Category Archives: radio

Tree story

Some really evocative sounds – mostly squelching and chopping, actually – in this lovely Open Country programme on Radio 4 about the astonishing natural and social history of the Oak tree. The producers of the show have gone to the trouble of securing a proper archive for their past programmes so there’s a pretty good chance you’ll actually hear the show when you click, which is as it should be. Amen.

Excited scientists

A seismic map of part of the sea bed from the North Sea, clearly showing a river (the Shotton) and other landscape features
At the bottom of the Southern North Sea there is a landscape: river beds (including one as big as the Rhine which has been named The Shotton), coastlines, lakes and lots of preserved human settlements, spread out over the tens of thousands of square kilometres of land lost when the last ice age ended and sea levels rose, cutting off our island from the continent. This landscape came to light when it occurred to a PHd student that there might be some mileage in examining seismic data from the oil exploration companies who’ve mapped the sea floor in minute detail over the last few decades.

I love excited scientists and these archaeologists are very excited. They’ve begun to uncover a stone age landscape, essentially untouched in 9,000 years – dwellings, hearths, graves, middens and all the rest – and they’re beside themselves. The only problem, obviously, is that it’s under the sea. But… Do they look bothered? The Bridge at the Bottom of the Sea is brilliant radio and this is the kind of quietly mind-blowing news that should really be on the front pages instead of all the other rubbish. Here’s an MP3 in case it’s overwritten.

By the way, I find myself wondering, how does a creationist account for this vivid and pristine evidence of human settlement from thousands of years before the bible’s proposed start date? Don’t answer that.

Some things are only possible on the radio

Three beautiful and evocative examples of the art of radio from the Radio 4 treasure trove. Last week’s Open Country, a really fascinating programme about East Anglian Churches and Chapels, evoking an era of simplicity, piety and ugly class brutality.

A terrific insight into the work and thought (and language) of theatre directors: John Caird and Max Stafford Clarke talk about putting on Macbeth (I think you’ll need my MP3 because the programme’s probably been overwritten by now).

The best of the lot, if you ask me: John Killick’s spent the last ten years talking to people with Alzheimer’s and turning what he hears into poetry (likewise, you might need this MP3 if the Real stream’s gone).

Monday afternoon listening

Just what you need on a Sunny Monday afternoon: a lovely Russell Davies George Formby doc (MP3) and part one (MP3) of an interesting series about work from Bill Morris, who used to be General Secretary of the T&G. Get your skates on and download Radio 3’s complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies, all recently recorded by the BBC Philharmonic and all free to download (would it be really ungrateful to wonder if they couldn’t have broken the MP3s into movements?). They’re about to take the MP3s down so get a move on.

More radio gems

You’ll cry. You will. This programme (MP3) about a scheme encouraging imprisoned parents to record bedtime stories for their kids at home is a gem. And before you get on your Daily Mail high horse about yet another indulgence for pampered convicts, take note that parents who retain an emotional connection with their kids through a prison sentence are markedly less likely to re-offend once on the outside (enjoy, especially, the convict reading Burglar Bill to his kid at home). Also a gem (although you’re less likely to cry) is Matthew Paris’ lovely Archive Hour (MP3) about the first half century of the motor car in Britain.

A creature of the Beeb

You know those kids abandoned in the woods and brought up by wolves? Well, I was brought up by the BBC. By Radio 4, to be specific. I mean that about 75% of everything I know and believe was provided for me by an unbroken 8 or 10 hours-per-day Radio 4 habit. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. I think that a largish part of my generation got to be who they are courtesy of the amazing, precious and unusual breadth and intelligence of BBC Radio 4. It’s a liberal education in a little box (labelled ‘Sanyo’ or ‘Roberts’) and nowadays, of course, it’s a liberal education on the Internet (and on your Sky digibox).

