletins. The broadsheet newspapers have tried various ways of responding to these sorts of Royal stories.

When the Independent newspaper began it announced that it would not run many Royal stories, and when the first reports about the breakdown in the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana were made public, several other serious papers were also rather "sniffy" about them.

However the stories turned out to be largely true and the constitutional consequences of the deteriorating relationship of the heir to the throne and his wife were significant.

Can the same be said of the Duchess of Cambridge's decision to remove her top while sunbathing, unaware that she was visible from the road, hundreds of metres away? I talked to Mary Hockaday about these questions in this week's Feedback.

Here is our interview:

Roger Bolton.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback on Radio 4.

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In Our Time: The Druids

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Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg 17:48, Thursday, 20 September 2012

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

The Druids


One of the advantages for me of In Our Time is that I become disabused of what I thought was certain knowledge. In 1978 I made a film with William Golding for the South Bank Show. We went to locations which were key to some of his novels and one of them was Stonehenge. We went on a misty morning and except for a man in a rumpled official suit there was nobody else around. We had the run of the place. We filmed William walking the Stonehenge estate and talking about the inspirational value it had. We talked about the inspiration of location. And I certainly took it for granted that this magnificent monument had been built by and used by the Druids.

Not so, it seems, although Professor Barry Cunliffe - and he is an Emeritus Professor! - sort of reserved the right to say that it just might have been the ancestors of the Druids, or the seeds of those who became Druids.

Now, when I drive past Stonehenge on my way to see a pal of mine and his wife down in Dorset, I see crowds cordoned off hundreds of yards away and think oh, what a pity. Bad luck for them. But I suspect like many of you, I'm regularly confronted by people who tell me I should have gone to places earlier (i.e., when they went) when it was so much better, so much quieter, so much more what it really was before I got there.

Well, I got to Stonehenge early, but it turned out to be not the place I thought it was.

The Druids are easy to mock. Even one of the scholars on the programme couldn't resist a little amusement. Miranda Aldhouse-Green talked of seeing her first procession of Druids and having to giggle at the fact that these solemn persons in white gowns all wore white plimsolls.

And there was the famous gathering on Primrose Hill in London where many of the rituals and observances of contemporary Druidism were hammered out.

Nevertheless, they led to inspirational art - William Blake - they spurred the discovery of the value of archaeology and therefore led to an increase in our affection for, and fascination with, the places in which we live. It led to what has become a lasting and very fertile provincialism - one of the more powerful, positive currents in this country. I didn't know that Aubrey had been such a scholar and indeed such an architectural drawer.

We hadn't time to talk about their influence on the preservation of landscapes. For instance, Mr Keiller - the marmalade king - was entranced by the Druids and bought Avebury in order that it should be excavated properly, in the course of which I think he encouraged the first aerial photography of an archaeological site in this country. And others too have fenced off areas they thought holy to the Druids and were certainly a part of the notion of preserving sacred sites.

I'm off to have lunch with Grey Gowrie at White's to discuss the relaunch of the London Magazine. Never been there. Evelyn Waugh used to drink champagne out of a silver tankard.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Far From the Madding Crowd

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Jessica Dromgoole Jessica Dromgoole 11:30, Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Editor's Note: The first episode of Far From the Madding Crowd, adapted from the classic Thomas Hardy novel, is being broadcast on Radio 4 at 3pm on Sunday 23rd September. Producer and director Jessica Dromgoole writes below about adapting the book for Radio 4's Classic Serial - CM.

Far From the Madding Crowd

When a three hour Classic Serial I was working on fell through suddenly, due to rights issues, we had to come up with a replacement quickly. The adrenalin of getting a big Classic Serial together fast pushed Far from the Madding Crowd up through the primordial gloop of favourite novels and evolving ideas. It's a beautiful novel, with an extraordinary complex heroine, three psychologically fascinating men, and a world that sings of both isolation and community. The strangeness of it is the strangeness of the unrecognisably true.

