Saturday, 27 December 2008

Review of the Year's Reviewers

Today's post is not one for anyone who can't get British radio, I'm afraid.

Having sat through assorted round-ups of the year from the cultural broadcasters, I thought it might be good finally to get my reactions to the broadcasters themselves off my chest. Is it just me, or are the journalists who cover the arts on BBC Radio 4 a particularly odd and annnoying bunch of folk? After a brief but expensive chat with our legal team, I've decided to name names.

Mark Lawson (Front Row): Seems to take pleasure in the mispronunciation of foreign names and words. Has a tabloid sub-editor's urge to set up links between topics via laboured and pointless puns. Has a boring obsession with what he refers to as "the psychology" of interviewees, prodding repeatedly at anything to do with sex or personal grief (watch out for the words "Does it?"). Has a particularly monotonous voice, aggravated by his failure to breathe at appropriate points in a sentence.

John Wilson (Front Row): Asks interviewees interminable breathless "questions", which finally reveal themselves as statements of opinion, to which the only polite answer is "Yes" or "No." Audibly resents his interviewees trying to get a word in edgeways. Increasingly reminds me of Alan Partridge. Deeply impressed by his own Tiggerish enthusiasm.

Kirsty Lang (Front Row): Cheerful sort with a lively personality, but sometimes suffers from a strange urge to pull an interview towards that philistine territory, where "Never 'eard of him!" and "You're having a laugh, aren't you?" are the keynotes. Can crunch gears badly when she shifts registers between fruity chortling over Mr. Darcy and earnest discussion of the legacy of Auschwitz.

Tom Sutcliffe (Saturday Review): Saturday Review would be the best arts programme on Radio 4, if only anyone ever got to finish a sentence. As they never do, it's the worst, and gives me indigestion. Tom has a pleasant voice and interesting opinions, but so do his guests: it seems to be the agreement that if Tom talks over anybody in mid-sentence, they must immediately shut up. It's particularly aggravating when he shuts someone off only to offload some pre-prepared aperçu he clearly anticipates will otherwise be wasted. Once the guest reviewers start behaving likewise, no-one gets to express a complete opinion about anything. Argh! I'm particularly fond of American anthropologist Kit Davis, a regular guest whose good nature seems never to be challenged by this dog-eat-dog style of reviewing. I've always wanted to hear what gets said to Mr. Sutcliffe once the show goes off air.

Nigel Wrench (Today): Makes John Wilson seem luke-warm. He is radio's über-Tigger, striving earnestly to paint word portraits of works and installations which fill up so much airtime, it saves the artist the bother of talking about their own work. Even "Yes" and "No" would seem superfluous. Sometimes doesn't even bother to put a question mark at the end of his spiel, which is embarrassing. Shares Kirsty Lang's dangerous "Yes, but you're having a laugh, aren't you?" tendency.

And a general comment on Radio 4 "arts" programmes:

do they all let their content be driven by the same limited range of PR press releases? By the time Saturday Review is aired, we've generally already heard several reviews of this week's three or four middlebrow-to-mainstream releases. Why should I care what anyone, let alone Adam Mars-Jones or David Aaronovitch or Fay Weldon, made of the latest Coldplay album or George Clooney vehicle or Sunday night costume drama? Can't we hear more about those "cultural events" that slip under the press release radar? A book of poems by someone other than Seamus Heaney? An exhibition or play outside London? A book or some music that hasn't been shortlisted for or won a prize?

Maybe in 2009...

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