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.

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?