And as soon as the thought was there, it all came together. Rereading the book with radio in mind brought the soundscape out in stark detail - Gabriel's wooden flute, the sheep, the whistling wind, the swishing of Troy's sword, the singing at the harvest feast, it felt more audio than visual, despite the influential charms of Christie and Bates. Graham White was the obvious choice to write the scripts. We both come from the rural West Country, and get Hardy; Graham's brilliant at adaptation, and we've been friends for a long time, and - with these deadlines - this would be a very collaborative production. Years ago, we worked at the Finborough Theatre together, and he wrote his first play, Bleat, set on an isolated West Country farm, and - perhaps inevitably for a London audience - ultimately as much about sheep as the psychology of remoteness. And then there was one more personal connection to the story: I raise sheep on a farm in Kent. Jeremy Howe, the drama commissioner for Radio 4, who had spent a day both eating and admiring them, commissioned the project on condition our sheep would feature.

And they do. Just. We didn't drive them off a cliff (although Graham's children did get them to stampede past a couple of times). But studio manager, Jenni Burnett spent a weekend on the farm with a big fluffy microphone that nearly got adopted by a very motherly dam, waiting for them to express something other than silent contentment. Sheep are - on the whole - pretty quiet, so we had to resort to fairly extreme measures to get any sound out of them. One track - that we used for the baby lambs that Gabriel brings into the Maltsters - includes the comment 'where's my castrator?' which we thought it best to cut.

While it is wonderfully psychologically incisive - there's no greater achievement in Hardy's literature than Boldwood's consuming and offputting obsession with Bathsheba - Far from the Madding Crowd purports not to see into anyone's heart, or mind, but just watches their actions. Witnessing becomes as notable an activity as the action itself. Coming from the West Country, Graham and I had both grown up surrounded by chuntering men, who sat together at any social event, drinking deep, and constructing stories together from scraps of information, prejudice and lies.

Jessica Dromgoole is the producer and director of Far From the Madding Crowd.

In Our Time: The Cell

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Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg 09:00, Friday, 14 September 2012

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


Good to be back. It's been a funny old summer in London. Surging streets of all the nations of the world teeming through the city and - guess what? - making it feel better, its crowdedness a happy crowdedness, a sense of a world centre. It was a strange London as well. Most of the places I walked in in central London were cut off to cars and so the most "famous" parts of London were now an open park for all of us. We swarmed all over it.

You'll all have seen or felt enough of that if you watched the televising of the two sets of Olympic Games. It seemed to me that this country showed itself for what it really is - talented, hard-working, resourceful, wonderfully tolerant, cheerful, decent - nothing whatsoever to do with the broken society or the sick society of our - oh dear me, across the board - so head in the air, out of touch politicians. This is not a party line; it is cross-party line.

And so to today. I begin with an apology, not for my mixing up of the word erotic with the eukaryotic, although that's a mistake any chap could make on his rusty return, but from Joan Pau Rubies, who was on our programme about Marco Polo a few months ago. He has written us a letter apologising for saying that Kublai Khan had given Marco Polo a "golden table" instead of a "golden tablet". He adds "for a moment I must have been thinking in romance (in Catalan, Italian, etc, taula/tavola is both table and tablet). My wife had a good laugh." He wanted to know where he could post something about it because he felt rather apologetic. So there we are.

Such fastidiousness is the bricks that build In Our Time.

Bit busy recently. All of you will know that Wigton (population 5,000 in Cumberland - the town in which I grew up) is celebrating the 750th anniversary of the granting of a Royal Charter to hold a market place in the town every Tuesday. This it has done for 750 years. The Charter was given by the king to the first Baron of Wigton. As the next Baron of Wigton I went up there to receive a replica Charter and much joviality was had. It's curiously moving how history can be made into the living present and how much people flower when reminded of, or being able to be proud of, their roots.

