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No place like Home

by
28 November 2014

David Winter enjoys a book in praise of Radio 4

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For the Love of Radio 4: An unofficial companion
Caroline Hodgson
Summersdale Publishers £9.99
(978-1-84953-642-4)
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT292 )

IF YOU have a friend or relative who is a dedicated Radio 4 listener, then look no further for a Christmas present. For the Love of Radio 4 is 235 pages of history, anecdote, analysis, information, and gossip about his or her favourite radio channel. It should be enough to satisfy the most besotted enthusiast (and there are many of them).

This is a book to dip into endlessly rather than read from start to finish. The format makes that easy: short chapters on different elements of Radio 4, and scores of boxes with odd bits of information under the recurring title "A Little 4 Thought". There's just enough history, fleshed out with plenty of fascinating stories and eccentric characters.

Radio 4 was born on 30 September 1967, descended from the original National Service of the BBC (from the 1920s) and the Home Service, from the war years. A few programmes have survived its metamorphoses, among them the Daily Service (oddly omitted from the book's list of long-running programmes - more than 80 years old). The station, under its various names, has provided a home for some of the nation's best-loved institutions: among them Farming Today (77 years old), Desert Island Discs (72), Any Questions? (66), Book at Bedtime (65), Today (57), and Thought for the Day (44 - but previously known as Lift Up Your Hearts and Ten to Eight, going back over seven decades).

Radio 4 listeners are, on the whole, resistant to change. Move or drop a programme, and a BBC channel controller will feel the full fury of middle England. Familiarity, with a bit of style and well-crafted content, is what listeners look for. A former Controller of Radio 4, Monica Sims, argued, however, that its real secret was serendipity, the quality of surprise. Leave the radio on in the car, and the next programme - which might be a play, or about archaeology, art, music history, politics, or books - will so capture your attention that you find yourself sitting in the car park waiting to hear the end.

Radio 4 listeners are well served with serendipity. It is almost certainly unique in the broadcasting world, a radio channel that actually broadcasts programmes rather than "programming". For the Love of Radio 4 has a chapter on Religion and Ethics, but also chapters on Test Match Special, Woman's Hour, Drama and Comedy, Arts, Culture and History, Gardeners' Question Time, and The Archers - and several dozen more. Simply to list them is to demonstrate why there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. This is radio without records, phone-ins, or obtrusive personalities. It seldom shouts at you, and never insults the listeners' intelligence. Amazingly, it survives and even flourishes. Its devotees call it "a good listen". They will enjoy this book.

Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former Head of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC.

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