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
Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police