Sunday, 28 November 2010


I'm often up by 6am. At that time of day you can catch some interesting stuff on the radio. This morning as I made coffee I heard three presenters talking from inside an oak tree. I suppose they do sound a bit muffled, but they have the mike in there with them. They are discussing fungi, some of which they can see as they stand or sit inside the hollow of this tree, which is apparently seven hundred years old.

All this is on the radio. I am reminded of the day when I was about seven years old and first heard the Goon Show on the radio.

'This is the sound of Eccles riding along on a wall,' followed by a sound I’ve not heard since, presumably because Eccles no longer travel by moving wall.

I remember that line, I guess because the sheer incongruity would impress a kid that age. I also recall that my mum was ironing – that’s how the mind works.

Now I hear the sound of three naturalists talking inside an oak tree. So not much has changed in fifty odd years, except now they don't call it comedy. Once they have exhausted the possibilities inside the tree they move out to discuss the landscape.

Don't you just love hearing about a view on the radio.

Actually one of the funniest pieces of radio I've ever heard was a discussion about the proposed route of the Midland Metro on the Ed Doolan show. For those who don't live around Birmingham, UK, where I used to work, ED has a radio programme with the biggest audience in the region. OK why was such a mundane topic so funny? Try to imagine the sound of four people in a radio studio arguing about a map.

'No, no, it's further over to the left.'

Sounds of rustling paper.

'By the fold there.'

Sound of chair moving.

'No, past the end of that road there.'

And it went on, for about five minutes, until Ed managed to curb their enthusiasm and get things back under control. Quite clearly none of the participants had any conception of how impossible it was for anyone outside the studio to understand any of their discussion.

I actually laughed so much that I had to pull over.

That kind of radio is dangerous, as the Goon Show knew only too well.

OK so some radio is ridiculous, but when it’s done right it is brilliant because it feeds directly into your imagination, and the best radio makers know that. Think of that line from Educating Rita.

‘How would you stage Peer Gynt?’

‘Do it on the radio.’

Good literature does the same.

Television, on the other hand is so often much more boring because somehow it seems to assume that the viewer has no imagination. They add a picture to everything. Radio and literature know that the real picture is in your head, TV feels obliged to show you an actual picture. It’s fabulous when they show you something that you could never see otherwise, but so often it’s mundane.

They seem determined at all costs to avoid 'talking heads'; yet facial expression is what we all use a lot of the time to decide if we thing we are being told the truth.

When I used to be interviewed about health issues there seemed to be an obsession with filming standing outside a hospital - as if that had anything to do with health.

If you fill the viewer’s head with mundane pictures the chances are that their head will fill up with mundane thoughts. What radio and literature do is give us images. TV so often just gives us pictures.

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Google analytics tells me that some people read this blog in far-flung places, well far flung if you are flinging from here in the UK. Places that are as far apart as the USA or Vietnam, if you believe the graphs. Could any of you tell me about radio in your part of the world? Do you ever get anything as much fun as three naturalists inside an Oak tree?

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