Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Gillian Reynolds in the Telegraph

The Telegraph’s superb radio critic Gillian Reynolds echoes some of the concerns about Neil MacGregor’s current Radio 4 series that I express in the February issue of History Today. The radio series that’s really – and should be – a television series. What’s that saying about great minds?

A History of the World in 100 Objects (Radio 4, Mondays to Fridays) hits its third week (of an initial six, with more to come). There’s something wrong with this series, too. It’s overly busy, almost as much as Chris Evans’s breakfast show. Chris, however, has two and a half hours to fill daily. Neil MacGregor gets under 15 minutes to talk about each representative object – a tool, a carving, a pestle, a bowl – and fit it into his wider story of global evolution.

Yet, for instance, if food is the day’s focus we must hear Madhur Jaffrey and Bob Geldof on the subject too, not to mention fitting everything into an aural frame of music, title, opening montage, scripted description and bits of distracting location sound. It’s too much. MacGregor is a born communicator, a brilliant talker. Why not just allow him to do it? Here is radio made for television audiences. Listeners may occasionally like to talk back. When the story is this good we actually prefer to concentrate.

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