Sunday, 30 December 2007

Posh woman teaches Muslims to fish

The Fishing Scene today at 12.30pm was a classic piece of Radio 4 treasure. For a reason that was never explained, a posh older woman was spending the day teaching four Muslim young women how to do fly-fishing. Amidst flies, hooks and splashy noises the women got to know each other, discussing matters from fashion, to marriage, to African fish-head soup! I wanted to adopt the fishing woman as my honorary aunt and the young women as my sisters. The unlikely group talked, laughed, got on like a house on fire and even caught some fish.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

That Quiz About the News

A conversation I had a few years ago.

She: You should send that in to that programme where they read out cuttings, what's it called? On Friday evenings on radio 4? It's a quiz about the news.

Me: Oh yeah, I know the one. What *is* it called?

She: I don't know! Hmmm... Quiz about the news... quiz about the news...

Me: Oh, the News Quiz.

She: Yes!

Monday, 24 December 2007


I hate it when Church is on the radio, it makes me feel guilty for doing things like smoking, when 'in Church' (i.e. when it's being broadcast), and my Christian background has me automatically answering 'Amen' at the appropriate times, no matter what else I'm up to at the time.

It's usually restricted to Sunday mornings when it's especially irritating because if you hear it, it means you're up too early for a Sunday morning when a lie-in should be on the cards.

That's if you listen on FM or digital. If you listen on Longwave, I think there's a service broadcast every day.

As I type, it's A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The Carols are nice, I suppose.

Aesop's Fables: Afternoon Play

When I was a kid, my Dad used to read me these stories at bedtime, and I've recently been listening to them again, thanks to the fabulous (free downloads of public domain audiobooks) Librivox.

So, when I heard that today's Afternoon Play was to be
Aesop's Fables

Michael Morpurgo's imaginative and humorous retelling of a clutch of Aesop's best-known stories, adapted from a stage production.

I was very excited!

14:15. So far, silly songs, summing up some of the 'morals of the stories' which feature at the end of the fables.

14:20. It's a bit giddy, but fun.

14:23. Starting to do my head in. This song involves two blokes making donkey noises, and though it is to illustrate the donkey in the story, it hurts my head.

14:25. The songs are reminding me of The 15 Minute Musical. Wonder if the same people are involved?

14:29. Kindness is more important than strength.

14:29. The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg! I love this one!

14:32. I don't think the guy in the original fable wanted a big, fast, red car. But modern adaptation is quite fun. I know what he's about to do... he's so stupid!

14:35. Be happy with what you've got and look after it.

14:40. How did Little Red Riding Hood get into this?

14:42. Ooh, the wind versus the sun. Who will win? (I already know the answer... which spoils it a tad).

14:44. Interesting that they're both Italian, "Watcha this!". The sun sings chilled-out jazz, too.

14:46. Gentle persuasion is often the best.

14:47. The Hare and the Tortoise. Another fantastic nostalgic one!

14:52. Phew! I am glad the lion wasn't hungry...!

14:52. Silly, silly hare.

14:53. Go tortoise, go tortoise, go tortoise!

14:54. Speed isn't everything; there are other ways of winning.

14:55. That'll teach the Boy Who Cried Wolf! Poor sod.

14:56. Too many munchy sound effects, though I guess it made the point.

14:56. Noone believes a liar even when he's telling the truth.

14:57. Fair-Weather Friends Aren't Worth Having.

14:57. Try to please everyone, you end up pleasing noone.

14:59. The End.
If I didn't already love these stories, I suspect I would have hated this play. As it was, though it had its annoying aspects (head-hurty songs), I loved it. Better generally for kids than adults, I suspect. Silly for Christmas.

For a week, you can 'listen again' on your computer (even if it's for the first time) here. If I haven't put you off it, of course.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Misplaced Assumptions

Radio 4 tends to be my constant companion, day and night, whenever I'm at home. I listen to a surprising amount of what they broadcast, especially as I don't have a TV, so I rely on the radio for most of my news and entertainment. However, inevitably the radio doesn't hold my attention constantly: I have things to do, thoughts to think, places to go. I often tune in for random comments which intrigue me by their seeming disconnection from anything to do with sense when stripped of their context. This is one of the most appealing features of Radio 4, because so much of what is broadcast is random and quirky in nature even before it tries to get through my weirdness filter.

