Thursday, 26 November 2009

Deep Abiding Loves - Part 2: Radio 4

From as early as I can remember, Radio 4 has been there for me. I couldn't avoid it, since my mum tended to have it on during those days when she was actually a housewife, so it was essentially on all day. Both my parents still listen to it when doing something relatively menial, or when something good is on.

My earliest memories are listening to The Archers. Much has been written about this venerable program; indeed, it is the longest running soap opera in the world. I listen off and on to this, it being like eaves-dropping on neighbours rather than a piece of serious drama.

The dramas are on the whole pretty good. The one I have just listened to, Far North, was what impelled me to blog about the station, even though it turns out that it was actually first broadcast on Australian radio. The dramas I remember particularly fondly are The Lord of the Rings and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. You would never get any other radio station do anything like these.

On the whole, it is the factual programs which I tend to listen to. It seems to me that there are very few decent serious current affairs programs left on the television. The best ones are Analysis and File on 4, which often do reporting on stories that no news stations would ever bother covering. Discussion programs range from the deadly serious Melvyn Bragg program "In Our Time", to the deadly-serious knock-about "The Moral Maze" to less serious fluff such as "Midweek". All have their place. The science programs "The Material World" and "Leading Edge" are usually excellent. Sadly, Radio 4 is the only non-dumbed down place to get science broadcasting. Horizon on BBC2 long ago resorted to making drama or power-point presentations with patronising voice-overs in the place of a serious attempt to communicate science.

The weakest type of program are currently the comedies. For every I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and The News Quiz, there are some deeply bad ones, usually written by bad stand-up comedians, straight from the Cambridge University footlights. Even the generally good Mitchell and Webb have a radio show which is a mix of good and bad sketches.

Finally, I really ought to mention the news programs. The news bulletins are all pretty good. Unfortunately, The Today Program has become a vehicle for the egos of the likes of John Humphries, who I now actively dislike. It used to be very good in the 70s and 80s when Brian Redhead did the program, but I now find the political interviews generally a waste of time. And to be frank, the whole program is way too self-congratulatory. Much better is The World at One, which in a half hour does short and to the point reportage. However, the best program is PM, which recently became solely presented by the excellent Eddie Mair, who is probably its best presenter ever. He is unfailingly polite and calm, even when interviewing the most difficult of subjects, and brings a wonderful light touch and sense of humour to the program.

All in all, this is a fantastic service. Whilst I find it occasionally a bit too politically correct, and there is a distinct left-wing bias in all its programming, I am very glad that it remains.


  1. CONGRATULATIONS! I heard the news Mark and Julie is overjoyed!

  2. Mark - if you've not already read it, you MUST read "Pluto" By Naoki Urasawa. It's mind-bogglingly brilliant. If you have read Astro Boy by Tezuka, or for that matter anything by the God of Manga, or even if you haven't you MUST read this.

    There. Got that off my chest.