And so to the cell, whose origins and development - even in the hands of the experts we had today - remains magnificently obscure. It's the numbers I can't manage. I have enough DNA in my cells to stretch out to the Moon and back 8,000 times. How can I conceive that? A railway track into the universe.

Now off to the torrents of the North, leaving the sunshine of the South. The usual story. The North providing one of the essentials of life, the South basking in it. I'm opening an exhibition of paintings by a friend of mine, Julian Cooper, who is part of a family which has been painting landscapes in the Lake District for about a century. Some wonderful work.

And waiting for me when I get back will be my briefing on the Druids. Good to be back.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Feedback: Salford, Radio 5 live and Radio1 Breakfast

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 16:08, Thursday, 13 September 2012

Editor's note: This week Feedback visits programme makers in the BBC's new buildings in Salford. You can hear Feedback on Radio 4 on Fridays at 4.30pm. PMcD.

Roger Bolton

"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree".

And in Salford the BBC leadership did a similar thing.

On the banks of the Manchester ship canal has arisen another pleasure dome, the headquarters of BBC North, now home to the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Sport, Radio 5 live, the Religion and Ethics department and much more, and soon to be the base for Radio 4's You and Yours programme.

Just across the canal ITV is building its northern headquarters and independent producers are clustered around, hoping to catch commissioners over coffee.

The architectural merits of the buildings are for others to judge, but of the success of the rejuvenation of this once derelict area there can be no doubt. It rivals the Olympic site in Stratford, East London, in terms of transformation.

And for licence fee payers worried about the cost of the BBC's contribution to all this, land of course is rather cheaper there than in the middle of central London. Most listeners and viewers, I suspect, could hardly care less where programmes are broadcast from.

What they care about is quality and cost.

I hope to explore the true costs of the BBC building projects in Salford and Portland Place at a later date, but what of the quality of programmes coming out of 5 live? If the programmes sound no different, is that a compliment, or evidence of a missed opportunity?

Should the sound and content of the network be different now it is some 200 miles away from its former home?

With these questions in mind I went to Salford and, with some difficulty, because security is tight, gained entrance to the building on the first of whose five floors, 5 live is ensconced.

Once inside the building we were allowed to go anywhere and ask anyone anything.

You can listen to the show in full on the webpage where you can hear also BBC Radio 1's Director of Programmes tell me what the new Radio 1 breakfast show will sound like now that Chris Moyles is leaving to play King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar.


Happy Listening,

Roger B.

Roger Bolton Presents Feedback

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The Film Programme in Toronto with Terence Stamp

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Francine Stock Francine Stock 09:14, Thursday, 13 September 2012

Editor's note:  This week Francine Stock presents The Film Programme from The Toronto International Film Festival;  she catches up with Terence Stamp, soon to be seen in a new film alongside Vanessa Redgrave, Song for Marion. You can hear The Film Programme on Thursdays at 4pm and repeated on Sundays at 11pm.

Francine Stock and Terence Stamp

Francine Stock and Terence Stamp at The Toronto Film Festival

Eavesdropping at festivals is always intriguing - people talking up their projects, chewing over the commercial records ('The Expendables' was really cute for us in Germany') and sucking their gums at the prospects, ('Cloud Atlas - at 2 hours 43 minutes, you've sliced the box-office in half, just one showing a day!'). These snippets can be more bizarre and snappy than anything you hear onscreen.

It may not have the pouting starlets (or, this year, the torrential rain) of Cannes or the architecture and gravitas of Berlin but the Toronto Film Festival (known locally as TIFF) is big and approachable. It's a bear-hug of a festival. And it probably shows more films that may actually be found in cinemas in Britain sometime soon. Most of the screenings here are within walking distance of the elegant new TIFF building, the Lightbox, which hosts smaller festivals and regular screenings round the year. The volunteers in their orange t-shirts sporting slogans for the festival (where epic meets indie, where OMG meets WTF etc ) are cheery even late at night as you stagger out, grey and puffy-eyed.

