RADIO PROGRAMME OF THE YEAR :A hit down memory lane

The most popular film-maker in history got into history, and stayed popular. Glyndebourne rose again, handsomely. Pop ate itself, but survived. Steve Coogan was everywhere, and so was Hugh Grant; only one of them is praised here. The theatre had a thin time, but television drama serials made up for it. People defined themselves on Mondays at 9pm: were you for `Cracker' or `Chuzzlewit'? And again on Saturdays at 8pm: did you really believe that a 14m-1 shot would win?(Or did you do it for love of the arts?) It wasn't the best of years, but it had its moments. And here they are, in the fourth annual `IoS' Awards
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IN MARCH 1860 a great poet wrote his last letter. "Dear Sir", it ran, "I am in a madhouse and quite forgot your name. You must excuse me for I have nothing to communicate or tell of and why I am shut up I don't know. I have nothing to say so I co nclude,yours respectfully, John Clare." Poor Clare. His friends had forsaken him, he said, Like a Memory Lost (R4).

This programme was a haunting tribute to Clare: it spoke movingly about the loneliness of insanity and the fragility of genius. Recorded at Nottingham Asylum, it took the form of an imagined interview with Clare during which he remembered his glory days and the onset of his lunacy. Boldly conceived and sensitively executed, it was touched with an inspiration that made it unforgettable. In a year that produced some magnificent radio programmes, it made the deepest impression. (It is to be repeated on Christmas Eve.)

Susan Roberts, its producer, is also responsible for two other gems, With Great Pleasure (R4) and Stanza on Stage (R4). In this latter series, James Fenton was the best performance-poet - rhythmic, punchy and mesmeric. Other literary highlights were the exuberant serialisation of The Three Musketeers (R4), the lyrical celebration of Synge Song (R3) and the subtle dramatisation of Kipling in Love (R4). History was well-served by Hindsight (R4) and Heritage (World Service), and the natural-history winner is Fergus Keeling's The Mole Within (R4), which was an underground revelation: it's a miracle that moles ever reproduce.

In the field of classical music, the best series were Classic FM's impressive Bernstein, and Radio 3's enormous, ambitious Deutsche Romantik. Andrew McGregor takes the presenter's prize for his daily On Air (R3), which is friendly and informative at dawn. I heard at least 20 wonderful plays, but nothing could beat Gielgud in King Lear (R3). Radio 2 continued its quietly unsung adult-education programme amongst the amiable chatter of familiar old things, and produced two winners in Sheridan Morley's ArtsProgramme and Jim Lloyd's The Young Tradition, an inspiring competition.

Ruscoe on Five and The Magazine have given Radio 5 Live a good start, and its wide sports coverage is winning new listeners: its daily Euro News is accessible and intelligent.

This year's best foreign correspondent was Kevin Connolly whose reporting from Russia was thoughtful, courageous and humane. I was glad, too, to catch Dr Chris Besse, founder of Merlin, late one night on my car radio, in a compelling edition of S.S.S. (R4).

For light relief, the most inventive new comedy shows were Skivers (R4) and Adrian Mourby's Whatever Happened To . . . ? (R4).

The funniest hour came from Kit and the Widow (R2). Words are confetti to these two, to be tossed around for fun: only they could talk about Jane Fonda making the heartbeat absent.

Previous winners: 1991 `The Gang That Fell Apart' (R3, three-part series written by Anthony Howard, based on memoirs of Roy Jenkins and David Owen); 1992 `Knowing Me, Knowing You' (R4, spoof chat show, host Alan Partridge); 1993 `It is With Very Great Regret' (R4, about the First World War, part of the `Document' series, written by Matt Thompson).