Damian Thompson Damian Thompson

BBC radio has excelled itself over the past week

There was a remarkable impartiality on Radio 4 and Radio 3's series of gimmick-free programmes was a blessed relief

The 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth makes her first radio broadcast on October 22, 1940. Image: CBW / Alamy Stock Photo

Listening to BBC Radios 3 and 4 over the past week has been like meeting an old friend who, after decades of squeezing into age-inappropriate designer clothes, has suddenly reverted to a sensible wardrobe. It’s a pity that it took the death of our beloved Queen for this to happen, but I’ve been enjoying it while it lasts – because, like the miracle drug that Robin Williams gives his dementia patients in the film Awakenings, this dose of sanity will quickly wear off.

Radio 4’s long-prepared tributes to Elizabeth II were, by the BBC’s standards, remarkably impartial. Even Saturday’s Today programme rose to the occasion. The Catholic journalist Catherine Pepinster’s Thought for the Day, on the humility of true kingship, was magnificent – better than the Archbishop of Canterbury’s heartfelt but characteristically messy contribution on Friday.

The only slightly annoying interview was with Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, who hailed our new king as ‘the world’s greatest environmentalist’. Maybe so, but what about His Majesty’s enthusiasm for homeopathy, sacred geometry and other fantasies? Juniper was one of Charles’s scientific advisors. Perhaps this wasn’t the right time to ambush him on the subject, but I hope someone does it soon.

It’s a pity that it took the death of our beloved Queen for this to happen but I’ve been enjoying it while its lasts

The Queen Remembered was a survey of a 70-year reign expertly boiled down to eight 15-minute episodes by James Naughtie. He was so even-handed that I almost missed the flamboyant bias of his time on Today. (If you want to hear the BBC in full mourning, track down Naughtie’s reports from Washington when George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004.)

Although the script wasn’t short on clichés – ‘Coronation Day became the stuff of memories’; ‘borne along by the river of history’; ‘A Thoroughly Modern Monarch’, etc – they didn’t matter because the underlying analysis was so subtle.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in