The Week in Radio: A people's choice show that hits all the right notes

 

I'll admit it, the title of Radio 2's latest mega-series, The People's Songs, had me worried. Surely even the BBC has worked out that when it comes to music "the people" cannot be trusted. Remember when Radio 2 listeners deemed Robbie Williams' "Angels" the best song of the past 25 years at the Brits? I was there and, I can tell you, the sight of inebriated industry nobs trying to wipe the WTF expressions off their faces as the cameras swooped in for close-ups was very special indeed.

Consider, too, the plight of producers and presenters on BBC6 Music who, after 10 and a bit years spent stoically sifting through atrocious demos to bring us the best in contemporary music, were last weekend rewarded by listeners voting Coldplay's "Clocks" as the best song on the playlist.

Sometimes, we get the music that we deserve.

So yes, I was pretty twitchy about The People's Songs and the horrors it might bring. Would "the people" decree that there simply wasn't enough Michael Bublé and Adele in the world? Would discerning listeners of Radio 2 decide that Dido was due a retrospective and Mick Hucknall should be crowned king?

I was, it turns out, way off the mark. The People's Songs wasn't a list but a documentary. It wasn't interested in top tens, or the best this and greatest that, nor was it a nostalgia-fest in the vein of those wretched I Love... compilation shows that grout the TV schedules at Christmas. Presented by Stuart Maconie – who, of course, one should never, ever doubt – it was a reflection on everyday people and the extraordinary times in which they have lived, told in their own words. It was also about the songs that have soundtracked these extraordinary times, and how they contributed to a shift our culture and identity and helped bring Britain to where it is today. It was pretty damned wonderful.

The series has been going since early January and over the last month I've laughed a lot but I've blubbed a whole lot more. On the Cold War episode, which focused on Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Two Tribes", we heard from a woman who took a few days off from studying at university to visit the protestors at Greenham Common. "I went for five days," she said, "and I stayed five years."

In the wartime edition, which featured Vera Lynn's "Goodnight Children Everywhere", an evacuee remembered being on a train as a child, hurtling out of Liverpool to the relative safety of north Wales. She and the other children sang "Run Rabbit Run", though they changed the words to "Run Adolph Run". "And we were quite cheerful," she noted in true stiff-upper-lip fashion. "We were going to the country." Not long after they watched the sky turn orange as Liverpool burned in the distance.

This was not, as Maconie pointed out, an academic history of modern music – "It is not the views of musicians, rock journalists or professional pundits but the views of the people who bought and consumed the songs," he said.

Thus, yesterday's episode, ostensibly about Millie Small's "My Boy Lollipop", jettisoned the usual talking heads in favour of the memories of West Indian immigrant families, who had come to help rebuild Britain after the war, when they first clocked Millie on the box – "She looked like us! She was black!" Many remembered the shock of their new home, notably the damp and the greyness and chilly attitude of those who deemed them "foreigners" – or worse.

But they also recalled the creation of new communities, the bonds within families and the kindness of strangers and... oh look, I seem to be crying again.

twitter.com/FionaSturges

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
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.

    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935