Grey is this year's colour, though. After decades of believing that cinema was just for the under-25s, the industry has realised that a combination of the demographic bulge and changing technology means that the people most likely to go out and spend in the evenings may not be kids. And older people demand a different kind of film, one perhaps with more talking, fewer explosions and the odd face that hasn't been immobilized or pumped up by cosmetic toxins.

As luck (or talent) would have it, some of those films are British - The King's Speech, which premiered here two years ago is the recent exemplar. This year at Toronto, there are several - among them Hyde Park on Hudson (FDR meets George VIth) Quartet, a tale of retired opera singers directed by Dustin Hoffman but with a cast including Dame Maggie Smith and Sir Tom Courtenay, Sally Potter's intimate, atmospheric Ginger and Rosa about friends growing up under the threat of the Bomb in the early sixties and the film that will show as the Closing Gala on Sunday, Song for Marion.

This casts Terence Stamp opposite Vanessa Redgrave - a juxtaposition of some of the finest bone structure onscreen in the past half century - as a couple coping with ageing and the inevitable separation that follows. They've never made a film together before, although they might have done had Stamp played the lead in Blow-Up (1966) as Antonioni originally intended. Or indeed sung along as Lancelot with Redgrave as Guinevere in Camelot (1967). There's no glamour in the setting for Song for Marion - a modest bungalow - and neither of them shrinks from looking their age. But then again, they are both, in their seventies, strikingly handsome.

Francine Stock presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4

70 not out - a new book marks Desert Island Discs anniversary

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Rebecca Stratford 08:45, Thursday, 13 September 2012

Roy Plomley, deviser of Desert Island Discs, and presenter of the programme from 1942 to 1985.

Freelance producer Roy Plomley was wearing his pyjamas on a cold November night in 1941 when he jotted down the idea for a programme in which a person is asked the question "if you were wrecked on a desert island, which gramophone records would you like to have with you? - providing of course that you have a gramophone and needles as well." Now obviously we have CDs and digital editing, but the brilliant simplicity of the format has continued to be both entertaining and relevant for 70 years.

We've had a glorious year celebrating the seven decades of Desert Island Discs, kicking off with an anniversary programme with Sir David Attenborough, including a day when all the Local and National BBC stations had their listeners choose what they would take if they were castaway, a DID Prom and now a book to mark the nearly 3,000 souls who have so far been marooned on that lonely island.

Compiling the book with author Sean Magee has been a parlour game in itself. Our discussions started a year ago about how we could possibly choose which castaways to include and so by painful elimination who to leave out - was it going to be Marlene Dietrich and her less than accurate account of her early career or Talullah Bankhead; we had to feature Alfred Hitchcock talking about the filming of Psycho but what about Sir Harry Whitlow, who we discovered in our research didn't actually exist but was made up by Roy Plomley for an April Fool! Of course the Desert Island Discs team knows the contemporary programmes inside out, but despite the scope of the DID archive on the website where you can now download about 1,500 editions, we asked the BBC archive in Caversham to investigate which scripts they had of the early decades, starting with the first ever recording with the comedian Vic Oliver which was done at the BBC's bombed-out Maida Vale studios in London in January 1942.

We then spent agonising hours drafting and redrafting lists. In the course of our research we came across funny stories - for instance Alistair MacLean who on arrival turned out not to be the best-selling author who Roy Plomley thought he had booked, but an officer from the Ontario Tourist board with the same name - and moving stories for example that of the RAF pilot Guy Gibson, known for the Dambusters operation who was killed just after the recording. We also have the iconic Eartha Kitt and Luciano Pavarotti, the adored Joyce Grenfell, Sir David Attenborough, the scientifically brilliant Stephen Hawking, Fred Hoyle, the controversial Diana Mosley, Gordon Brown, the anarchic Spike Milligan, Kenny Everett, the inspirational Desmond Tutu and so on and so on. For the book Sean has also talked to the presenters after Roy Plomley: not just to Kirsty Young, but to Sue Lawley and Michael Parkinson who have both been cast away themselves too. We found so much interesting "trivia" in passing that we've decided to pull it all together in a second book called Flotsam and Jetsam, which will be out on 23 October.

