Emily's list: a quick Pepys

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
SAMUEL was not the only Pepys to keep a diary. His descendant Emily began hers in July 1844 and kept it up for seven whole months. Like her old uncle Sam, she was a critical churchgoer and given to roundly condemning a boring sermon. Like him, too, she records disasters: "A very melancholy beginning to Christmas Day as the house has been on fire ..." And, like him, she is preoccupied with romance. She reminisces about losing her heart to one Villiers Lister, though "the actual love only lasted one night". Villiers is a handsome boy of 11 with long curls: Emily is 10.

Dear Diary (R4) last week used extracts from the journals of five 19th- century girls, affectionately and knowledgeably introduced by Anne Harvey. It was shaming to realise how clever and well-read these tots were. The star was little Marjorie Fleming, whose life is the shortest recorded in the Dictionary of National Biography. There you can find her quaint spellings and confident rhymes, though you feel for her poor father who could not bear her name mentioned after her death, from measles, at the age of eight.

Juliet Prew read Majorie's words beautifully. She wrote of Regency bonnets, worn by everyone "save poor me", of crimes she read about in the Newgate Calander that filled her "with horror and consternation" and of her own imperfections: "Today I pronounced a word that should never come out of a lady's lips. I called John an impudent bitch." But then, she had been made to drink some disgusting senna tea.

Marjorie would have been a welcome recruit to the Mass Observation team. As it is, they were lucky to get the novelist Celia Fremlin whose account of the wild exhilaration of surviving a bombing raid came during the second instalment of Radio Scotland's superb series The Home Front. In the moments between the "most god-awful crash" and finding herself thrown flat on her face on the kitchen floor there was, she wrote, "the oddest feeling, as if all the air were falling apart, quite silently". Isn't that amazing? This strong, evocative series uses diaries and old songs to recreate a wartime Britain where, perhaps for the last time, ordinary people felt that by expressing their opinions they stood at least a chance of influencing events.

Poets knew better. British poets of the second war are not generally considered impressive, but Paul Dodgson' series A War of Words (R4) puts that straight. As in earlier battles, they tended to eschew public rhetoric in favour of private anguish. Simon Rae, a wise and eloquent presenter, demonstrated that France - in the person of Louis Aragon - was producing beautiful, elegiac laments for the land, while Germany was churning out appalling, brutal trumpetings and Russia calling for national resistance. But the quiet resignation of Alun Lewis's "Goodbye", as read by Stuart Clapp, quite simply broke your heart.

Neither diaries nor poems concerned Richard Dallyn. He had to stay Up All Night (R5), reporting on the Oscars. That could well be the worst job in broadcasting: I'd rather be John Humphrys. Dallyn seemed to be standing outside while people cheered thinly in the distance, who knows why; we returned to the studio during all the best bits and then, when he got a chance to broadcast from the theatre, they decided to show silent films. Radio is a wonderful medium, but long-distance Buster Keaton is not its greatest strength.

Nigel Hawthorne missed an Oscar, but he had us chortling with another glimpse of daffy old George III. Called The Grapes of Roi (R3), this piece of airy whimsy saw the king set off for America to help George Washington out of some trouble with Big Chief Lame Elk. With a trollop from Barnsley, he finds rapture skunk-farming in the Adirondacks.

Even that would be better than heeding The Voice of the Mall (R3). Russell Davies sounded increasingly appalled as he explored the ubiquitous shopping mall, or maul as they called it, which is replacing real life in America. And they glimpsed its mascot, a siren with a maul slouch, a maul haircut and dead eyes, the essence of "maul-radism". Lord save us from Uncle Sam's maul moll.