Radio: Imagine there's no costumes

There is an advert, running on a commercial station whose name escapes me, which is one of those desperate attempts by the medium to drum up advertising custom. "That's the power of radio," it concludes - although as I can't remember the examples it chooses to illustrate that, and I really have been racking my brains, it cannot be that powerful an ad. Most depressing is the implicit suggestion that radio is an inferior and overlooked medium that needs to squawk about itself to be heard. (You get adverts for individual television programmes, but you don't have adverts that say, in effect, "Hey! Companies with money to burn! Try flogging your stuff on the telly. Who knows? It might even work!")

But radio need not feel that bad about itself. The other day, we were treated to a couple of examples of the power of radio. The first was a news report about Botticelli's The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child, Because He Has Finally Dropped Off and Is No Longer Screaming the Place Down", a title usually shortened in catalogues and news bulletins. Never mind all the stuff about the painting being "saved for the nation" (if you are going to get prissy about that sort of thing, then the nation with the greatest claim to it, I would have thought, was Italy); what dawned on you, as you listened to the item on Radio 4 and heard people going ooh and aah and what a lovely painting it was, was that you were being asked to appreciate a painting on the radio. More: there was a reporter there for the unveiling ceremony, and I would like to think that he or she attempted to transmit the essence of the event by - rather like Basil Fawlty panning the telephone receiver across the hotel lobby in order to prove that there was no one else there - holding the microphone up to the canvas. (We reproduce the painting for the benefit of readers who found their internal imaging faculties sorely tried by this, or who, unlike this paper's competition, do not have a flawless mental catalogue raisonne of every picture that has ever been painted. It is rather lovely, isn't it?)

The second example was less surreal. A Radio 4 continuity announcer drew our attention to the fact that ITV and BBC1 are currently competing with each other even more viciously (and indeed stupidly) than they normally do, with Dickens's Oliver Twist and Gaskell's Wives and Daughters about to appear opposite each other at the same time. The announcer - who was trailing that evening's Front Row, if memory serves correctly - then went on, somewhat smugly I think, to draw our attention to Radio 4's own Dickens adaptation, Nicholas Nickleby. The smugness is justifiable, as the radio Nickleby rattles along at a great clip and is utterly engaging (Dickens being, I would think, more idiot-director-proof than most writers). But what struck me was that the announcer pointed out that the sets and costumes in Nicholas Nickleby were the finest used in any period adaptation - because we the listeners had supplied them ourselves.

That was somewhat flattering. But it is also very true. Kitting out the characters in a costume drama is something we all do immediately, at remarkably low cost, and with not so much an exquisite attention to detail as precisely the right amount of detail. Nor do we find ourselves complaining about an anachronism in the Cheeribles' gaiters, say, or the fact that in one scene we can see a TV aerial, or a jet's wake, poking out above the rooftops. I tried once or twice to imagine Smike wearing a Bart Simpson T-shirt, and while there is something pleasing about the idea, it is not one that has really caught on in my interior theatre.

Of course, the part of the brain responsible for supplying imaginary pictures to voices can be fooled. I was listening to a bit of Max "Shameless" Clifford on Derek "Deggsy" Hatton's show (they really are becoming a double act, and, worse, there is no getting away from them - the clip was played on Radio 4) and, before realising that it was indeed the egregious Mr Clifford, thought, with a joyful leap of the heart, that I was listening instead to Peter Cook's E L Wisty. Try substituting Wisty for Clifford next time he's on - it makes him much more bearable.

Heard on the Today programme: the reason men die earlier than women is that they do not do the housework. That, it suddenly occurred to me, is a trade-off I am perfectly happy to make.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power