The Week in Radio: Firecrackers, fur coats and some good news at last

 

"Are you looking for a job?" James Naughtie asked Dame Ann Leslie on Radio 4's Today, a note of panic in his voice. Now there's an idea. As one of the programme's guest editors, Leslie, the veteran foreign correspondent who famously went to war in a fur coat, arrived like a blast of cold air in a sticky sauna. You can imagine plenty of previous guests proffering feature ideas cobbled together by their agents, but not Leslie. She was first in the office, her sleeves rolled up and ready to kick some serious butt.

I've always liked it when Today brings in guest editors. It blows away the cobwebs, offers new perspectives and brings audible relief to the regular editors who, on the slowest news week of the year, would otherwise pass the time drawing doodles of John Humphrys with devil's horns and casually cruising the BBC's jobs noticeboard.

That said, this year's guests have been a little patchy. Sir Paul Nurse, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist and president of the Royal Society, invited presenter Evan Davis and physicist Brian Cox to watch the stars on his central London balcony, though they ended up with their heads in a rain cloud. We were left listening to Davis wrestling with a door latch and reflecting on the prospect of never owning a central London pad with a huge balcony and views of Westminster. Elsewhere, Nurse commissioned stories on the problem of scientific funding, the future of fossil fuels and the media's simplistic reporting on scientific breakthroughs. Essentially, he used the programme to get stuff off his chest, which is probably what most of us would do but then again isn't entirely the point.

Under Melinda Gates's stewardship the American zillionaire Warren Buffett talked about America's fiscal cliff and how to give away money responsibly, while Gates herself talked to Sarah Montague about stepping out of the shadows of her family, her efforts to give every woman in developing countries access to contraception and why she would never give her kids iPods for Christmas. Gates's programme was never less than absorbing but like Nurse's, trod a slightly predictable path.

After features on teenage poets, death in police custody and regional accents, Benjamin Zephaniah attempted to cheer us all up with a good news bulletin. John Humphrys was skeptical – "Good news is boring," he sulked – but on this occasion it worked a treat. We learned about the success of a UN peace-keeping mission in East Timor, how astronomers expect to find thousands of new galaxies in the next 12 months and how an earthquake in Cuzco, Peru didn't kill anyone. For a moment, in the purgatory that is the period between Christmas and New Year, our hearts were lifted.

But it was Leslie who loaded her show with the most firecrackers. She went highbrow, lowbrow and everywhere in between. She took on political corruption, the history of celebrity, the psychology of religious belief, the Olympic afterglow and British attitude to Americans and did so with wit and panache. She put John Humphrys and Edward Stourton on the spot and asked them about their faith, which led to an electrifying tussle over the concept of free will. Some have said that Leslie overstepped her role as editor, elbowing regular reporters out the way in order to do the spots herself, but who cares? If you want a job done...

She also did something that seems to elude regular editors during the rest of the year. She managed to give a voice to women from all races, backgrounds and professions. What's more, she did it without fuss or fury. Her real achievement was in making it seem like the most natural thing in the world.

twitter.com/FionaSturges

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
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.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?