As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up with Radio 4 . My mother stopped teaching when I was came along and stayed at home ever after, being a full-time mum and all-round domestic goddess. And everything that she did around the house – and continues to do, with the same energy and accomplishment even as she heads towards her eighties – was to the strains of Radio 4 (or the Home Service, as it was formerly known).
And apart from a brief defection into the frequencies of Radio 1, Radio Luxembourg and Capital Radio in my teens, I’ve been listening largely to R4 ever since (with a bit of R2 and R3 thrown in depending on my mood and what’s on). The ‘tone’ or R4 is very deeply ingrained in my consciousness, and rather difficult to shake off. I find that I can’t even take quite seriously news programmes on other radio stations, on which the headlines are read in urgent tones, or interspersed with music and sound effects. Give me the measured newsreading of Charlotte Green, or Peter Donaldson any day.
I’m not an uncritical devotee. There are things about Radio 4 I actively loathe, among them Bells on Sunday (I have nothing whatever against the sound of church bells - in fact I think they sound rather nice - I just don’t want to hear them on the radio. Ever.); the ultra-sanctimonious You and Yours, and the utterly vile and awful Sailing By – a piece of ‘music’ composed by the late Ronald Binge, which makes me rush for the off-switch if I have the misfortune still to be awake with the radio playing at quarter to one in the morning. It is sooooo hideous (and all the worse for being very ‘catchy’ - listen if you dare!) that if I am accidentally subjected to so much as two bars of it, I need to listen to at least ten minutes of something half decent to wash it from my brain. I celebrated its demise some years ago – prematurely, as it turned out, because a clamorous protest from its fans - amongst them Jarvis Cocker - brought it back again (strange but sadly true).
Anyway, I didn’t actually set out to list all the things I detest about good old Radio 4. The list of programmes which I treasure is long and diverse. Today, having listened to the latest episode while pootling around the kitchen, I felt inspired to write in praise of one of the most priceless Jewels in the Radio 4 Crown – the funniest show on radio, I’m Sorry, I Haven’t A Clue , sadly nearing the end of its current season (you can catch the latest episode here).
If you’ve never caught this long-running (since 1972) feast of surreal but intelligent silliness, then you can hear some tiny snippets here (Fingers on Buzzers and Name that Barcode recommended) and here (of which the first is the longest and best). Annoyingly, some of the best games – One Song to the Tune of Another, for example, are not included. Better by far, buy the CDs , sit well back (so you don’t fall off whatever you’re sitting on) and enjoy.
The brightest star in the ISIHAC firmament is is Humphrey Lyttelton - 'Humph' - whose bewildered-sounding chairmanship, outrageous double-entendres and constant putting-down of the panellists are priceless. I've never been in the audience at a recording of the programme - something I've been meaning to do for years - but I have been lucky enough to see Humph and his jazz band performing. He signed a CD for me and, as you'll see, his handwriting bears witness to his passion for calligraphy.
There's was an excellent 85th birthday interview with Humph in the Independent earlier this year.