As Kirsty Young says, the appeal of Desert Island Discs lies in displaying "the frailties and strengths of the human condition, how our creativity, grit and humanity can see us through." Here's to the next 70 years ...

Desert Island Discs: 70 Years of Castaways by Sean Magee is published by Bantam Press - find more information on the Random House site

BBC International Short Story Award 2012

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Di Speirs 14:35, Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Editor's note: The shortlist for the BBC International Short Story Award will be announced on Front Row on Friday 14 September at 7:15pm. Written by an exciting mix of authors, they reflect the very best in short story writing around the world today and can be heard on Radio 4 read by some of the nation's most popular actors from Monday 17th September. Here, the Editor of Readings for BBC Radio Drama, Di Speirs talks about the Award.

book image


It may not have the volume of the Olympic and Paralympic arrivals, but this month a small, elite group will be arriving in Britain in search of glory, recognition and an opportunity to mingle with their peers from around the world. This year's Short Story Award is, in this Olympic year, International, and so writers from Australia to South Africa, from Bulgaria to the US are now heading for the UK, and in the running for the BBC International Short Story Award 2012.

People have asked if it's any more difficult to judge far flung stories than usual, but the truth is that the same criteria apply, it's simply that we might travel further and penetrate different worlds. And in the past writers based here, like last year's winner, the Canadian D W Wilson, or British writers who live abroad like Clare Wigfall and James Lasdun have set stories beyond these shores. Nonetheless, this year there has been a significant shift in the entries and it's been a hugely enriching experience as a reader. From an aircraft crashed in a Mongolian desert to an exiled dictator of an unnamed African state, the stories and their authors have traversed the globe.

But in the end what we are looking for remains the same. Not only excellent and engaging writing that rings true, but an original story or a story with a new take on a familiar theme, a story that bears re-reading and that lingers in the mind. Looking back over the seven years of the Award so far, I still remember all the short-lists with great clarity. Taken as a whole, the body of past short-lists provide an object lesson in the breadth of possibility that the short story offers - in shape, tone, subject and style.

I'm still haunted by both the power and shock of Michel Faber's lost and lonely down-and-out in The Safehouse, in which Faber creates a parallel universe to our own more ordered lives, and by the creeping sense of abandon that surrounds another man on the edge, in Jon McGregor's If it Keeps on Raining. Both these stories give a sense of a whole life in a few pages and invite us to look at strangers in a new light.

The successful short story intimates so much more than it says. As a listener or reader we often fill in the gaps from the clues sown. A prime of example of this can be found in the 2009 winner, Kate Clanchy, whose supremely economical portrait of a mother's love for her son, The Not Dead and the Saved, is one of the most elegant and moving stories I have ever read. It takes courage and skill to skip time but here the emotional intelligence and compassion have the depth of a much longer piece, compressed to leave an entirely satisfying experience for the reader.

Humour is a trait sadly rather underused in the entries, despite appeals for it every year! Cut with pathos though, as in Jane Gardam's The People on Privilige Hill, or used with verve and an absolute sense of the absurd, as Julian Gough did in The Orphan and the Mob, it's a powerful tool as writers from Wodehouse to Thurber knew only too well.

I could go on - to the magic of Sara Maitland's fairytale Moss Witch or the compelling voice of Jane Rogers Hitting Trees with Sticks - a single handed performance piece in itself. It is invidious to single out some stories over others but I hope they'll serve both as a reminder of all that the short story can do and as a taster for what promises to be a smorgasbord of delights as the 2012 short list - at ten rather than five this year - comes on air from the 17th of September. As this year's writers jostle on the final starting line, I hope find that each and every one, past and present, offers something captivating and enticing for you to enjoy.