Case in point. Last night on Radio 4: a sequence of three programmes – one after the other – so good and so varied as to take the breath away: First Cut, a lovely, illuminating documentary about the ‘cut men’, the magicians in the corner who magically heal boxers’ cuts and often keep them fighting when no one else could. Then, an utterly fascinating doc about animal sex selection. Did you know that, for every 100 human females, 105 males are born? Did you know that, in wartime, more human males than females are born? That birds and mammals produce more males in times of food scarcity, more females in times of plenty? After that, one of Charles Wheeler’s five moving programmes about the end of war, marking the 60th anniversary of VE Day. Essential listening.

America on the radio

First: amazing story, this: Malcolm X’s personal archive – correspondence, photographs, writings, the lot – wound up on eBay (or at least on eBay‘s posh cousin Bonnington’s). Tony Phillips made a very personal programme about it for Radio 4.

Second: the US Government’s own auditors say that $8.8 billion (including three palettes of hundred dollar bills weighing 14 tons for which someone forgot to fill in a deposit slip) have gone missing from the funds set aside for reconstruction in Iraq. Gerry Northam, in this File on 4 programme, notes that Capitol Hill has taken very little interest in the missing billions while putting the boot into the UN over Oil for Food.

Provided they haven’t been overwritten you can listen to these programmes at these links: Selling Malcolm X and File on 4 on Iraq or download MP3s here: File on 4 and Malcolm X.

Yodeling for pleasure

Elton Britt, one time holder of the 'world's fastest yodler' record
Lots of infectious laughter in Sandy Toksvig’s programme about yodeling on Radio 4 last weekend. The thesis: yodeling cheers you up. I can’t help but agree. My iTunes library contains 28 songs with the word ‘yodel’ in the track name (‘Yodeling Hobo’, ‘Swiss Yodel’, ‘Yodeling Cowboy’, ‘The Whipporwill Yodel’ and so on… Please don’t judge me – I had a difficult childhood). I can’t yodel (can you?) but I’m adding it to the list of things I’d like to learn how to do when I’m old (I suppose I mean ‘older’).

This file will, predictably, be overwritten by next week’s show so drop me a line if you’d like an MP3.

Keane on Keane

John B. Keane in the old days
When I was young and a bit scary-looking I used to hitch-hike round the West of Ireland and I once spent a couple of nights in a small town in deepest Kerry called Listowel. I went there because I’d read some plays and stories by a funny and clever and sentimental writer called John B. Keane (the Irish Dylan Thomas if you ask me). Keane, I knew, kept a pub in the town (called, as you’d expect, John B. Keane’s).

I arrived in town on the last night of an amateur run of one of Keane’s plays (I wish I could remember which one) in a freezing church hall. I saw the play (laughed like a drain) and then went back to Keane’s pub for what turned out to be the private cast party. I have no idea how I got in but it’s a proper testament to the generosity of the Irish (and their unwillingness to mix it with a twenty year-old spotty skin-head in camouflage and ten-hole Martens) that I didn’t learn it was a private party until I read the notice on the front door on the way out.

In fact, I had a lovely evening, got a bit drunk, talked for ages with the man himself and felt privileged to be included in a quite sophisticated, quite introverted, quite alien, provincial bubble – a community that, back then, before EU money translated the whole of Ireland into Barcelona or Helsinki or Toulouse or somewhere, seemed like the very final edge of the European literary universe – what with The Atlantic and all that.

Anyway, twenty years later, I learn that Fergal Keane, BBC foreign correspondent and dreadful romantic, is John B’s nephew. He’s made a nice radio programme about his uncle (who died in 2002) which gave me goose-bumps – memories crowding in and the voice of the man himself and his friends – literary and otherwise – and the rush of the River Feale and Keane’s friendly pub and the modest, undemonstrative fame of the local hero. Excellent.

Let’s hear it for 40-ish blokes

My wife is always telling me that our generation is now in charge. Although I seldom, these days, feel very in charge (I’m doing my best, though. Me: “yes. It is bed time. No you cannot watch another ten minutes of Inspector Gadget…”), I can see what she means.

On the radio last night, there were two really inspiring programmes from men of my 40-ish generation: Jon Ronson on… Going West (one of a very clever series) and Simon Armitage’s one-off Surtsey and Me about the strange volcanic island off Iceland with which he (almost) shares a birthday.