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Radio review: My Dream Dinner Party, Archive on 4, and Private Passions

01 April 2022


David Baddiel hosted My Dream Dinner Party (Radio 4, Saturday)

David Baddiel hosted My Dream Dinner Party (Radio 4, Saturday)

THE best parties are rarely formed of the best party guests. On paper, your invite list might be stellar; but the comedian gets shy, the politician is evasive, and the sportsman becomes boorish. And so it was that David Baddiel’s contribution to My Dream Dinner Party (Radio 4, Saturday) promised much, with guests including “the funniest man that ever lived” (Eric Morecambe) and one of the greatest footballers of all time (George Best), but never took off.

Part of the problem was that all of the guests are dead. This is a series that, through some impressive engineering wizardry and diligent research, sews together snippets of archival chat from celebrities into a semblance of coherent conversational exchange. On this occasion, Baddiel did most of the talking, followed by Joan Rivers, from whom there is surely plentiful material. John Updike and Best were more reticent; while Simone de Beauvoir’s most pertinent contribution was on the quality of the food.

On this occasion, our wonder at the technical virtuosity displayed by the production team went only so far; and the encounter felt hampered by the lack of suitable archive material. But the mere thought of such a gathering is delicious, considerably more so than Baddiel’s imaginary meal — a full English breakfast.

In contrast, in last week’s Archive on 4 (Radio 4, Saturday), it was the archive material that got in the way. Sir Alex Ferguson possesses one of those voices — a gravelly, lugubrious Glaswegian formed in a mouth irreversibly fatigued by years of gum-chewing — that force one to listen. There was no need for the archival interludes here; for, in conversation with a long-time acquaintance, Mike Sweeney of BBC Radio Manchester, Sir Alex was almost voluble. It was not so long ago that he refused to say a word to the BBC; now, he was telling of his upbringing in Govan, his schooling and apprenticeship, and his career playing in the Scottish football league.

For those who have not read the memoirs, there was much to surprise and illuminate, including the story of his relationship with Rangers, a proudly Protestant club, which looked askance at Sir Alex’s marriage to a Roman Catholic. As always with such profiles, the discussion failed to engage with technical details, perhaps thinking that the listener would turn off: what, for instance, were the “new-fangled” coaching schools teaching which so attracted Sir Alex to management? We get that his Govan background made him hard as nails; but what about the business of organising 11 men on a playing field?

In Private Passions (Radio 3, Sunday), another significant Scot was invited to look back over his life. But Richard Holloway has made doubt his own particular brand, one that has inspired many programmes and books, the latest of which is out now (Books, 31 December). His choices of music possessed an analogous quality — a “strange, sad pleasure”. “I don’t do jaunty music,” he declared: the most revealing and, perhaps, saddest comment of the whole interview.

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