The problem is, one of the things I increasingly find myself hearing when I tune back into what's on the radio is "You are listening to..." - The World at One, The Six O'clock News, etc. But I'm not! I just tuned back in for a few seconds while they said that. Radio 4 broadcasters should know better. We are so much an all-0r-nothing listenership, for many people Radio 4 forms a background to our lives, but we're not always paying attention. They should stop assuming that I'm listening when, in fact, the only thing I've heard in the last 10 minutes' broadcast is them telling me I'm listening! I'm sure they didn't used to say this so much, and they should stop doing it right away. "This is The Six O'clock News" would be so much less presumptuous and more informative.

Reassuringly Familiar

There's something decidedly comforting about the constant regularity of radio 4. After waking at stupid o'clock this morning, knowing that, on turning on the radio, i'd find the end of world service, followed by radio 4 waking for the day, was a reassuring relief in the bleak early hours.
Any alteration to the schedule or routine from broadcasting house can be surprisingly disconcerting, though thankfully rare.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Monday Evening Musings

After I was invited to be a contributor to this blog, it struck me I'd been letting my Radio Four listening slip a bit in recent weeks. Catching up with the latest ludicrous adventures of Jack Bauer and Gregory House (not together, but I would definitely watch that) and listening to little more than the Today programme on my radio alarm clock, something that resulted in a continuous hazy knowledge of the day's news, which I'd forget altogether until someone mentioned it later in the day and I'd suddenly recall it all.

Anyway, this evening was a chance to catch up a bit. I started with the seminal Clue, which was in Manchester this week- good as always but nothing out of the ordinary. Am I the only one who doesn't think swanee kazoo is funny? Next up was The Archers. I do not listen to The Archers, and as more and more people I know succumb to the Ambridge Curse I'm taking extra care to avoid its dubious charms before doubtless plunging into a grateful numbing addiction at a later stage. Tonight, a man was trying to persuade another man to put a thing in the farm that turns rubbish into electricity. Also, there was a grumpy old man in a wheelchair being slightly less grumpy to someone and talking about coffee. I'm still not sensing the appeal here.

At 7.15 Front Row- Mark Lawson being slightly insufferable. Apparently A N Wilson thought the film of The Golden Compass was very good, and wondered how they trained all the animals until "they began to speak and I started to think they might not be real". The CGI, whilst fooling A N, was below Mark's standard however. The Spice Girls sounded the same as they always had in Vancouver, and there was an interview with Dennis Hopper. The best bit of this programme was a discussion around a new Gibson Robot automatic self tuning guitar. This sounded good to me- it was a bit like Tomorrow's World- but predictably some guitarists might not like it. Except all the ones they interviewed seemed to love it. As far as I'm concerned, one of the greatest types of guitar is the one that has a keyboard where the strings should be, so maybe I'm biased.

Part two shortly...

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Charlotte Green

In Zin's first post here she mentioned Charlotte Green.

She is, without doubt, a vital component of Radio Four. She is renowned for her voice, which won her the 'Most Attractive Female Voice on National Radio' award. She reads the news and also frequently reads clippings on News Quiz, where it is not unheard of for them to save the smuttiest clippings for her sultry voice.

Some examples of her reading cuttings for the topical comedy quiz are 1. Meat and Two Veg; 2. Taking a Hard Line; and 3. A Nigerian Identity Crisis. They are all from the News Quiz classic cuttings page, where you can hear more. (Needing Real Player again - don't blame me, blame the Beeb).

Charlotte is known for her occasional giggles, exemplified in the Nigerian Identity Crisis clip above, but one of her most classic moments ever is described in an article she wrote for the The Guardian.

I have always been enormously attracted to people who make me laugh. For me, it's essential to laugh both at the absurdity of life and at oneself. Inevitably, the laughter sometimes spills over into my work and I find myself poleaxed by merriment.

