Bbc radio 4

Don’t tell them but the French didn’t in fact invent etiquette

When dining in France, it is considered rude to finish the bread before the main course has been served, and ruder still to slice the bread with a knife, lest the crumbs land in a lady’s décolletage. In China, you should never place your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, and in Bangladesh you may eat with your fingers, but should avoid getting sauce above the knuckles. If you are guilty of any of the above, may I direct you, politely, to a new documentary on the World Service. The programme takes aim at many outdated traditions (including those that resign women to the kitchen), but the conversation is

Can Italy reverse its falling birth rate? 

Anne McElvoy is on the road again, exploring the state of modern Europe. Following her Radio 4 programme, The Reinvention of Germany in April, the Politico journalist has travelled to Padua, in northern Italy, where reactions to the rise of the right-wing populist Giorgia Meloni appear to vary. Is the 46-year-old PM a breath of fresh air – the best chance Italy has for a future – or a hypocritical dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist? The reinvention (or rather restoration) of Italy is very much Meloni’s goal. Clinging to the familiar principles of faith, flag and family, she has eschewed measures that would allow those born in Italy to define themselves as Italian,

Why wasn’t Gyles Brandreth chosen to host ‘Just a Minute’?

Turn aside if BBC Radio 4 isn’t your thing, still less its panel games. But for those of us who grew up with ‘Just a minute’ there was one obvious and outstanding candidate to replace the late Nicholas Parsons, who gave every indication that he was immortal until he was actually cut off at the age of 96. And it wasn’t the person who actually got the job. The obvious candidate was Gyles Brandreth – though if you’d put in a case for Andy Hamilton, the other genuinely funny man on radio, I’d give it serious thought. But Gyles didn’t get it, nor did Andy. Sue Perkins did. Brandreth is measurably

The funniest current affairs show since Brass Eye: Into the Grey Zone reviewed

It was something a friend said to me about The Revenant, Leonardo diCaprio’s bloody-minded and brutal Oscar vehicle: ‘The problem with the film is once you start laughing, you can’t stop. And for me, that moment was the second time he fell off a cliff.’ I thought about this a lot listening to Into the Grey Zone, a new podcast hoping to educate its audience about the new forms of constant pseudo-warfare that modern states engage in. This is the world of nerve poisoning in Salisbury, airspace incursions over Taiwan, cyberattacks, mass disinformation and remote interference. None of these things can be considered open warfare but taken together, the podcast

Jolyon Maugham: I killed that fox swiftly

Who was the victim when Jolyon Maugham killed a fox on Boxing Day? Not only the hapless animal, it would seem. The Remain-supporting lawyer – who was recently told by the RSPCA that it would not take any action over the incident – was not too impressed by Mishal Husain’s line of questioning on the Today programme. Husain rightly pointed out that although the RSPCA had decided not to pursue him in the courts, Maugham had still clubbed the animal to death.  After a painfully long pause, the QC replied:  ‘Um, I’m a little uncomfortable with that question because this was very much not the interview I agreed to give and I’m not really sure why you’re

How podcasts have transformed radio

As if on cue, Lemn Sissay’s new series for Radio 4 tackles all those questions we would rather ignore in this season of good cheer and overindulgence. He starts out with a programme about homelessness, reminding us that the Christmas story begins with a young unmarried couple, ostracised because she’s pregnant and her current partner is not the father, who are desperately in need of a bed for the night. Cut to 2019 years later. ‘How do you decide how much to give?’ he asks a young woman in his audience who, it turns out, works with a charity for homeless people. ‘Do you ever feel you’ve not given enough?’

Why I love a bit of death on a Sunday night

There’s nothing like a nice bit of death on a Sunday evening. Radio 4 originally transmit their obituary programme Last Word on Friday afternoons, but I love listening to the repeat. Sunday at 8.30 p.m. is the perfect time — the ending of people’s lives at the ending of the week. The stresses of Monday morning are beginning to appear on your mental horizon, so Last Word is a handy reminder that none of it matters. Triumphs and tragedies come and go, but in the end we all check out. This week provided the usual smorgasbord of mortality. Everyone from Irene Shubik, the TV producer behind Rumpole of the Bailey,

Can giving voice to the horrors of the past re-traumatise?

It is 50 years since Ronald Blythe published Akenfield, his melancholy portrait of a Suffolk village on the cusp of dramatic change. Akenfield was actually a composite of two real villages, Charsfield and Debach, and Blythe’s oral history was a patchwork created from about 50 conversations — with figures including a pig-farming colonel, the over-stretched blacksmith and a rural dean who reported residents being ‘blunted and crushed by toil’. It was an unsparing vision of rural poverty, yet also a homage to disappearing ways of life and the virtues of small communities. Last Saturday’s Akenfield Now, on Radio 4, followed local sixth-former Anna Davies as she surveyed the landscape afresh.

Without Joe Grundy The Archers feels lost

There was something really creepy about listening to the ten-minute countryside podcast released last weekend by Radio 4 supposedly transporting us to Marneys Field in Ambridge. Two worlds colliding. The fake countryside of Borsetshire was transfigured — no longer pretending to exist but existing, as if to make us all pretend we believe in it for real. We can hear David in the distance calling in the cows, just like an episode of The Archers. But those birds cheeping furiously; that tractor rushing past. The wind, the thunder, the sudden downpour. They could all have come from a nature documentary. It was all too weird, trying to make us believe

Even Donald Trump is tweeting about Spectator USA

We’ve just launched the US edition of The Spectator and the reaction so far has been great. Americans can be quite gloomy these days, but business optimism runs in their blood. They seem enthused about The Spectator’s transatlantic appeal. I met no end of Rod Liddle fans who thrilled at the sight of his name on the first US cover. Various people told me that America was crying out for a magazine with our sense of humour. But not everyone gushed. At our launch party in Washington DC, Anne Applebaum, the historian and journalist, asked how on earth we expected to make ‘the most quintessentially English magazine’ work in the US.

