IN A culture where entertainment appears to be getting relentlessly crashier and bangier, the phenomenon of the box-set download offers a respite. Stretching over multiple episodes and long hours, the box-set unfolds at the speed of a weighty Victorian novel.
In radio terms, the equivalent to the box-set is the podcast series which, in some cases, are downloadable in one go. Because of the uneven length of episodes, they are not scheduled for broadcast as part of radio-station schedules; and they can be creative in their presentation and production stance. Those who, like me, have been hooked by the World Service’s The Assassination, have to wait a week for another episode to appear. But, once the series is complete, late-comers can binge to their hearts content.
The author of The Assassination is Owen Bennett-Jones, a long-serving journalist in Asia. It tells the story of the death of Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Aficionados of this genre will recognise elements of the production style which have been lifted from American models, not least the doleful, repetitive music. Bennett-Jones is not, as he would have to be in a straight documentary, the objective reporter: he is part actor, part commentator, and part angry campaigner.
In the case of The Assassination, the threat we are encouraged to sense is all too definable. It seems obvious that there are some dodgy people in the security forces who are supposed to be defending Bhutto, and it would come as no surprise if, at the end of it all, we find out, as in Agatha Christie’s most famous novel, that they all did it. But this hardly detracts from the grim fascination of seeing the tragedy played out. If ever there was a death foretold, it was this one; we are on episode four, there have already been four assassination attempts, and Bhutto seems resigned to her fate.
The dramas of home-grown politics seem trivial by comparison, but even making such allowances does not help much with The Cameron Years (Radio 4, Monday of last week), a survey by Steve Richards of David Cameron’s government. Since the only thing anybody will remember about him is the decision to hold a referendum, you can imagine what most of this series is about.
Last week’s episode promised something else — an analysis of social reform, the Big Society, and environmental policy: all areas where the Cameron government was promising to storm the centre-ground.
The most interesting scrap came from his Director of Communications, Sir Craig Oliver, who suggested that discussions about the Same-Sex Marriage Bill started over a dinner of horsemeat in Davos. To divert attention from the food, Cameron invited his entourage to debate some unappetising policy ideas.
Cameron eventually forced through the Bill, with cross-party support; but the stench arising from that uneaten meat got only more pungent, until he could no longer avoid taking a bite.