Knights in Shining Armour

Article excerpt

In Our Time; The Essay

BBC Radio 4; BBC Radio 3

Two programmes in one day discussed the era of the Crusades. On BBC Radio 4, In Our Time (13 February, 9am) had the presenter, Melvyn Bragg, not merely sitting behind what sounded like a mountain of paper but sifting through it with a stapler, Wikipedia weighing heavily on his eyelids, reaching out occasionally with a skeletal hand to grasp a glass of water. Never had the rustling of cross-referencing been so blatant. The reading list for In Our Time often reaches ten books but this was a 14-tome week - unlike the breeze that was the recent show on the Phoenicians, which recommended a paltry six.

The moment one of his guests referred to the Carolingians, Bragg poked his head around his stack and interrupted, "We're talking about Emperor Charlemagne here, yes? Crowned on Christmas Day, AD 8o o?" His interlocutor confirmed, "Yes, that's the one," and continued more nervously, anticipating the next insistent clarification.

But the guest Miri Rubin, a mellifluously transatlantic-accented professor of medieval and early modern history at Queen Mary University of London, instinctively knew how to deal with the slightly frazzled Bragg (who at one point apologised for "rambling"): praise and affirm. …