Archive for the ‘BBC Radio 4’ Category
One of the highlights of my professional life is the work I do for Radio 4′s From Our Own Correspondent. I don’t get to contribute as often as I’d like, mainly because the BBC does not pay my travel expenses. Nevertheless, the programme offers an unrivalled opportunity for uncovering those fascinating stories that are normally drowned out by the big headlines. This, to me, is journalistic heaven.
Contributing to FOOC – as it is known – had long been an ambition of mine. I remember the moment when I was finally commissioned for my first story, in 2010. I was on my mobile in downtown Jerusalem, describing the story to the producer. He gave me the green light, and I almost jumped for joy. Then, with a great deal of apology, he told me how much I’d be paid. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
The reputation of the private investigation industry has taken another turn for the worse this week. News that the detective firm Southern Investigations had placed the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens under surveillance has been greeted, quite rightly, with indignation. The notion that the most powerful police chief in the land can be spied upon by private eyes – and remain completely unaware that this was happening – throws into stark relief the sheer audacity of private detectives in Britain.
Last July I presented a Radio 4 documentary called Crouching Low, Hidden Camera, about the shadowy world of private investigators. Over a period of some months I intensively researched the industry, speaking to detectives both on and off the record, and even joining a team from an agency called Answers Investigation on a surveillance operation. What I discovered was rather shocking. In Britain, there is no regulatory system for private detectives. Yes, you read that right. Private eyes are free to do as they please. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Listen to the audio (5 mins 5 secs)
“A single error can have far-reaching consequences, both in political life and on the football pitch. In Sweden, the prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, of the centre-right Moderate party, recently got himself into the sort of hot water that will be only too familiar to many politicians in Britain. In a classic gaff, he carelessly used the term “ethnic Swedes”; this provoked widespread accusations of racial intolerance. Meanwhile, in Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, Mayor Ilmar Reepalu is having problems of his own after making comments that were perceived to be anti-Semitic. This, commentators have suggested, has exacerbated racial unrest in the town.
Sweden has a population of approximately 9.4 million – in demographic terms, roughly the size of Greater London – and the influence of this smallness of scale can be seen everywhere. It is relatively easy, for instance, to get signed up by Sweden’s professional football teams, at least in the lower leagues (though you won’t get paid very much).
The political processes, too, are often less formal than in Britain. The prime minister, for example, can appoint whomever he likes into cabinet positions, whether they are members of parliament or not. Nevertheless, the media controversies of recent weeks have demonstrated that Swedish public figures are often scrutinised just as much as their British counterparts.
It was against this strife-ridden backdrop that a football match took place in Stockholm between the England Writers’ Football Team and the Swedish Writers’ Football Team. It is a little known fact that writers group themselves into national teams and play football against each other. Many end up injured, as writers are generally not used to strenuous physical activity. Invariably, there are comic moments. And notwithstanding occasional moments of acrimony, Writers’ Football games are, on the whole, perfect examples of diplomatic harmony and cultural exchange . . .”
It’s not often that Radio 4 clears its entire drama schedule for a week and replaces it with a single nine-hour radio play. Yet on the week of the 18th September that is precisely what will happen. The play—Life And Fate, with Kenneth Branagh in the starring role—is an adaptation of the postwar novel by little-known Russian writer Vasily Grossman.
Although Life and Fate centres around the moribund physicist Viktor Shtrum and the epic battle of Stalingrad, the novel weaves hundreds of interrelated stories and characters together to show a vivid cross-section of life under Stalin. Grossman was a high-profile frontline reporter during the war, and his fiction displays the same perceptiveness and honesty for which his journalism was renowned. Stories and characters arise and subside like waves in the broad river of humanity, winding through the horrors of the Eastern Front; the result is a novel that manages to be at once sweepingly panoramic and minutely detailed.
Life and Fate, by all accounts, is a work of colossal genius. Martin Amis called Grossman “the Tolstoy of the USSR,” and the historian Antony Beevor—speaking on a special Grossman edition of Start The Week on Radio 4 today—described the book as “one of the greatest Russian novels of the twentieth century.” Mark Damazer, the former controller of Radio 4 who commissioned the drama adaptation, was more laudatory still, calling Life and Fate “the best and most important novel of modern times.”
Grossman completed Life and Fate in 1960, but because of the novel’s dissidence—it dared to compare Nazism and Stalinism, for example—the manuscript was confiscated by the KGB, who famously seized the typewriter and carbon paper that Grossman used to write it. A decade and a half later, a small group of radicals managed to smuggle a microfilm version of the book under the Iron Curtain; an English edition was finally published in 1985. Frustratingly enough, by that point all eyes were on Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak and Life and Fate was eclipsed.
This new radio adaptation should bring the work to light again, though for the best parts of Life and Fate, you have to read the book. Continue reading on the Prospect Magazine website
Listen to the audio (6 mins 3 secs)
“Britain is often described as a nation of animal-lovers, usually cats and dogs. Australians, however, can have wilder tastes. Jake Wallis Simons met one who feels much more at home in the jungle than he does in the big city.” NOTE: this recording includes JWS impersonating a post-coital baboon. The full story
Listen to the audio (16 secs)
On Saturday 23rd July, at 11:30am, Jake will be appearing on Radio 4′s From Our Own Correspondent. The story he will be telling is an unusual one, involving parrot worrying, puma taming, and . . . the call of a post-coital baboon. In this short clip, released by Radio 4 on Twitter as a teaser, Jake can be heard making like a baboon and generally being a bit of a pillock. At only 16 seconds in length, that’s got to be worth a listen.
Hear more (you mean you haven’t heard enough?)
Listen to the audio (2 min 54 secs)
In this short clip I am interviewing Peter Allison, the animal tracker, adventurer, explorer, daredevil and writer, about how to understand the language of the animals. You will be able to hear more of this story very soon on BBC Radio 4 (though this was just recorded on my iPhone). Let me say this: Peter Allison is extraordinary. On the left is a picture of him tickling the tummy of a traumatised puma (click to enlarge). Stay tuned. –JWS
Listen to the audio (5 mins 55 secs)
“The island of Malta does not exactly have a central bus station. Instead, it has the Funtana tat-Tritoni, an open-air fountain in the middle of the capital city Valletta, which is home to a frenzy of bus-related activity. From early morning until late at night, fume-belching buses sweep around the fountain, picking up passengers, negotiating log-jams and stopping for the odd half-hour rest.
As well as the crowds of Maltese commuters that could be seen thrusting their way around the vehicles (office workers, school children, elderly nuns), I also noticed a good number of nerdy-looking tourists who were photographing the buses, recording mysterious details in little notebooks and generally getting in the way . . .” Read the transcript
Listen to the audio (5 min 17 secs)
“People came in ones and twos until the place was packed. Somebody closed the door to stifle the breeze. Then Father Angelo Seychell — a short, rotund priest in a spotless white robe — glided in, positioned himself beneath the crucifix, and began Mass. The congregation followed the proceedings automatically. But when it came to the sermon, there was an unexpected change . . .” Read the transcript