The Week In Radio: A time capsule of intimate snippets from family life
"Never forget what belly you came out of," cautioned a grandfather to his granddaughter in The Listening Project. The conversation lasted just a few minutes but revealed much about the social and economic shift that had taken place over three generations of one Yorkshire family. Lindsay, who had just got a place at university to study law, was born in December 1992, exactly a year before her grandfather Chick's colliery, where he had worked all his life, was closed down.
Chick described how, in the bowels of the earth, amid the thunderous machinery, conversations were conducted through mime. Now he was left with tinnitus, which was akin to a telephone ringing in his head day and night. It's unlikely that Chick wanted see his grandchildren going down mines. But in the thick pauses that punctuated his reflections on his roots, you could sense a tussle between his pride in Lindsay's achievements and his sadness at his family's absorption into the ranks of the middle class.
The aim of The Listening Project, an ongoing venture launched by BBC Radio and the British Library, is to capture snippets of conversation between family members and friends, and to store them away for posterity. It's essentially a Blue Peter time capsule in audio form, and it's precisely the kind of thing at which radio excels.
Here it has done itself proud. There was no discernible agenda, beyond recording people in what was hoped would be moments of openness and honesty. What we heard may not have been entirely free-flowing – some hefty editing had boiled down 40 minutes of conversation to just three minutes – but these oral histories contained all the intimacy, nuance and emotional tension that is crucial, yet frequently absent, in fictional drama.
That the participants were compelled to talk about the more unhappy periods of their lives gave us a sense of sitting in on a series of self-administered therapy sessions. In Humberside longstanding chums Michael and Jill recalled the deaths of family members on the Hull triple trawler disaster and the friendship that was cemented by their experience, while in Berkshire, Sasha talked over her fears with her young son, Paddy. who has a congenital heart defect.
In contrast, there was an air of Creature Comforts about the Irish couple Alison and Willie's reflections on their marriage and the challenges of growing old, as a grandfather clock ticked in the background. They seemed only partially aware of being recorded, so wrapped up were they in each other: "You always tell me I'm wonderful," said Alison, fondly. "Well you are wonderful," replied Willie. They were, they said, keenly aware that their lives would change, and not necessarily for the better, but in their eyes even the prospect of declining health seemed like a romantic adventure.
Tales of ordinary people, told in their own words, also shaped "Fathers and Sons", in which veterans of the Falklands conflict talked of seeing their sons go off to war. What they had to say wasn't always easy to hear. The former paratrooper Phill Adkins, who as a 17-year-old had taken part in a fierce battle at Mount Longdon, said the day he discovered that his son Dean was going to Afghanistan was the hardest of his life – this coming from a man who had fought hand-to-hand with a bayonet. As in The Listening Project, his was a voice rarely heard telling a story that is usually left untold. Miraculously, both he and his son were still around to tell it.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Game of Thrones season 5: Emilia Clarke praises characters who 'accept their femininity'
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate