Radio Review

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The Independent Culture
"Letters from a Diplomat" is a series of five talks by Douglas Hurd about his career in the Foreign Office; "Flavours of Eden" is a series of five talks by Joan Morgan about the history of fruit cultivation. Or should that be the other way round?

Certainly there was more than a whiff of pre-lapsarian paradise in Mr. Hurd's recollections of Whitehall life in the early 1950s yesterday morning on Radio 4. In 1952, young diplomats weren't expected to turn up early - by tradition, work couldn't start until the continental mail arrived from Dover, at 10 o'clock; consulting his diaries of the time, Mr. Hurd now finds they were full of trips to the cinema and the theatre, parties and falling in love. Only once in a while would he find some reference to work: "Day saved from complete inaction by the collapse of the boliviano" - at this point he was engaged in complex negotiations to import large quantities of beef from South America; the contrast with today, when we're engaged in complex negotiations to get other countries to take beef off our hands, was left for the listener to make.

Not everything in this garden was rosy. The FO was creaking at the seams in every sense: people on the upper floors were issued with buckets to catch the rainwater coming through the roof, and the window-sills suffered under a terrible build-up of shit (from pigeons, you understand); while the day-to-day business was, as Mr Hurd put it, "managing decline". Nobody, except Edward Heath, had spotted that Britain was about to miss the European boat.

All in all, this first programme was a very plausible piece of nostalgia tinged with disillusion; it only failed to convince when Mr. Hurd compared Britain then with Britain now - "Now we are strong and rich enough to sustain our role in the world." Now there's a flavour of Eden.

From the Foreign Office to yet more mandarins in Flavours of Eden - this time, small, loose-skinned ones, "whose fragrant mists of juice would spurt over the banqueting table". Try not to think about Douglas Hurd in this context; it can only upset you.

The subject of yesterday evening's talk on Radio 3 was the cultivation of citrus fruit. As I say, it could just as well be labelled Letters from a Diplomat, since a history of citrus turns swiftly into a history of trading relations and cultural interchange between East and West, as the fruit travelled from the borders of China and India through the Muslim world into western Europe. Riveting stuff, and without that slightly sour edge.

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