Did Radio 2 really need to give us four days of the Beatles to celebrate Abbey Road?

This Changeling Self, Radio 4’s lead drama this week, clearly ought to have gone out in August. It’s set — and was recorded — at the Edinburgh Festival and would have been a gift to marketing. ‘I love the festival!’ coos She. ‘All these millions of conversations, listen, listen, oh and stories, lots of stories, the different ways of telling…!’ No one in the real world speaks like this. But it’s just about OK, because she isn’t quite real either. She is a Fairy Queen, come to Edinburgh to spirit away a young pianist named Tam, as in Tamlin, who is a bit wet but really rather nice. The story

Why 80 per cent of young people in this Macedonian town have turned to posting ‘fake news’

It’s such a relief to turn on the radio and hear the voice of Neil MacGregor. That reasoned authority, his deep knowledge of history and how things have come to be as they are, his measured common sense and ability to see round an argument or story. He’s like the voice of how things used to be, when the world was not so topsy-turvy and the news reports made sense. His series, As Others See Us, returns to Radio 4 this week (produced by Tom Alban), taking him this time to Singapore, the USA, Australia, Poland and Spain to talk to people there about Britain’s past connections, present woes and

The joys of Radio 4’s Word of Mouth

I first heard Lemn Sissay talking about his childhood experiences on Radio 4 in 2009. At that time he was still fighting Wigan social services for sight of the official dossier on his years as a child in care, fostered at first and then dumped back in the system and institutionalised in care homes and then a remand home. Eighteen years of his life stored in an Iron Mountain data facility. He’d been asking for his files, the story of his life, since he came of age. It was not easy to forget that programme; the banal cruelties of the system and Sissay’s resolute dignity in talking about them. At

Will you last beyond the madeleine? Radio 4’s In Search of Lost Time reviewed

The madeleine upon which Proust’s seven-volume epic In Search of Lost Time pivots makes its significant appearance after just 18 minutes in the new Radio 4 adaptation — with which, if you’re not obsessed with the Ashes or holed up with the family in some dank seaside cottage, you can while away this bank holiday weekend. It’s always a surprise to realise that the most significant cake ever baked (after Alfred’s burnt tarts) makes its fictional appearance so soon, almost before Proust’s characters, Swann, Gilberte and the Guermantes, have taken shape in your mind. The narrator, now grown up, is offered a cup of tea and a fresh madeleine by

Two sides to every story

Maybe the equality inspectors at the corporation didn’t get the chance to vet Richard Littlejohn’s series for Radio 2, The Years that Changed Britain Forever, before it was broadcast on Sunday. Maybe the first programme (produced by Jodie Keane) was an accurate reflection of the year it focused on, 1972. But the most striking thing about it was not so much Littlejohn’s thesis, by which he declared that politically, culturally and musically it was a pivotal year in our national history, determining events that followed much later. No, it was his selection of music to accompany his thoughts about how the miners’ strike of 1972 led to the three day

Voices of import

By the age of eight Vaira Vike-Freiberga had learnt that life was both ‘very strange and very unfair’. Her baby sister had died from pneumonia the previous year because of the harsh conditions of life in a refugee camp in Germany (this was late 1944 and her family had fled their native Latvia for fear of the communists). Her mother soon had another child but when Vaira went to see her new brother in hospital she observed the young woman in the next-door bed turning her face to the wall against her wailing baby, product of a gang-rape by Russian soldiers. The nurses had given this unwanted baby girl the

A matter of life and death | 11 July 2019

One of the advantages that podcasts have over the scheduled array of programmes is the space that can be given to a subject, turning what would have been a one-off into a whole series sometimes three or four hours long. This can be offputting. Who has the time to give so much to one programme? Even more so now when there’s so much else on offer to distract and entertain. But in the case of the new podcast ‘dropped’ this week by the Beyond Today team those three hours (in six half-hour episodes) have been used to best effect, allowing the story to build, the voices to become clearer, the

End of an era

There’s been a Dimbleby on air since before I was born but last Friday saw the end of that era when Jonathan retired as chairman of Radio 4’s Any Questions after 32 years. It’s a bit like imagining life in Britain once the Queen dies. The Dimbleby family has been intertwined with the history of the BBC, and major national events, since the second world war when Richard, the father, carved out his career as a war reporter, most famously from Belsen in 1945. Mere mention of the name conjures up those Reithian values — clear reportage, an intelligent and fair-minded assessment of what’s going on, and access to that

Tables turned | 27 June 2019

It can’t be easy to find yourself on the other end of the microphone when you’re a journalist of the calibre of Emily Maitlis. You know all the pitfalls, how easy it is to be teased out of your bunker, to say more than you ever intended under the scrutiny of an ambitious, driven interviewer with a keen nose for a story. In One to One on Radio 4, though, it was surprising to hear the ultra-cool Newsnight presenter almost in tears as she recalled covering the Manchester Arena bomb and the Grenfell fire. We could hear her voice catching, the tears welling up, her words stuttering as she tried

The sea, the sea

Walking into Fingal’s Cave, after scrambling across the rocks to reach it from the landing stage where the boat from Mull arrives, is a strangely emotional experience. It’s not just the extraordinary landscape, the precise, almost unnatural shaping of the hexagonal basalt columns that rise up high above you, the screeching of gulls and roaring of the sea as it enters and leaves the cave. That’s enough to provoke a sense of wonder. But there’s also so much history attached to the place since it was discovered by the Romantics and became the epitome of the sentimental landscape, awesome in scale, and also quite frightening. Mendelssohn, Walter Scott and Turner