Di Speirs is Editor of Readings for BBC Radio Drama

Short Cuts presents "true stories, radio adventures and found sound"

Greg Smith 09:41, Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Editor's note: Short Cuts returns to Radio 4 on Tuesday 11 September with a new series of programmes featuring short documentaries from the UK and abroad. Here, the presenter Nina Garthwaite writes about some of her favourite recordings - GS.

"My name is Witold Sadowy," says Witold Sadowy.

"I am an actor," prompts a young woman

"I am actor .... I speak no, err, English," responds Witold.

"and during the war...." she persists.






"During... During the war"


Now let me stop the tape right there. This isn't the kind of thing you'd expect to hear on Radio 4. For one, there doesn't appear to be a story, and if there is, it's going to take a really really long time to tell it in English.

This is a transcript of one of my favourite moments from the first series of Short Cuts which aired last January. It was recorded not during an interview proper but during the sound check and, of course, it needs to be heard, not read.

Littered with giggles, this touching slice of audio contains as much character and story as I would ever hope for in a radio feature and speaks volumes about human interaction and non-linguistic communication.

About to start its second series, Short Cuts is a weekly half-hour programme of true stories, radio adventures and found sound.

Episode one has already got ears itching with a piece made by a journalist who secretly wore a wire and recorded his life for five years. It's part of an edition called Tracing the line which also includes tales of cave divers, wrinkles and singing bankers.

Stories are not always epic and nor should they be. The miniature documentary below (now beautifully animated) was produced by Michel Montreuil for series one's The Comfort of Strangers.

It's a simple tale of a woman's short and unexpected encounter with a whale. To me, it's evidence enough that sometimes a moment is all you need - both for a story to happen, and for it to be told.

The Dee Dee Conover story is a beautifully crafted bit of radio, a perfect example of what can be done in a matter of minutes.

Short documentaries can also offer a surprising amount of space to experiment: it's a place to play. Below is a sneak preview from episode two of the new series, a piece created by the indie-pop duo Summer Camp.

They've made a documentary song; it's a cut up of dating advice from the biological anthropologist Dr Helen Fisher, spliced with the voices of love-struck teenagers found in the BBC archive. It's a song and it's a documentary and it's exactly the kind of ingenious fun that I think the radio is made for.

On Tuesday afternoons during the next six weeks you can join me to discover an amazing array of miniature documentaries and find out how the briefest moments can sometimes make the most powerful stories.


Nina Garthwaite presents Short Cuts.

Feedback - The Radio 2 Playlist

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 11:35, Friday, 7 September 2012

Editor's note: This week Feedback looks at how music is selected for the Radio 2 playlist. You can hear the programme here - CM.

Roger Bolton

It still isn"t really cool to listen to Radio 2, or that's what my children tell me, yet it is the most popular radio station in the United Kingdom so it must be doing something right.

Presenters are of course vitally important, as the success of the Chris Evans breakfast show demonstrates, but the most important thing is the music, both to the audience and to the artists.

If their work gets played frequently on Radio 2, record sales and downloads go up, and bookings boom.

If they don"t get heard, only the hard core fan will even know they have a record out. What gets played on the network is decided at a weekly wednesday meeting where successful records are placed on the A, B or C playlists. And if they are on the lists they have to be played, whatever a presenter thinks.

Several listeners have written to Feedback wanting to know what gets chosen and why.

To hear is to obey, so I set out for Western House in Central London, home to Radio 2.

I was gratified to finds a crowd waiting for me outside the building, or at least that's what I thought.

It turned out they were really after a Welshman with a greying beard and moustache and a name out of a Henry Fielding novel. Ah well.

Inside the building I walked up the stairs to the third floor ( I need to lose weight) and passed posters of Michael Buble, ACDC, and Amy Whitehouse.

In the meeting room, desks formed in a perfect square, watching over a sometimes passionate debate, is a bust of Jimmy Young. Perhaps Jeremy Vine didn"t want it in his office.

