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Radio: Filling the gap

05 January 2012

by Edward Wickham

A FUND-RAISER once told me of a mantra that she practises every morning in front of the bathroom mirror. “I’ve got what it takes to take what you’ve got.” At least one of Professor Hugh Cunningham’s ex­pert witnesses on How New is the New Philanthropy? (Radio 4, Mon­day of last week) suggested that we need more people capable of convincing us to part with what we’ve got. We do not give enough; and, in particular, the rich do not give enough, and are proportion­ately less generous than the poor. In short, charities need to be a great deal more demanding.

Cunningham’s assessment of the history of giving in the UK has been fascinating. It started with 18th- and 19th-century philanthropists whose beneficence generally came with specific agendas of social re­form. Sir Peter Lampl, the founder of the Sutton Trust, might be con­sidered a descendant of this form of philan­thropy, although he does not like the phrase “pressure group”, and favours instead the notion of “leverage”.

The big question about the Big Society is whether philanthropists are willing to fill the gap left by a receding state. Donors invariably give to causes that they are inter­ested in: thus donkey sanctuaries in the UK are better provided for than charities dealing with domestic violence. And, in the league table of favoured areas for philanthropy, social welfare comes below the arts and medical research.

After numerous New Year review and preview shows, you do not need me to remind you that the world is going to end next week, or, at the very least, the middle of next month. So we will pass by the dire forecasts of Robert Peston, Stephanie Flanders, and their kind, and instead get some global perspective, court­esy of Matthew Bannister’s review of the past year on Outlook (BBC World Service, Wednesday of last week).

We heard personal stories that were guaranteed to make us feel better about our lot, including a description of a mould-ridden flat in the Gorbals from the children who have to live there; and stories of the extraordinary death and post­hum­ous status of Norman Mor­rison, whose act of self-immolation was one of the most powerful anti-Vietnam War statements of the 1960s, and of the near-death of the rock-music songwriter and pro­ducer Nile Rodgers. And, if you like to hear of the eccentricities of Johnny Foreigner, then the World Ser­vice has such material in abundance.

This reviewer has neglected Outlook in the past, but, on the basis of this anthology, it is going straight on my podcast list.

The World Service may also be a relatively safe haven as Olympic frenzy gradually engulfs the national media this year. Radio 3 started early with the first of 20 new musical works, each lasting 12 minutes, and collectively entitled “New Music 20×12”. Not a promising premise, but Howard Skempton’s work for church bells, Five Rings Triples, broadcast on A Peal for New Year’s Day, was rung with such assurance that one could almost forgive the glibness of the overall commission spec.

We are promised further instal­ments in the series: opera, folk music, and a piece scored for a string quartet and four table-tennis players. They might have called it “From Ding Dong to Ping Pong”.

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