The week in radio

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The Independent Culture
GOD - OR Greg Dyke - deliver us, please, from stand-up comedians and "human interest" bilge. When a gap looms in the Radio 4 schedules, the commissioners' reflex response is to slap into the vacuum of imagination the cheap filler of either stand-up comics (Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis doing anything - except being funny) or the self-obsessed twitterings of increasingly indistinguishable programmes such as On The Ropes, The Choice and A Hard Act To Follow. The latter ended its latest run on Thursday by interviewing... wait for it... the new boss of the British Council. Phew!

The high altar of "human interest" is, of course, Home Truths (Saturdays, 9am, BBC Radio 4), the triple Sony Award-winning listener-participation programme presented by John Peel. Now, Peel (who, I can reveal, turned 60 in August) has been in a terminal sulk with me since I had the temerity to suggest, some months ago, that he is too good a broadcaster to have got himself involved with this radio equivalent of My Weekly. Never mind that I also said Home Truths would have sunk without trace after its first run had it not been held together by Peel and the eccentric beauty of his script. Nope, Eeyore has shuffled off into his corner of the field to munch on his thistles and that's that.

One can only hope he is not succumbing to Sherrin's syndrome, a medical condition in which the patient, bloated with self-satisfaction, feels the need to surround himself only with sycophants and simpering toadies. Home Truths is also redeemed somewhat - presenter's flair aside - by its juxtaposition to Ned Sherrin's smug Loose Ends (Saturdays 10am, BBC Radio 4).

For human interest of genuine significance we must tune to BBC Local Radio and the BBC World Service. Both networks are now airing what will come to be regarded as landmark projects in which people, from all backgrounds and a breathtaking range of experiences, speak for themselves.The outstanding My Century (Saturdays 6.30am, Sundays 10.20am, Mondays 1.30am, BBC World Service) continues to fascinate and, starting tonight, to mark the 10th anniversary of the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child, it is complemented by A World For Children (Saturdays 9.30pm, Sundays 7.30am, BBC World Service). The first programme in this six-parter deals with child soldiers. Article 38 of the Convention states that children under 15 should never have to fight in an army. That didn't deter the utterly bonkers Lord's Resistance Army (a ruthless rebel group in northern Uganda dedicated to running the country according to the Ten Commandments) from kidnapping 14-year-old Agnes Ocitti with 138 of her schoolmates and forcing the girls on to the battlefield. "Thou shalt not kill" was swiftly shelved when Agnes was ordered to bludgeon to death a friend who had tried to desert. The Convention is, says the programme, startlingly flawed. It has not, for example, been ratified by two countries - Somalia and the United States. That Mogadishu doesn't recognise the rights of children will surprise no one. But the USA hasn't ratified it because the Land of the Free wishes to continue to execute juveniles.

"Imagine," says Michael Green, saintly former Controller of Radio 4, "discovering an archive of audio tapes recorded in 1899 in which thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds throughout Britain talked about their lives and communities. Those voices would be an extraordinary record of the 19th century and breathe life into our social history."

Well, in a hundred years time our great-grandchildren will have such an audio record of the 20th century, thanks to Michael Green, Project Director of The Century Speaks, and his team from 40 BBC local radio stations. In one of BBC radio's most ambitious projects, 6,000 people, from Cornwall to Orkney, have been interviewed about their lives and how they and their communities have changed during the 20th century. The oldest contributor is 107, the youngest just five. The compelling result is 640 half-hour programmes, called The Century Speaks, now being broadcast on BBC Local Radio stations for the remaining 15 weeks of the year (Sundays 12 noon). Listeners will hear only the programmes made by their local BBC station but, eventually, the entire collection will be available in the National Sound Archive at the British Library and a representative chunk can already be accessed at The Century Speaks website at

The interviews, says Michael Green, are "a priceless legacy, a national treasure. I hope we have taken an illuminating snapshot of what the nation thinks of itself from the single perspective of the century's end. And we have done so in the words of men, women and children who might otherwise have been hidden from history." The Century Speaks, My Century and A World For Children are not being broadcast on Radio 4.