Books: Spoken Word

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The Independent Culture
The Guide to the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Read by various voices

BBC, 2hrs, pounds 8.99

WHEN DOUGLAS Adams's Hitch-Hiker's Guide series first came on air in 1978, it was as exciting a moment as when we first saw TV in colour. Exactly why and how his zany script pulled so much more out of the BBC's Radiophonic workshop than it realised it had in it is now revealed in the sophisticated production by Anne McNaught which forms the first part of this two-cassette set. Presented by Peter "The Voice" Jones, it works both as an introduction for latecomers and a fund of unexpected, often very funny, information about both the series' origins and the frequent crises that beset it. The second tape, an interview with Douglas Adams himself, in which he rambles pompously about the true meaning of "42", is, by contrast, leaden and pretentious.

John Betjeman: recollections from the BBC archives

Presented by Candida Lycett-Greene

BBC, c2hrs, pounds 8.99

NOT TO be confused with the recently recommended Betjeman's Cornwall, this production by Peter Hitchings is an ingenious audio biography of the Poet Laureate John Betjeman (1906-84). Using both snippets of interviews with him - Desert Island Discs, Parkinson and so on - and extracts of programmes by him, it builds up a picture of a gentle, wise, honest and perceptive man who is now too often dismissed as a buffoon obsessed with nostalgia for times past. In fact, though deeply in love with England's traditions, and forthright in damning hideous novelties, Betjeman disliked the word nostalgia ("so like neuralgia"), and welcomed innovation. His warnings of where thoughtless change is leading us are now staple arguments of today's ecological and environmental movements.

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