Before I talked to jeff Smith, Head of Music policy at Radio2 I had a word with the executive producer of the Chris Evans show, Helen Thomas. A hyperactive producer for a hyperactive presenter,

By the way, please keep sending in your memos for George Entwistle ,the new DG. We don"t want him to be faced with an empty in tray and we want to ensure that your ideas reach him before the bureaucrats do, so please get writing.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, I'm off to Radio 2 live in Hyde Park, London to see if that grey haired Welshman can really sing. I'm told he isn"t bad at all.

Roger Bolton Presents Feedback

  • Listen to this week's 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.

Harriet Cass and Charlotte Green

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Denis Nowlan Denis Nowlan 11:59, Wednesday, 5 September 2012

It has been reported that Radio 4 is to close two posts in its presentation team and that Harriet Cass and Charlotte Green are to leave us next year. Here's the background.

Charlotte Green

Charlotte Green

By the end of 2012, the whole of the BBC news operation will have moved from Television centre to New Broadcasting House. This means Today, The World at One and all the rest of Radio 4's news will come from a studio in New Broadcasting House, the building where eventually the whole of BBC news will be located. Additionally, Radio 4 news programmes will be based just a minute's walk from the Radio 4 Controller's office, the continuity studios and teams making other journalistic programmes like Woman's Hour, You & Yours, Front Row and The Bottom Line.

It also allows us to make some efficiencies. At present we have to maintain Presentation teams in two different buildings: continuity announcers in Broadcasting House and newsreaders in Television Centre. Once News is safely established in New Broadcasting House, newsreaders will be able to provide support for the continuity team, so we will not need so many shifts each day to staff both sides of the operation.

Harriet Cass

Harriet Cass

As we will be able to manage with two fewer posts we invited staff to express their preferences. Harriet and Charlotte applied for voluntary redundancy and have been accepted. We expect the posts to close early in 2013. The savings will contribute to our target under the Delivering Quality First plan, allowing more money to go into programme making.

Needless to say we will miss them both, as I'm sure will our listeners. They will go with our warmest thanks and very best wishes for the future.

Denis Nowlan is the Network Manager of Radio 4.

And Now An Urgent SOS Message

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Jo Coombs 10:30, Monday, 3 September 2012

Editor's Note: And Now An Urgent SOS Message is on BBC Radio 4 Tuesday 4th September at 8pm, repeated the following Sunday at 5pm. -CM

SOS phone box

This programme began with PM presenter Eddie Mair's curiosity:>

"Jo, I have always wanted to know more about those SOS messages that you used to hear on Radio 4 after the news... you know... "Could Mr and Mrs Smith, believed to be travelling in the Cotswolds please ring this hospital where their auntie is dangerously ill"....Have they stopped? If so why? And what were the stories behind some of those messages? Did they make it? Did Auntie actually pull through?"

I investigated. The first SOS message was broadcast in March 1923, by the British Broadcasting Company. The local Birmingham station sent out an appeal to help search for a missing boy. He was found and returned to his family. Lord Reith - the founder and first Managing Director of the BBC - saw an opportunity: Always fiercely protective of the BBC's independence, he negotiated a relationship with the government and the emergency services which would give the new corporation a truly public purpose.

Over its seven decades the SOS message service alerted the public to unexploded bombs, lost poisons and an infected animal on the loose. It appealed for witnesses, missing persons and even broadcast an appeal for a wet nurse. But at its heart were the countless requests transmitted for people to rush to the bedside of an ailing relative. These were desperate human interest dramas. For the sake of privacy and because of strict guidelines, their results were never reported. Until now.

For this programme we've managed, decades on, to find out what happened to a handful of the people behind these poignant SOS appeals.

So Eddie got his wish. But we know there must be thousands more listeners with personal connections to the BBC's SOS message service. And we'd like you to get in touch.

If you have your own story about an SOS message, please email us on, or write to us at iPM, Room G601, BBC TV Centre, London W12 7RJ.

Jo Coombs is the producer of And Now An Urgent SOS Message

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