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Radio review: Ukrainecast, Sunday Worship: A prayer for Ukraine, Jobfished, and The Canon Wars

04 March 2022


Ukrainecast (BBC Sounds) provides daily guidance on the war in Ukraine

Ukrainecast (BBC Sounds) provides daily guidance on the war in Ukraine

WHO knows, at the time of writing, what will have happened in the world before this review appears? But, amid the torrent of noise, there is Ukrainecast (BBC Sounds), a daily podcast staffed primarily by the BBC’s Newsnight team, which is doing its best to provide some consistent guidance. Not afraid to offer a dozen speculations before breakfast, and with experts who are refreshingly willing to doubt their own expertise, this is, so far, the most authentic expression that I have encountered during the present drama of news as the first faltering draft of history.

It is a pleasing reminder that the BBC can still be very good in a crisis — a compliment that can be extended to its religious broadcasting. Sunday Worship: A prayer for Ukraine (Radio 4) was outstanding: a moving combination of music and words, led by Canon Sam Wells and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski. BBC managers take heed: such broadcasts are not just pulled out of the bag. The production team is kept match-fit by its weekly responsibilities.

All else might seem trivial in comparison; and the story told in Jobfished (Radio 4, Monday of last week), of a fake company that lured the lockdown redundant into working for nothing, will have had listeners wondering how the victims of this extraordinary scam could have been so gullible.

Ali Ayad was a charismatic, YouTube-savvy salesman who, in 2020, launched Madbird, a design company with a client list to die for. More than 50 people were enticed into working for the company. A year later, when they had been paid nothing, a whistleblower’s email revealed that clients, directors, and Mr Ayad’s own CV had all been made up.

The “how” is the easier bit to understand than the “why”. Mr Ayad was, by all accounts, a very hard worker himself, and has earned little or nothing so far. Was he on the cusp of some spectacular end that would have justified these nefarious means? Or was it simple self-delusion? Catrin Nye’s documentary was unable to answer this, but, nevertheless, gave us a glimpse of the “hustle culture” in which Mr Ayad operated.

Arguments over the literary canon, which consumed academia in the 1990s, seem quaint nowadays, in a world in which J. K. Rowling is cancelled, and sensitivity readers apparently police every new publication. The presenter of The Canon Wars (Radio 4, 17 February), Lindsay Johns, did not attempt to hide his agenda: he is determined to get Alex La Guma (“the black Dickens”) properly recognised as the genius that he was. But, in exploring how the canon is now constructed, he came up with some surprising insights.

Not least of these was the fact that the most widely read piece of extended fiction in schools is J. B. Priestley’s play An Inspector Calls. That is because teachers know how to teach it. Our grand ideological battles over inclusion and exclusion in the canon should be analysed in terms of how best to answer a “15-marker” at GCSE.

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