Radio Head – BBC Radio 4 is an Education for Life

A bleak day in January 1994.  I am sitting on a toilet seat in the staff loos of the girls’ school I work in and I am crying.  A colleague enters and pushes the door open.  In my distress I haven’t attempted to lock it.

“What’s the matter with you?” She asks.

I look up at her through damp eyelashes and try to speak but nothing comes out.

“If it’s your Year 13 assessments, I haven’t done them either.”

I shake my head.

“Brian has died,” I gurgle and begin sobbing.

“Oh God, I’m really sorry. Were you close?”

“Kind of…”  I sniff, “I listened to him practically every day!”

“You listened to him?”

I stare at her realising that she has no idea who I’m talking about.

“Brian Redhead?  From The Today programme?  Radio 4?”

She looks at me blankly.  Then her eyes drop down to the banana I’m clutching. It’s my break time snack and I must have run in with it without thinking.

“What are you going to do?” She says. “Shoot yourself?”

I can’t remember the precise moment I started listening to Radio 4 just as I can’t remember the precise moment I gave up Frosties in favour of muesli.  I just know it happened a long time ago and that I have been regular ever since. 

There were early signs that I’d be a natural fit for the station. I absorbed news and current affairs as a six year old. 

My notes to the Tooth Fairy were full of concern for the welfare of the people of Uganda and frequently expressed wishes that the IRA would stop planting bombs.

The Tooth Fairy was clearly alarmed because there’d always be an Enid Blyton book left under the pillow along with the fifty pence piece.

Over time, my attachment to the station grew.  I graduated university and bought a house.  I stripped walls and grouted tiles to Law in Action, Any Questions and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.

Upon marrying, my  new husband and I drove through France listening to TMS on Longwave.  I fell in love with Jonathan Agnew and learnt to speak Cricket, rolling the words ‘silly mid off,’ ‘fine leg’ and ‘bowled him a Chinaman’ around my mouth in preparation for the day we might meet when I would stare into his eyes and murmur ‘Fly slip?’ 

I bore two children. Both could hum the tune to The Archers before they reached Reception. I bought them a Playstation to counter the effect of all that R4 culture.

As I’ve grown into Executive Youth Radio 4 remains my best friend. I consume it greedily, comforted by voices as familiar to me as those of my closest family.

And, just as you sometimes give family an earful, I can be heard sounding off at Laurie Taylor (smug), John Humphrys (smug, out of touch, entirely lacking in wit) and occasionally at Jenni Murray (self obsessed).

Fi Glover is  my R4 girl crush, along with Martha Kearney and Winifred Robinson.  I like to think that the four of us could hang out together, trying on leather trousers and sparkly polo necks in TopShop.

I realise that Radio 4 listeners are in the firing line at the moment, denounced as the ‘liberal, intellectual elite.’

No amount of sparkly tops are going to make us acceptable in the current climate where expressing an opinion which runs counter to the Daily Mail instantly confers the status of ‘Enemy of the People’.

I don’t consider myself an intellectual, just someone who’s interested in stuff. 

I  left school knowing how to explain in Latin, French and German that someone is hiding behind the curtains (crucial), how to operate the Van den Graaf generator and how circulation of the blood works.

I have two degrees and a post-graduate certificate.

All of which pales into insignificance in the light of the education I’ve had from Radio 4. It really is the most democratic university in the world and anyone can study there.

This week, I went to see the comedian Rich Hall play to a packed house in a local town. I’d first come across him on Radio 4, which, we all know, is the birth place of all the best comedy ever.

Rich Hall’s (US Election) Breakdown recently aired on the station. It was a classic R4 commission; satirical, informed and informative, clever, funny and mildly subversive.

In the audience were a whole phalanx of Radio 4 listeners. The relief I felt to be surrounded by a tribe I recognised was immense.

With the political scene in meltdown, it’s easy to feel that the world is turning orange. I just needed to know it’s ok to be bananas.

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3 comments

  1. I’m with you fortysomethingfangirl, R4 is the university of life!
    “I don’t consider myself an intellectual, just someone who’s interested in stuff”
    Brilliant!
    Love it all and keep it up, thank you 😃

  2. Oh yes, can identify with you R4 FanGirl. I have been more educated by R4 than most of my formal learning. Not many friends listen, so this site is welcome in order to discuss programmes. We criticise or praise, praising more than not.

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