Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Heart of the Matter

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Heart of the Matter

Article excerpt

Looking back can be fatal and is usually illadvised, inducing a nostalgia that can only blight what lies ahead. Let's risk it, though, reliving those radio moments of 2012 (avoiding the Jubilee and the Olympics) when words took shape and became visceral. Most memorable (perhaps because most recent) was John Humphrys's grilling of his boss George Entwistle on the Today programme on Radio 4. The air crackled with pent-up feeling, as Humphrys, like one of Eddie Grundy's ferrets, went after Entwistle.

'You should go, shouldn't you?' says Humphrys, after we had heard the then DG admit that he hadn't seen the newspaper story which exposed the flawed Newsnight investigation. The air was so charged it was as if we were inside the studio and watching Entwistle's changing expression as he realised his job was not just on the line, but lost.

Truly startling, on reflection, was the DG's frankness, his honest admission of failure.

'I couldn't imagine how they could sit down and talk to us like this, ' said Liam on The Victim's Voice, a programme made by prisoners for the Prison Radio Association but rebroadcast on Radio 4. Liam, convicted of serious assault, was talking to Ray and Violet Donovan, whose son was murdered ten years ago in a random act of violence.

'The day just started out normal, ' Violet told Liam, before adding, 'I couldn't believe that anyone could stamp on someone's head.'

Even writing that now, months after first hearing it, makes me shudder.

This was pure emotion, without contrivance, or effect, designed not to entertain or compromise, but to understand. Roy Williams's trilogy of plays, The Interrogation (Radio 4), also led us into the heart of violence, and asked us to think about who are the real victims, the real perpetrators. He filled in the details behind those black-andwhite headlines, forcing us to confront our own prejudices. Who is better than whom?

The bigoted white detective or the black kid under arrest?

There's something about listening which doesn't happen when watching TV; something about the way the hearing brain functions differently from the seeing brain that allows us to have these inner conversations with ourselves at the very same time as hearing what's being said on air. This worked to brilliant effect with Radio 4's five-and-ahalf-hour adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses, heard throughout the day on Bloomsday, 16 June, the day on which Leopold Bloom talks us through his life, with all its fears and fleeting dreams. …

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