Who would have thought 15 years ago that not only would the BBC still be spending money on radio coverage of the London Olympics but that there’d also be a dedicated digital station? High definition TV, with its crystal-clear images of every pimple, tattoo and six-pack, should by rights have seen off its poor sound-only relation, with only words, words, words on offer, no pictures, no flashbacks, no sweaty post-triumph interviews. But on Wednesday, Radio 5 Live Olympics Extra came on air (and online), broadcasting to the world nothing but coverage of the Games, throughout the day but also on catch-up all night long.
Radio 5 Live’s controller, Adrian Van Klaveren promises that we’ll hear ‘radio as you’ve never heard it before’. It’ll certainly be different as former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis heads up the commentary team, alongside former Olympians, the rower James Cracknell, sprinter Darren Campbell, javelin champion Steve Backley and hurdler Kriss Akabusi. (Not a single woman behind the microphone. How very 1948.)
Will they succeed in capturing the atmosphere at Eton Dorney for the lightweight double-scull, or at the extraordinary submarine-looking venue for the 10m air rifle? Even more of a challenge will be tempting listeners to tune in to those eerily prescient seconds of stillness before the gun in the 100-metres final. It’ll be almost as Olympian a task as the one they faced in their sporting careers. When all you have is words, you have to pick them carefully. There’ll be endless moments of filling-in while waiting for the athletes to line up and then no time at all for word selection once that gun goes off. So how about sending in your favourite heat-of-the-moment bloomers, those never-to-be-forgotten Spoonerisms and Colemanballs? There’ll be gold, silver and bronze awards for the best three.
Radio 4, meanwhile, took on the challenge of turning James Bond into a wireless hero, with a new dramatisation (by Archie Scottney) of From Russia with Love. There were no blonde bombshells to ogle, and no vertigo-inducing car chases in this version, produced and directed by the veteran team of Rosalind Ayres and Martin Jarvis. Their Bond is nothing like the suave, sophisticated screen version. On air he’s a hapless incompetent, who we first encounter puffing and panting for breath as he attempts a few push-ups on his sitting-room floor while his ‘daily’ tries to persuade him to eat up his breakfast. He’s mislaid his girlfriend, lost his appetite and been sitting at home without a mission. But he’s then ordered out to Istanbul to meet a Russian spy, Tatiana, who’s reported to have fallen in love with his photograph. M warns him, ‘It doesn’t do to get mixed up with neurotic women in this business. They hang on to your gun arm…’ But she only has to say ‘I’ll have a vodka and tonic’ in a smoky, heavily accented voice before Bond is snuggling up to said Tatiana in the confined quarters of a cabin on the Orient Express.
You can see the denouement coming a mile off, but who cares when the cast includes Eileen Atkins as the mad, very mad Rosa Klebb (with superb throat-gurgling in the dastardly scene at the end), Janie Dee as a sultry Moneypenny, Tim Piggott-Smith as the Turkish agent who takes Bond on a nightmare-inducing trip through the sewers of Istanbul (who needs Spielberg’s special effects when you have a brilliant sound editor?), and Toby Stephens as Bond. This was a class act, with specially written music by Mark Holden and Michael Lopez.
Graham Seed, ex The Archers and sadly missed as the lovable and suitably eccentric Nigel Pargeter, hosted a very peculiar Pick of the Week on Sunday (Radio 4). This was partly because he sounded so like Nigel it was difficult to take his selection very seriously. But also because Seed then went on to choose programmes as if he was still ‘in character’ and that these were Nigel’s favourite programmes. So we had excerpts from I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, an episode of The New Elizabethans that talked about Enoch Powell, and a clip from Mark Steel’s in Town about Wigan Pier. At the end he signed off with a bit of Richard Strauss from the Prom last Tuesday. As Nigel, or rather Seed, explained his choice, we heard the first bars of the third of Strauss’s Four Last Songs playing in the background. This was puzzling. Anyone who had listened to that Prom would have known that, for reasons unknown, the performance was truly awful. Sure enough, we heard a few more bars and then the rest was faded out before the really bad bit was revealed, even while Seed was saying, in those inimitable Pargeter tones, that he wanted to leave us with ‘A beautiful, sublime and serene experience…’ Terrible picking, and even more terrible editing.