Books: Spoken word

Christmas needs plenty of light relief and opportunities for distraction. PG Wodehouse, one of the most recorded and, happily, least abridged of authors, provides plenty of both. But which recording to choose? At the heart of the matter lies the difficulty of being as good at reading Jeeves as at Wooster. In Thank You, Jeeves (Chivers, 6hrs, pounds 19.99, ABC mail order 0800 136 919), Jonathan Cecil shoots up the scale very effectively as Wooster but is close to parody when he drops down an octave as Jeeves.

Martin Jarvis attacks both parts with gusto in Carry On Jeeves in New York (CSA, c 2.5 hrs, pounds 8.99) but he too lacks the essential gravitas of the manservant. I found the BBC-dramatised version of The Code of The Woosters (BBC, 3hrs, pounds 8.99) too over-excited and stagey, besides its necessary loss of some of the Master's inimitable asides, but Michael Hordern is quite excellent as Jeeves, and the 1920s music helps things to swing along with brio.

I hadn't rushed to read Stephen Fry's autobiography, but when I popped the first of the eight tapes of his unabridged reading of Moab is my Washpot (Random House, 12hrs, pounds 19.99) into my car's cassette-player, I realised that I was soon going to need an excuse for a very long drive. It is one of those rare readings that grabs you as implacably as the ancient mariner and makes you want to hear more and more. Fry is unvarnished, intensely human, honest to the point of strip-tease and so funny about deeply sad things that you don't know whether to laugh or cry. This is also splendid performance art: spoken word is absolutely the right medium for Fry's personal De Profundis.

No loved one's stocking will be complete without a superb Hollywood Playhouse double bill of Casablanca/The Maltese Falcon (Mr Punch, pounds 5.99) starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet. These recordings for the wireless were once made by a film's stars as a matter of course, and use the original scripts and music. And yes, Sam does play all of As Time Goes By.

I've mentioned the Beginners' Guide tapes (Icon Audio, 2hrs, pounds 9.99) before: they are light-hearted dramatised rundowns on big ideas presented palatably and wittily. Two excellent new additions to the series are Wittgenstein for Beginners starring Steven Berkoff, and Freud for Beginners, starring Antony Sher and concluding with an assessment by Jonathan Miller.

Another sophisticated and imaginative approach to biography, and a useful corrective to Peter Schaffer's Amadeus myth, is Perry Keenlyside's The Life of Amadeus Mozart (Naxos, 3hrs 40mins, pounds 8.99). Part narrative, part dramatisation, it includes 70 musical extracts; the whole effectively knitted together by producer Nicolas Soames.

Now that the last tiny island of children's radio programming on Sunday evenings is under threat, the kids need something to listen to at bedtime more than ever. A generous granny might be persuaded to give them the magnificent, often spine-chilling, BBC dramatisation of The Chronicles of Narnia (BBC, 12hrs, pounds 49.99). Excellent casting includes Stephen Thorne as a formidable Aslan and Bernard Cribbins as a perfect Puddleglum; Peter Howell's fantastical music provides pace and splendour. Treat smaller children to Sir John Gielgud's inimitable rendering of Edward Lear's Book of Nonsense (Hodder, pounds 5.99).

The audiobook of the year is one you'll want to keep for yourself. The high point of the recent Talkies awards was the presentation of a special award to Sir John Gielgud. His manifold talents are brilliantly celebrated in John Gielgud at the BBC (BBC, 3hrs, pounds 8.99), his own presentation of recordings of his performances, readings and reminiscences. Dominated by Shakespeare, it also has tasters of Wilde, Pinter, Eliot and Bennett as well as hilarious personal memories of British royalty at the theatre and some wise reflections on life and death. Perfect background to packing presents and peeling sprouts, but best heard lying in a candlelit bathtub soused in Badedas.

"A Christmas Collection", Christina Hardyment's celebration of Christmas in prose and poems from Martial to MacNeice, is published by Naxos Audiobooks at pounds 11.99.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: HR Assistant

    £17447 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organisation is a leading centre fo...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Case Handler

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Case Handler is requi...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Sales Apprentice

    £15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £20,000 - £60,000

    £20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence