Saturday, August 02, 2008

In praise of Radio Four

Driving down from Yorkshire today through the driving rain of an August morning we listened to three excellent Radio Four programmes back to back. Actually, the second programme was put together through the efforts of Norwegian Radio which had managed to get Leonard Cohen to talk, and talk beautifully, about his early days as a musician and his affair with Marianne Ehlen, the woman famously featured in a towel on the back cover of "Song From A Room". This was then intercut with an interview with Ehlen to make "Leonard and Marianne", an affecting portrait of how life felt to the pair of them when the going was good and, as Leonard recalls, sleeping with your friends was simply good manners.

Before that was Excess Baggage, which featured interviews with Richard Guise, who has cycled up the West Coast of Scotland, and Andrew Mueller, who has travelled to the world's most prominent trouble spots to see what they were like. I was very impressed that whenever Mueller feels tempted to complain about London's squalor and institutional fatigue he reminds himself that it's that underrated civic virtue, indifference, which makes it a more tolerant and liveable place than most.

After that came Andrew Rawnsley and "Beyond Westminster", taking advantage of the fact that the House isn't sitting to look at the growth of single-issue pressure groups and confront the inescapable fact that they're often the enemy of good government.


  1. DH:
    Thanks for pointing us in the direction of Speechification. It meant that on East coast line the other day, I avoided the dreadful radio reception and caught up with a jolly show on mix tapes and one by charles wheeler where he describes how amazingly democratic Churchills war cabinet was cheers.

  2. The programme I've enjoyed most on Radio 4 recently is Fags, Mags and Bags. It's a 6:30 weekday comedy show, with the added bonus of actually being very funny.

    Get yourself over to Listen Again quick smart, because the last of the series is due to expire soon. Really, it is v. good indeed.

  3. Sitting in my basement workshop on saturday morning I was attempting to find the cricket on Radio 4 longwave on a tiny, tinny personal radio when I came across the 'Leonard and Marianne' programme.

    I'd missed the start so had no idea what I was listening to but the story revealed itself gradually through the interviews and by the end - when Marianne recalled her realisation that there was no future for her and Cohen - well, I must admit to having a tear in my eye.

    The combination of the two voices, the background music and his songs, all overlaid with fine longwave hiss and static made it a perfect little programme.

    bltp ( above ) mentions Speechification. I've been filling my ipod with their offerings for months now and, along with the Word podcast ( thanks! ), Collings and Herrin, Adam and Joe and occasional missives from Steven Fry, it helps keep me sane at work. Always a great selection of interesting programmes.

    Very good blog, by the way. I enjoy it and very much so.