MOVING house is said to be one of the most stressful aspects of
modern life, along with bereavement, divorce, and setting a new
online password. Yet the protagonists in last week's The
Move (Radio 4, Wednesday) seemed to be doing fine, despite the
fact that one couple were moving to Northern Ireland, where they
knew only their daughter; and another lady to Scarborough, where
the only previous contact had been with somebody on the
Throw into the mix a house auction on which the whole move
depended, and you have enough material for several episodes of a
documentary called House Moves from Hell. That Rosie
Millard's half-hour documentary was cool, calm, and, above all,
humorous, says something about the way that radio and TV
documentary genres have diverged so dramatically over the past ten
The humour came courtesy of Jim, Sheila, and some deft editing.
Natives of the East Midlands, the couple were upping sticks and
dogs to be closer to family. Jim is phlegmatic: he has clearly
experienced sorrow, but refers to the loss of children as "par for
Naturally, he has a shed; and who wouldn't, with Sheila around.
Sheila talks for Britain; and for Northern Ireland, too, now that
they are moving there. It is her who is mad about the dogs; and, as
she tells of how she and Jim are going to sleep in the garage to
keep the dogs company while they are between houses, you can just
picture Jim's expression of tired acquiescence.
But this was not a case of putting the microphones in front of
the couple and letting the drama reveal itself: it is the fine
instincts of the programme to tease out the inherent comedy and
pathos in this everyday but unique tale.
By contrast, the editorial intrusions we had to endure in A
History of Ideas (Radio 4, weekdays) gave the impression of a
production team desperately trying to justify its fee. This new
series, introduced by Melvyn Bragg, aims to address 12
philosophical questions over the course of 12 weeks, in ten-minute
One of the first big questions was "What does it mean to be
free?" (Monday), and around the table for Lord Bragg's introductory
discussion were a lawyer, a philosopher, a theologian, and a
neuroscientist. This pre-recorded round-table was given to us in
short clips, interspersed with cabaret-style jazz. The intended
effect, one must assume, was of a long, languid, and intellectual
discussion at an exclusive club; the music served as insurance
against the accusation of generality and flippancy.
The follow-up episodes presented a different character:
something like the audio version of a textbook, with detailed
information about a featured thinker (Isaiah Berlin or William of
Ockham) delivered in a semi-robotic voice, as if this were the
"info-box" section on the textbook page. That this is a
co-production with the Open University suggests that we were being
served up an undergraduate module under another guise.
It is a great improvement on the OU programmes of yore, however:
segments presented in the dead of night by the clinically hirsute
on behalf of the sleep-deprived student.