Kate Chisholm

Watching and waiting

Phew! We’ve just had a narrow escape, if reports are true that the Today programme has been ‘in talks with’ Katie Price, aka Jordan.

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Phew! We’ve just had a narrow escape, if reports are true that the Today programme has been ‘in talks with’ Katie Price, aka Jordan.

Phew! We’ve just had a narrow escape, if reports are true that the Today programme has been ‘in talks with’ Katie Price, aka Jordan. In talks with? Is international-style diplomacy really necessary for Ms Price to be persuaded to accept such an invitation, guest-editing Radio 4’s flagship current-affairs slot one morning between Christmas and New Year? She has declined (it’s that world-shattering book on how to beat cellulite she needs to finish), and so we’ll have to put up with second-best, Colin Firth, whose qualifications for the job appear to be his ability to walk out of a lake, his white frilly shirt clinging to his manly chest, like Sir Lancelot on his way to meet Lady Guinevere.

The guest-editing scheme was dreamt up by the Today team in 2003 as a fun way to liven up the festive season. Perhaps I’m an old Scrooge but it always seemed a bit daft and inconsequential to me, although nothing to get steamed up about. You might argue that bringing in an expert or personality with no news experience but some kind of public reputation might draw out some original insights, new ways of getting politicians to say what they mean. But can anyone remember anything surprising or revelatory or even faintly amusing from these guest sessions — apart from the great P.D. James, who last year tore apart the DG of the BBC over matters of executive pay like a wire-haired terrier with a particularly meaty bone?

Guest reviewers are a regular feature on Paddy O’Connell’s Sunday-morning magazine, Broadcasting House (Radio 4), discussing what’s in the papers, what they find interesting. Some weeks the trio of personalities chosen for the task are entertaining, but often that section of the programme falls flat as the guests use the opportunity to flex their own agenda, massage their own ego. It takes skill to edit, an ability to step outside yourself, to judge what is important, necessary or tantalising. Just because Colin Firth looks good in a Regency shirt and breeches doesn’t necessarily make him the person I want to hear interviewing Ed Miliband — or President Ahmadinejad.

There was not much of a fanfare from Radio 3 for its Advent Carol Service, which each year comes on the First Sunday in Advent from that other choral college in Cambridge, St John’s. It’s a much more subdued, almost quietist affair than the Christmas Eve carols from King’s. But worth a careful listen as the seasonal chaos revs up a gear, and especially if like me you’re in need of an antidote to all that rushing around buying presents for Great-aunt Maud and worrying about how many mince pies to make.

The format is much the same as at King’s, a mixture of carols, old and new, with readings from the Bible, read at first by the piping voice of the head chorister and on through gown and town up to the magisterial tones of the Master. But the message is quite different. Not so much about the warmth of family, salvation and joyous feasting, but a focus on watching and waiting, getting ready, garnering one’s resources for the hope of what might lie ahead. We hear about encouraging one another, and putting on the breastplate of faith and love. In the world that is coming, the swords of all nations will be hammered into mattocks and their spears turned into pruning knives. For the night is surely past and the light of day almost upon us. What a relief to hear such stuff as the afternoon fades into night when it’s only three-thirty.

The music, too, takes what we think we know — ‘Adam lay ybounden’, Byrd, Gibbon and ‘On Jordan’s Bank’ — and adds some surprises in Richard Rodney Bennett, a brand-new carol from Roxanna Panufnik (set to words by George Herbert), and a stirring setting of ‘The Magnificat’. Best of all was an eerily beautiful Russian Orthodox motet by Rachmaninov, ‘Bogoroditse Dyevo’. A sudden calmness descends, the old seguing comfortingly into the new. The prospect of Christmas present and of those to come no longer seems so daunting.

Watching and waiting were also on the agenda in The Archers on Sunday, which took us inside St Stephen’s (or rather the parish church of Warmington, near Banbury) to hear Pip playing the organ. It’s a storyline that’s been going on for days, Pip practising her blessed carol and calling on the memory of her grandfather Phil. I couldn’t work out why they were making so much fuss about it, and only discovered after hearing ’Waiting for a wonder’ and musing why I didn’t know the carol that it was actually written by Norman Painting, who used to play Phil Archer, and was given its broadcast première on Sunday in memory of him. A touching tribute which gained no headlines, nothing in the papers, not even an inter-programme trail.