Neil has a rummage through William's treasure chest
Neil MacGregor's A History of the World in 100 Objects was the best series on the radio in 2010, a magnificently wide-ranging survey of humanity.
For his difficult second album, the Director of the British Museum narrows his focus in the 20-part Shakespeare's Restless World (Radio 4), examining those turbulent times through some of the artifacts left behind. Likely to coincide with the Olympic Games, if it's half as good as Objects it'll still be one of the best things on the radio in 2012.
It forms part of the BBC's Cultural Olympiad programming (see Holly Williams on page 57) , which is going Bard-bonkers: Radio 3 has The Tempest, which, it says here, "will focus on the soundscape of Prospero's island"; also on 3, "Shakespeare Around the Globe" on The Essay, with non-Anglophone writers ruminating on his significance for them; and My Shakespeare – everyone from artists to politicians sharing their Will-related passions.
Organised sport and Shakespeare are probably Britain's two biggest gifts to the world (apart from Simon Cowell, obviously), and starting at the end of January, the estimable Clare Balding fronts a 30-part daily series, Sport and the British, on Radio 4. The BBC's Olympic presence come August will be mighty, and in the build-up Radio 2 weighs in with a Best of British season, with programmes like The Ballad of the Games, which if it's anything like the previous Ballad ... programmes, such as the one in 2010 about the miners' strike, should be fantastic. The BBC will also launch a temporary radio station during the Games, – 5 Live Olympics Extra.
The Proms have been co-opted as part of the Cultural Olympiad (which might feel like an unnecessary add-on to the main event but do in fact hark back to the ancient Games, when poets such as Pindar composed odes to the victors). The programme includes Daniel Barenboim leading the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in a performance of Beethoven's Ninth, the culmination of his complete Beethoven symphony cycle, on the opening day of the Olympics.
You can imagine the 100 Objects template being applied to any subject that can offer up a few artefacts, and the eight-part Saturday-morning The Art of Monarchy, starting next month on Radio 4, sounds as if it should carry an "inspired by" tag. The BBC arts correspondent, Will Gompertz, explores the history of our kings and queens through their acquisitions – such as the "secret portrait", commissioned by Victoria as a present for Albert, depicting herself with her hair – gasp! – unravelled.
The Dickensfest in progress in the run-up to his February bicentenary continues: The Mumbai Chuzzlewits – his satire on filthy lucre transplanted to the India of today – kicks off with the first of three instalments today on Radio 4, and next month Woman's Hour incorporates Dickens in London, five short plays inspired by his newspaper pieces about walking in the metropolis – Antony Sher and Alex Jennings are among those who play the great man.
There are also a few big numbers on Radio 2: loungecore lovers may care to note Celebrating 60, an 11-parter presented by Ken Bruce starting on 20 January, marking the BBC Concert Orchestra's diamond jubilee, while in February Michael Grade: My Life on the Box begins. Eight parts might seem to be stretching things a bit, but he has been a player for decades, so he'll have much to tell. In April Paul Gambaccini attempts nothing less than A History of Music Radio.
Finally, if things had gone to plan, I'd now be using this space to bid farewell to the Asian Network, which was scheduled for the chop. In March, the BBC relented in favour of cutting its budget in half. A reason to be half-cheerful, at least.
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