IT is all change for the arts on Radio 4. Last weekend it was announced that the station is revamping its coverage, with a longer running time for the regular magazine programme Front Row, including more regional coverage. There will be a new music programme Add to Playlist, presented by Cerys Matthews and Jeffrey Boakye and Radio 4 veteran John Wilson will host a new show, This Cultural Life, which will offer in-depth interviews.
Oh, and there will be a programme, Screenshot, co-hosted by Ellen E Jones and Mark Kermode, with a brief to cover film and what’s happening on streaming platforms.
That means that the high-powered campaign led by film director Carol Morley to save The Film Programme has failed. The Saturday Review will also disappear.
There is nothing wrong with revamping arts coverage especially if it is extending it, as Radio 4 promises. Radio listeners can be conservative in their listening habits at the best of times, and it doesn’t hurt to be shaken up now and then.
And Screenshot is clearly an attempt to reflect the changing ecology of cinema and its new relationship with the likes of Netflix and Amazon.
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Still, I will miss hearing The Film Programme’s presenter Antonia Quirke who brought knowledge and wit to the proceedings. And while Mark Kermode can offer both of those qualities too, he’s already a familiar voice on 5 Live and TV and it would be a pity if he was to become the only go-to for all film coverage on BBC radio. Monocultures are never fun. Hopefully Ellen E Jones will ensure that doesn’t happen.
Time will tell. In the meantime, John Wilson presented his last edition of Front Row on Monday night in which the Australian author Liane Moriarty admitted she was one of the few people in the world who has not heard of Emma Raducanu, even though she has just written a novel, Apples Never Fall, based around a tennis family.
“Thanks for listening to Front Row this evening with me for the last time,” Wilson said at the end with maybe a hint of suppressed emotion. There are a lot of goodbyes going on at BBC radio these days, even if they are not all permanent.
To politics and history. On Monday night on Radio 4 it was Scotland’s turn to become the focus for the ongoing This Union series. The first part of Two Kingdoms was presented by Allan Little and offered a familiar yet succinct summation of the history of the Union via Robert Burns, the Darien Disaster, Presbyterianism and the civil war. Input came from Professor Tom Devine and York University’s Laura Stewart.
If there wasn’t much new here it was still a cogent reminder of where we were and the links between 18th-century distrust of the Union amongst some Scots (including Burns) and that held by nationalists in the 21st century.
It helps, of course, that Little has one of those reliable broadcasting voices; crisp, distinct, characterful, never overbearing (see also Sean Rafferty on Radio 3 and the aforementioned Cerys Matthews on 6Music).
There are some voices you want to turn off as soon as you hear them, of course. On Tuesday I turned on 5 Live just in time for Boris Johnson’s Covid update and his latest risible line: “I am confident that we can keep going with our plan to turn jabs, jabs, jabs into jobs, jobs, jobs.”
A man whose words are as fatuous as he is.
Listen Out For: Book at Bedtime, Radio 4, 10.45pm, Monday to Friday. This week and next’s Book at Bedtime features Sally Rooney’s new book Beautiful World, Where Are You.