Kate Chisholm

Northern brag

Plus: Radio 5 Live opens up the criminal justice system once more in Raising the Bar

The last thing we need right now, in these divisive times, is a series that spends all its time crowing about how special the North is, that continually insists it’s the fount of English art, faith and civilisation and also the region where our notions of justice and equality have been forged. The Matter of the North, Melvyn Bragg’s new ten-part series for Radio 4 (Monday to Friday mornings), is not simply a history of the region that spreads north from the Humber river and as far as Hadrian’s Wall, encompassing the Pennines (‘the backbone of England’), Lakeland (‘the crucible of the idea of the transforming power of nature’), Manchester (‘the first industrial city’) and the Yorkshire Dales, but is peppered throughout with remarks that argue for the North’s special status in our island story — in contrast, of course, to the ‘softie’ South. Dames Judi (Dench) and Joan (Bakewell) are brought in, along with Sir Michael Parkinson and Ian McMillan, to tell us how proud they are to have ‘northern’ origins, while Bragg, in a breathless monologue, lauds the northern sense of humour, its landscape, Industrial Revolution and economic prowess — worth ‘twice the economy of Scotland’ (the Scots might have something to say about that). In fact, says Bragg, the story he is about to tell ‘out-histories the history of most countries’.

We expect Bragg, from his superb In Our Time conversation series on Thursday mornings, to educate us wisely and painlessly, with the aid of a shrewdly selected gathering of academics. We trust him not just to give us the facts but to put them in context and help us to see what they mean. The Matter of the North (produced by Faith Lawrence) appears to be driven not by the desire to tell the story but to prove the superiority of Bragg’s native region.

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