BBC Radio 4 is an English institution. It is unusual in broadcasting programmes that rely on the spoken word rather than music. Whilst some programmes come and go, there are parts of the schedule that have iconic status and are deeply rooted in English culture. Many of these programmes were also broadcast on Radio 4’s predecessor - BBC Home Service. Below I describe a few of the Radio 4 programmes that seem to have been embedded in my life – it is as if I had always known them, I do not know when I first heard them...
Desert Island Discs
The premise of Desert Island Discs, first broadcast in 1942, is simple – interview a famous person, asking them to choose the eight pieces of music they would wish to have with them if marooned on a desert island. Each castaway is allowed to take the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible with them. They are also allowed to choose one luxury. The charm of the programme comes in the way the music choices help tell the story of a life – the tracks are interspersed with well researched, probing questions from the presenter.
The Archers was originally described as an everyday story of country folk; national broadcasts, following a pilot, started in 1951. My grandmother listened to the programme from the start, and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of plots and characters. The programme was initially designed to help educate farmers and the public about food and farming issues at a time when rationing was still in place. Fans of the programme, which is sometimes described as a radio soap, have their own club - Archers Addicts.
The Today Programme
The Today Programme was first broadcast in 1957. The current programme, which attracts several million listeners, runs from six to nine every weekday morning, and seven to nine on Saturdays. The format includes regular news updates, live interviews on current topics and breaking news, up-to-date information on weather, business and sport and Thought for the Day, a short slot presented by someone from a faith background.
The first presenter of Woman’s Hour – in 1946 – was Alan Ivieson. In my memory whenever I have listened to the programme it has been presented by women. My mother can remember her mother listening to Woman’s Hour shortly after the Second World War, whilst rationing was still in force. This magazine style programme - which has managed to move with the times and attract generations of new listeners - has always covered subjects and issues relevant to women including cooking, family, health and politics.