I spent the afternoon of the 24th October this year listening to two instructive, entertaining and even illuminating editions of two standards of BBC Radio broadcasting.
Desert Island Discs, running continuously on the BBC since 1942, interviews each week a ‘castaway’ entitled to choose eight sound records, a book and a luxury to console them in the event of them following in the footsteps of such archetypal castaways as Robinson Crusoe and Tom Hanks.
My maternal grandmother was a big fan of the show, though it’s the kind of thing I would only listen to if interested in the guest. On this occasion I tuned in on spec, and found myself engaged and intrigued by the castaway and his choices: Michael Sandel, a noted political philosopher. I’ve just re-listened to the edition, including the bit at the start I missed. Well worth a listen, Sandel’s choices include Hamilton, from the musical of the same name, which he mentions listening to more critically recently in light of his own critique of the ideology of meritocracy, Billie Holliday’s Strange Fruit and Nina Simone’s Feeling Good, as well as other delights I’ll leave you to discover for yourself.
Radio 4 being primarily a station of the spoken word, a valuable commodity, nevertheless produces a slight weakness in DID‘s format: we only hear the briefest of clips from each choice.
Radio 3’s Private Passions, in which guests are invited to share their favourite recordings usually of classical music or poetry, has the luxury of longer excerpts, but otherwise in form resembles nothing less than a slightly higher-brow version of DID. Indeed the emphasis remains on the conversations. Scheduled after DID, the two together form a good solid hour of enlightening listening both to musical choices, perhaps unexpected or familiar, as well as to the perspectives of some notable and fascinating people. On this occasion, Private Passions interviewed the ever-interesting Rory Stewart, former diplomat, Tory MP, and possibly spy. Stewart talks most interestingly of how little he misses being a politician. He’s particularly good on detailing an insider’s view on exactly how the political system corrupts those involved in it, so that by the time you get to cabinet level and thus power, all your ability to think critically and with nuance and compassion has been eradicated from your political practice. He even goes as far as to suggest if he had succeeded in becoming Prime Minister, which he had a crack at in 2019, he thinks he would have been ‘corrupted’. The interview also gives an insight into Stewart’s experiences in the Middle East, as well as his cultural interests there and in Scotland, including an interesting excerpt from a recording of Scottish folk singing, as well as usual suspects Handel and Bach.
Both episodes remain available on BBC Sounds, and repay a listen: