Magazine article The Spectator

Television: The Wonder of Bees with Martha Kearney

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: The Wonder of Bees with Martha Kearney

Article excerpt

Credit: James Delingpole

God bless the BBC. And I'm not being entirely sarcastic here. There are some things the BBC does very well and one of them, sadly, was TheReview Show , its monthly critical round-up of theatre, film, books and new art exhibitions, that it has now, in its wisdom, decided to scrap.

Presumably, the decision was made because the ratings had plummeted -- a fact perhaps not unconnected with the programme's move from BBC2 to the ghetto of BBC4. Yes, being highbrow and involving critics who talked in long sentences, it definitely counted as minority viewing. But isn't it -- or oughtn't it to be -- one of the BBC's raisons d'être as a publicly funded channel: that it has the space, leisure and leeway to create the kind of quality programming that simply wouldn't be considered by the commercial sector?

I appeared as a guest critic in a few of its final shows and what I really appreciated was its scrupulous neutrality. Here was I, a known rabid right-winger, appearing in very much hostile territory (Glasgow) among critics with politics markedly different from my own (Paul Morley, A.L. Kennedy, etc.). But I was always afforded enormous courtesy and given free rein to say whatever I liked, while never once being made to feel -- as you are, say, on Question Time -- that my sole purpose was to give a veneer of false balance by appearing as the representative conservative nutter.

It was on The Review Show that I got to know Martha Kearney, star this week of another show of the kind the BBC does very well. In The Wonder of Bees with Martha Kearney (BBC4, Monday), the World at One presenter introduced us to her secret life as a devoted apiarist.

We first met her at her Suffolk home in last year's snowbound March getting terribly upset about the survival prospects of her hives. 'I know they're only insects,' she said, but then told us a story so heartbreaking you saw her point. In the winter months, bees get very hungry and need to be kept going with a sugar solution. One day she opened up her hive to find all the bees dead. The sad part was that the bodies were all packed together where the last vestiges of the exhausted sugar solution had been. They had starved to death and, as the keeper charged with their survival, Kearney felt as if she had betrayed them.

There are three more episodes to go, following Kearney's attempts to make her first proper wildflower honey -- as opposed to the bland rubbish produced when bees feed on the ubiquitous oil seed rape. …

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