Radio review: Making History, The Why Factor, and Bunce's Tales of the Extraordinary

20 July 2018

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IT IS a fact of human nature that we like to know where we stand — and where we sit. Regular churchgoers will return to the same section of pew, and be passively possessive of their spot, while newcomers and the infrequent fill up from the back.

It prompts the question: why did we do away with box pews? The detailed arrangements for who sat where, which represented minutely graded criteria of social standing and moral rectitude, removed the stress of it all — so long, that is, as you did not find yourself bumped from your seat by some wealthier upstart.

All this and more was explained in Making History (Radio 4, Tuesday), which took as its starting-point the pew wars recently fought at Bath Abbey. As social documents, pew plans, such as the ones that survive from the early-17th-century St Margaret’s, Westminster, are immensely useful in monitoring the fortunes of individuals and their standing within their communities; and it encourages one to imagine what squabbles might arise at the parish church of the House of Commons were box pews and faith still to be prominent in modern political and religious life.

I had tuned in to Making History for another feature altogether: a historian’s perspective on Mediterranean migration. In a neat piece of polemic, veiled in the language of historical perspective, we heard how, in the early modern period, migration was all in the other direction: refugees and economic migrants were fleeing religious persecution and the “Little Ice Age” to lands where the Ottomans exercised tolerance, and life was relatively prosperous.

What we do with this insight I do not know, but it provides evidence to complement observations made for The Why Factor (World Service, Monday), which explored why we are hard-wired as Homo sapiens to think in terms of Us and Them.

The programme opened and closed with the case of a Windrush descendant, whose expulsion from the UK has been prosecuted with inordinate rigour. The rights and wrongs of the case lay beyond the remit of this programme; but it is the division of society by sometimes arbitrary categories, such as “native” and “immigrant”, which is at work here, and, in particular, the way that it plays out in the public consciousness.

Radio 5 Live has been celebrating the greatest concentration of prestige sports events for many a summer by repeating, and releasing on podcast Bunce’s Tales of the Extraordinary (Saturday). So long as you can cope with the exhausting cockney enthusiasm, Bunce’s anecdotes of eccentric sportspeople and their bizarre exploits will provide great entertainment for a long car journey.

As a taster, consider the tale of Maurice Flitcroft, the humble crane-operator from Barrow-in-Furness who assumed a variety of pseudonyms to inveigle himself into the Golf Open Championship − only to hit a 121 in qualifying (the worst score in the tournament’s history). The love we have for the heroic failure is matched only by the exasperation felt by the event organisers.

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