This weekend saw the BBC’s four main radio stations celebrate their 40th birthday. I like Radio 2 and can quite happily listen all day, and I think that Jeremy Vine’s lunchtime show is consistently very good at putting over intelligent content at a peak time, but my heart lies with Radio 4. It’s a bit of a coming-of-age moment when you start listening – suddenly you feel like you have grown up.
It’s not the perennial favourites – the Archers, Desert Island Discs, the shipping forecast – that attract me. I like the documentary series, the in-depth look at current issues and the science programmes. Not being hampered by having to supply visuals, the programmes can go more in-depth in the time available. But above all, it’s the comedy. Radio 4 has a wry, quirky sense of humour.
There are the flagship shows – Just a Minute is one of those joys that you think should be reserved for those of a certain vintage, who can fully appreciate its longevity. But I love it. For those of you who do not know, this is a show where the panel have to speak for one minute on a given subject without repetition, hesitation, or deviation. So simple in theory, so difficult in practice, it never fails to make me smile. It’s also allowed me to hear (via repeats on BBC7) comedians from yesteryear in their prime – Kenneth Williams, Derek Nimmo and many more. I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue is also up there but isn’t quite as consistent, despite Humpf’s glorious innuendoes; the Now Show, the News Quiz, Chain Reaction, the Hitchhikers series and more.
Then there’s the more bizarre stories that you can’t imagine other stations looking at – a few weeks back there was Julian Clary looking at the innuendo in the lyrics of old “dirty blues” songs; we’ve had Clive Anderson looking at plastic rubber ducks; Arthur Smith at Santa Claus conventions, and so many more. The shows are always worth checking out, even if not always totally successful.
All stations celebrated with special programmes, but “4 at Forty” and “Radio 4, This Is Your Life”. The first is an interesting look back at the history of the station (“network”) with various past controllers and broadcasters; the second is a great slice of comedy from Stephen Fry and Matt Lucas.
Congratulations Radio 4, and here’s to another 40 years of laughs, grins, giggles, smirks and sniggers.