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
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
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: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

    Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

    Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

    £10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

    £17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable