Kate Chisholm

Madeleine moments

Plus: why radio is a like a madeleine – a key to unravelling the self

I’d just heard (on catch-up) Jenny Abramsky (a former director of BBC radio) telling Gillian Reynolds (the esteemed radio critic of the Telegraph) why radio is so special to her: ‘It takes place in my head. It paints pictures in my mind. It talks to me as an individual. It surprises me. It stretches me.’ Then I popped down to the kitchen to make some soup for lunch, reached for the radio button and was hooked instantly as Jeremy Vine talked to a man who had lost his wife in a road accident when their child was just two. (Vine’s Radio 2 lunchtime programme on Monday was focusing on child bereavement following the tragic death of Jo Cox, mother to two young children.) It was just as Abramsky had described. One of those moments. There I was chopping vegetables in an otherwise empty house when suddenly I became part of a conversation, between Jeremy, the young father and me. Taken inside the lives of other people. At a stroke. In my own kitchen.

Reynolds’s programme for Archive on 4 on Saturday (produced by Simon Elmes) was a paean to the years of laughter, tears, fascination and intrigue that radio has given her since she first set out as a critic (she was also one of the founding team at Radio City in Liverpool in the 1970s). Another of radio’s special powers appeared later in the programme when she played a clip from a 1950s broadcast of David Davis reading from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. The sound of his voice was so evocative that it took me back in an instant to the dining-room of the house where I grew up, having tea with the radio on, an old valve set that now sits on a shelf in my study. It was as if no time had elapsed between my present and past selves.

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