The most memorable occasion was during an eight o'clock news bulletin on the Today programme with Sue MacGregor and Jim Naughtie, both of whom have a very good sense of humour. The mood was relaxed, the bulletin was about to end and I was preparing to read my final story. The voice piece playing had 10 seconds to run and the green light in the studio had gone on to warn me that it was coming to an end. Suddenly the name of the head of Papua New Guinea's armed forces, Major General Jack Tuat (pronounced Twat) resonated round the room.

It's an open secret that I have a ribald sense of humour. I knew immediately that I was going to have trouble getting through the next story, which to compound the problem was about a sperm whale. In the few seconds before the voice piece ended, Sue repeated sotto voce, almost with a sense of wonderment, "Jack Tuat". I caught her eye and from that moment knew I was lost. My voice rose and dropped like Dame Clara Butt on speed, the laughter broke free and the item about the stranded sperm whale came to a premature end. I was transported back to my 10-year-old self, ambushed by mirth because my best friend had farted, unexpectedly and explosively, during school prayers. Poor Jim managed to splutter the words, "Good luck to the whale", before heroically embarking on an interview with a man named Pratt, who in the general chaos of the moment he then inadvertently called Spratt. It was a moot point as to which one of us slid under the table first.

I live dangerously on occasion when stepping into the Today studio. On New Year's Eve, the atmosphere was suitably festive. The head barman from the Savoy Hotel had been invited in to mix a cocktail called a Corpse Reviver and Jim offered me a taste. It lived up to its name and was powerfully medicinal. The fact that the back of my throat felt as if it had ceased to exist proved to be the least of my problems.

The head barman was asked to continue mixing some drinks and took to his task with alacrity. I, however, was meant to be reading a news summary at the same time. It's not easy to do with a silver cocktail shaker being brandished by your left ear and then shaken loudly and vigorously. The finer points of Britain's economic performance got lost amid a general outburst of merriment and revelry. Ho hum.

You can hear the clip here. And you probably will want to, again and again. It is classic 'Radio Four Gone Wrong', and a perfect Charlotte Green moment.

You can hear her discuss her career with the BBC here, with RealPlayer.

Charlotte, you are wonderful. When you were off sick for some months after getting appendicitis, my partner and I actually called the BBC to find out where you were as we were worried and missing you! The model of professionalism, and the model of giggling, in a somehow ideal combination.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Important things about this blog

I think there are a few things that need to be said at the outset of this blog - certain presuppositions and parameters that will apply. This is not an exhaustive list, but the following things are important to know:
  • Charlotte Green is the archetypal news reader and is therefore beyond reproach (especially when she gets the giggles!)
  • The Shipping Forecast is subject to detailed analysis and is generally judged on the criteria of speed of delivery, gravitas and moral judgments made about the various sea areas. Many of the sea areas have additional names (not stated by the continuity announcer) which will become apparent in due course. (This link has a great map of the shipping areas by the way.)
  • Quote Unquote is clearly *not* comedy, even though the write-up says it is. It is at all times to be avoided and shouldn't really be allowed on the air. These two statements also apply to Down the Line.
  • Monday and Friday 6.30pm programmes are almost invariably fabulous.
  • The day just feels wrong when Big Ben is not chiming. The birds which replaced Big Ben for awhile were an interesting diversion though.
  • This blog is almost exclusively about Radio 4, but the World Service is also up for debate, although only such programmes as are transmitted when Radio 4 "goes to bed".

That's all for now.

Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show!

Well, this blog has to have a first post about *something*, so why not what is on BBC Radio 4 as I type, Count Arthur Strong?

Spoof reminiscences of a former variety star. Count Arthur Strong is an expert in everything from the world of entertainment to the origins of the species, all false starts and nervous fumbling, poorly concealed by a delicate sheen of bravado and self-assurance.

While both the show and its main character are immensely irritating, I do find myself giggling, despite my best efforts not to.

It is a humour based on mixed-up words, an easily confused old has-been, and his arrogant self-importance which leads to his growing frustration when no-one recognises him or appreciates what he considers to be his considerable abilities.

He is rude, annoying and a general nightmare to be with. Yet I can't quite turn it off, nor can I hold back the odd snigger. I hate myself.