The Week in Radio: A better Today with bankers, spies and funny guys

 

How best for the Today programme to fill the news vacuum between Christmas and New Year? Easy. Dispatch the boss via a last-minute deal to the Maldives and bring in some new faces to cheer the place up.

A whole 10 years after Today began its seasonal appointment of guest editors, there has been an outbreak of carping that the tradition – which, it should be pointed out, affects just one week out of 52 – has run its course. "Who cares what these celebrities think?" the complainers have mooed. "Where's the real news?"

These are the same people, one presumes, who get their morning jollies from monotone discussions about equity-release schemes and EU agricultural policy. That is all well and good when we're back at work and bloody miserable anyway. But in the afterglow of Christmas? Thanks but no. I'll take Michael Palin over a dissembling Tory politician.

It's rare, anyway, that the programme brings in a guest editor purely on the basis of their celebrity. For the most part, they are experts in their respective fields and this year those fields included singing, spying, travelling and banking.

There was a surfeit of rubbish gags from assorted presenters about how they were "under close surveillance" from the former MI5 director-general Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, which, from her perspective, was probably about as amusing as off-duty nurses being asked by passing wags to check their pulse.

Unsurprisingly, it turned out that Manningham-Buller's interests extended beyond the spying game in a show that moved between crushingly dull – Mishal Hussein's investigation into the origins of Christmas shrubbery at Cambridge University's Botanic Gardens was a particular low – and wonderful.

In the latter category was an interview with Judi Dench, of interest to Manningham-Buller because of her role as M in assorted Bond movies. Manningham-Buller wanted to compare the fictional job with the real thing, and said she envied Dench's role, which involved a lot more sex, great cars and the best possible technology. In the end, Dench had to concede that yes, her job was a lot more fun.

Under Michael Palin's stewardship the programme similarly moved between serious and light-hearted. At the serious end, Palin visited Ethiopia 22 years after his last trip to report on the battle against prosopis, or the "devil tree", the scourge of the Afar people. The plant was first introduced to stabilise sand dunes but has spread uncontrollably, ruining the livelihoods of farmers.

There was also a piece by Palin and fellow Monty Python star John Cleese on their televised 1979 debate with Malcolm Muggeridge on the iniquities of their film The Life of Brian. Listening back, Cleese was astonished at how boring the discussion was.

By far the most arresting part of the programme was Alan Bennett's reading of the Shipping Forecast. The writer brought his typically morose tones to the roll call of sea areas ("Dogger. Fisher. German Bight") and a keening desolation to the words "moderate or poor". It was with some feeling that, as Bennett finished, James Naughtie noted: "We've all wanted to do that, haven't we?"

The most controversial of the guest editors, Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins, did his best to appear humbled by criticism of the banking industry – it would, he said, take up to 10 years to regain the public's trust – while defending bankers' bonuses and effectively comparing his leadership style to that of a nun. If this was a PR exercise for Barclays, as the online carpers claimed, it wasn't a very successful one. But it was rarely less than fascinating.

Twitter.com/FionaSturges

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen