The Reunion, Radio 4, Friday La France, Maintentant!, Radio 4, Monday

Making history, breaking records, and all in this together
  • @SimonOHagan

There is probably no programme on radio more cherished than Desert Island Discs, which means that the shows that have to fill its slots when DID takes a break are under special pressure to deliver. The Reunion does it so well that it has now acquired the kind of specialness that – like DID – derives only from a combination of unbeatable format and consummate presenter.

A show in which a group of people from a moment in modern history are reunited and then submit themselves to the gentle but skilful probing of Sue MacGregor, The Reunion is in its 10th year and began its new series with a gathering of veterans of the 1948 London Olympics. An average age of 87 almost certainly made this the oldest collection of guests in Reunion history, and produced a fascinating 45 minutes.

Intended, at least in part, to speed the restoration of the nation's spirits after the war, the London Games, in the voices of these remarkable older people – once brilliant young athletes – acquired a special poignancy. There was the reference, almost in passing, to a still shell-shocked brother in hospital; and the parents who forewent their meat ration so that the Olympian member of the household could have it and build herself up. The so-called Austerity Games were, it turns out, rich in human resourcefulness.

MacGregor's handling of her guests was, as ever, exemplary. Now 70, she ceased to present the Today programme 10 years ago and one thinks of her rather as one does Edward Stourton – broadcasters whose sheer courtesy may have counted against them in the heat of battle. It's great the way MacGregor, right, has made The Reunion all her own. Who knows – maybe the show is destined for the longevity of Desert Island Discs.

With an eye on another major event of 2012, Radio 4 gave an outing to the wonderful Andrew Hussey – academic, Liverpudlian and Francophile – in a two-parter leading up to the French election. Hussey has a relish for France's gritty, terroir side, but La France, Maintenant! was a bit too sketchy to really work. From a bar in Marseille to the streets ofLyon via a Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard in the space of halfan hour could only ever scratch the surface.