The Week In Radio: The empire strikes back in a thrilling history lesson

The fact that we are 10 years into another Afghan war and counting suggests this government can't be too interested in heeding the lessons of history, but we as a nation are still beguiled by it. Historical drama is hot, and an engaging item on Today concerning which era was best to be born in, came down to a choice between the 1690s or Ancient Egypt. So whether you regard learning history as key to your national identity, or whether studying it is, as former education secretary Charles Clarke said, merely "ornamental", is plainly important.

That was the thesis of The Red Bits Are British, David Cannadine's look at history teaching over the past century. And his conclusion is that the way history is taught has always been contentious. It had the benefit of some brilliant oral histories. One man, taught in the 1950s, said, "We spent ages talking about the Corn Laws. It wasn't even interesting history. You can only get so much satisfaction out of the Corn Laws." There was an extract from a 1960s BBC schools programme in which a district officer helping out local chiefs in "British Africa" sighed, "I sometimes wonder if these chaps will ever manage to govern themselves. Still we must keep on trying." Now why does that sound familiar?

Interestingly, Cannadine found no "systematic indoctrination" in school history and concluded, "the besetting difficulty... is the constant polarisation. You either get the cheerleading story or something very critical." Simon Schama agreed with him but added, "We're a choir of two. We're never going to make it on to the Today programme because we're right!"

The trouble with history is, it can't be Tudors and Nazis all the time. Sometimes you have to knuckle down to the Corn Laws, or indeed the European conflict of the Thirty Years' War. According to Mihsa Glenny, if you want to understand the Nazis anyway, you need to understand the impact of that event, which was "more cataclysmic than the Great War or the Black Death". His fascinating first instalment of The Invention of Germany explained how Germany came into existence from a "mad jigsaw of hundreds of small states". One of these was the independent Abbey of Prüm, "whose only asset was one of the sandals of Jesus, which was of limited value in a military conflict".

Glenny has the dry eye for memorable detail of the best history teachers. It was the first time on radio I've heard a proper account of the siege of Magdeburg, which "distilled the violence and senselessness of the Thirty Years' War ". From those beginnings, everything that followed in Germany made sense. According to the historian Peter Wilson, the memory of that bloody disunity became "a potent force used by those wishing to unify the country."

It's journalism, however, which is the first draft of history. Cue Rory Bremner's new show, Tonight, aiming to satirise a week's worth of politics. I'm ambivalent about this. On the one hand, the line between politics and satire is more blurred than ever, so politics has hardly happened before it's a sketch and it's impossible to sound either daring or cutting edge. On the other hand, it's about time Radio 4 had something other than the kneejerk sniping of The News Quiz. Bremner settled for being amusing. Or as he put it, "printing more jokes and then quantitatively easing them into the show. We're not doing this to be popular, we're doing it for ordinary men and women who exist on one decent chuckle in the week." Note to the Conservative leadership. I'm not sure how this will focus group, but Rory only needed to use the words "Boris Johnson" to get the single biggest laugh of the night.

jane@janethynne.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum