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Man's Best Friend

Actors Robert Lindsay and Claire Benedict read some of the canine literature of writers including Dodie Smith, Frank L Baum, Rudyard Kipling and Emily Dickinson.

Actors Robert Lindsay and Claire Benedict read from Dodie Smith's 101 Dalmatians, Jack London's Call of the Wild and Dorothy Parker's mischievous Verse for a Certain Dog in this selection of poems, prose and music of all kinds celebrating mankind's greatest ally in the animal kingdom - dogs. With music by Gershwin, Elgar, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan. From puppy love to fawning, from fetching a stick to disobedience and the clip of a dog and deer that went viral.

Producer: Paul Frankl

1 hour, 14 minutes

Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • Fenton!

    Duration: 00’20

  • 00:00

    Noël Coward

    Mad Dogs and Englishmen

    Performer: Noël Coward.
    • SONY MDK 47253.
    • Tr14.
  • Emily Dickinson

    A little Dog that wags his tail [Claire Benedict]

  • 00:00

    George Gershwin

    Walking the Dog (Shall We Dance)

    Performer: Los Angeles Philharmonic (orchestra), Michael Tilson Thomas (conductor).
    • CBS CD39699.
    • CD4 Tr8.
  • Thomas Hardy

    A Popular Personage at Home [Robert Lindsay]

  • 00:00

    Frédéric Chopin

    Waltz in D flat major, Op 64, No 1, ‘Valse du Petit Chien’

    Performer: Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano).
    • LONDON 4437382.
    • CD8 Tr6.
  • 00:00

    Mel Leven

    Cruella de Vil

    Performer: Bill Lee (piano/vocals).
    • Walt Disney Records B00006EXG0.
    • Tr4.
  • Dodie Smith

    101 Dalmations [Claire Benedict]

  • 00:00

    Eric Coates

    Knightsbridge March (London Suite)

    Performer: BBC Concert Orchestra, Vernon Handley (conductor).
    • CLASSIC FM 75605570032.
    • Tr4.
  • Jack London

    The Call of the Wild [Robert Lindsay]

  • 00:00

    Tom Waits

    Rain Dogs

    Performer: Tom Waits.
    • ISLAND CID 131.
    • Tr10.
  • Fred Gipson

    Old Yeller [Claire Benedict]

  • 00:00

    Scott Bradley

    Downbeat Bear (Tom and Jerry)

    Performer: Scott Bradley (conductor), studio orchestra.
    • FILMSCORE FSM29172.
    • CD2 Tr4.
  • Don Marquis

    “confessions of a glutton” [Robert Lindsay]

  • 00:00

    Johann Strauss II

    Wine, Woman and Song

    Performer: Alfred Mitterhofer (harmonium), Heinz Medjimorec (piano), Alban Berg Quartet (ensemble).
    • EMI CDC 7 54881 2.
    • Tr8.
  • 00:00

    Johann Strauss II

    The Beautiful Blue Danube

    Performer: Tina the dog.
    • N/A.
    • N/A.
  • Dorothy Parker

    Verse for a Certain Dog [Claire Benedict]

  • 00:00

    Bob Dylan

    If Dogs Run Free

    Performer: Bob Dylan.
    • COLUMBIA COL CD 3226.
    • Tr6.
  • Ted Hughes

    Roger the Dog [Robert Lindsay]

  • 00:00

    Robert Schumann

    Traumerei (Kinderszenen, Op 15 No 7)

    Performer: Moura Lympany [piano].
    • HMV Classics ?– HMV 5 72163 2.
    • Tr4.
  • Robert William Service

    My Dog [Claire Benedict]

  • 00:00

    Heiner Goebbels

    Dwell Where the Dogs Dwell (The Horatian)

    Performer: Jocelyn B Smith [vocals], South German Youth Philharmonic [orchestra], Peter Rundel [conductor].
    • ECM 4653382.
    • Tr13.
  • Rudyard Kipling

    The Power of the Dog [Claire Benedict]

  • 00:01

    Edward Elgar

    G.R.S (Enigma Variations)

    Performer: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Yehudi Menuhin [conductor].
    • Philips 416 354-2.
    • Tr11.
  • Kevin Young

    Bereavement [Robert Lindsay]

  • 00:01

    Edward Elgar


    Performer: Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields [orchestra], Sir Neville Marriner [conductor].
    • CD2 Tr10.

Words and Music:Dogs

Producer's Notes
Stand steady. You’re about to enter the exuberant universe of canis familiaris, the joyous and life-affirming world of dogs. 

In the interests of compliance and impartiality, I have to declare a personal interest: I’d always been ambivalent about dogs. Other people’s dogs kind of annoyed me and the way they bark and slobber and all that, far from endeared me. But a couple of years ago I was persuaded, or tricked, into letting a smallish black dog under my fence. Now I read books on dog anthropology, research dog nutrition, dog-walking routes and doggy welfare. I sit in front of the TV holding a cushion to my chest, watching dog rescue programmes, and I weep.  

It’s fair to say that the weight  of literature about dogs far outweighs the classical music about them. Musically, I avoided puns: Bach, barcarolles, Liszt’s Vallée d’Obermann, anything by Puccini, instead heading for Gershwin’s  Walking the Dog, an Elgar Enigma Variation directly referencing a dog, and other pieces that just summed up the doggy style of life. I was surprised to learn that Chopin’s Minute Waltz is subtitled “Waltz of the Little Dog”. That went straight in! And there’s no end of music in a more popular vein such as Tom Waits’s Rain Dogs which  seemed to go well with a brutal evocation of a dog fight in Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild”. There are great poems by Kipling, Hardy, Hughes, Dickinson, Parker. Towards the end of the programme, when things take a darker turn, listen out for Dwell Where the Dogs Dwell, an orchestral song by Heiner Goebbels of devastating impact and lavish beauty. The sequence ends with a moving poem from the New Yorker: the poet explores his relationship with the dogs of his father who has recently died. What will he do with them? Do they grieve? 

Thanks to the wonderful Claire Benedict and Robert Lindsay (another dog nut like me) for their brilliant readings. 

Oh by the way, that’s my dog on the photo for this programme.  And there goes the last vestige, the final pretence, of the journalistic impartiality you might justifiably expect from the BBC. Sorry about that. It’s just that she’s such a good girl. 

Producer: Paul Frankl


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