RADIO: Q: why do so few R4 quizzes work?

FIRST she was handed the orb; then they got the ring jammed on the wrong finger; then the Bishop of Bath and Wells turned over two pages at once and sent her back to King Edward's Chapel far too early; then they gave her the orb, again. No wonder the little pages yanked at her train and sniggered throughout: Queen Victoria's coronation was a shambles. A page at the coronation of Victoria's great-great-granddaughter was Barry St John Nevill, who grew up to become a contestant on Battling With the Past (R4) - he was this week's winner, in fact, though it was not he who supplied all those details.

Historians have been descending from their ivory towers in droves just lately and arriving breathless at the BBC, longing to share their knowledge with a grateful world. But it's hard to know what to do with them. The classic R4 answer is a quiz, so that's what happened. Few R4 quizzes work, and nor does this. Contestants fell over each other to recount some extra- scrumptious anecdote about the Widow of Windsor which, by some arbitrary rule, sometimes won them a round. Far better to buy them a round at the nearest Duke of York and eavesdrop on their chat. At least that way they might string more than a couple of sentences together, the audience wouldn't get cross with the hapless chairman for his airy unfairness - and we'd be spared more blasts of Zadoc the Priest.

Another historical coachload stopped off at R3, causing more problems. From Leicester and from Bristol, from York and from Birmingham, they rolled up. The R3 answer is to pair them off and get them to argue during concert intervals, all week. Under the suitably vague title of History Now and Then and the chairmanship of an affable, slightly faux-naif Roy Porter, that's what they did. Some were much better than others. To choose the good ones (while making a mental note to cross certain universities off my son's Ucca list), the medievalists made the best programmes. Particularly interesting was the conversation about witchcraft. Were nine million witches burned in 300 years, asked Porter? Well, no: apparently there would scarcely have been enough wood in Europe to fuel such a barbecue.

Witches, said Lyndal Roper, were often accused by other women, especially when they were perceived to have caused harm to children. She'd started her research full of eager feminist opinions that these were unfortunate creatures made scapegoats by their contemporaries' lurid fantasies. To her chagrin, she found them often to have been extremely scary and unpleasant people. Jim Sharpe agreed, adding darkly that the witch-hunts of our own century have been at least as cruel and illogical as anything perpetrated by our ancestors, and that, paradoxically, we modern rationalists who don't believe in witchcraft form a tiny minority in a world of believers.

The witchery of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf was rather warily examined by Cathy Wearing on Sunday. Was that soaring silvery soprano really hers, or was it Her Master's Voice (WS & R3)? Her husband, Walter Legge, was her Svengali. He supervised her every recording, sitting on the piano stool as she did up to 50 takes, aiming at perfection. We heard her singing Porgi Amor: it was as near perfect as is humanly possible, but curiously unmoving, perhaps because the iron will was glinting under the silver.

Then we heard a strange story. Refused a welcome in America for her Nazi past - whatever the truth of that is - she was eventually invited to sing Rosenkavalier in the Sixties. She chose to arrive at the first- night party wearing the symbolic uniform of pure Aryanism, a dirndl. It was not well received. She must have been either defiant or unhinged.

Retreating back into safer, older history, a madman in Nether Stowey workhouse around the turn of the 18th century was thought to have been bewitched, or possibly possessed. The parson William Holland wrote sadly about him in his diary, the dramatisation of which began this week, with Paupers and Pig-Killers (R4). England is rich in journalising parsons, and Holland, played with verve by Ronald Pickup, is a star. Ratty and gullible, opinionated and xenophobic, he resolves, endearingly, to grow better as he advances in years - and immediately denounces someone as a Quantock horse-dropping. Full of dark railings against the French, rainy winters and rides to funerals, night-alarms caused by rampaging cows and general domestic disharmony, this is exactly how history should appear on radio: and, oh joy, it still has two weeks to run. "Lord, now and then," prays Holland (little knowing that this phrase will be echoed 200 years later on R3), "will you let me get something right?"

One thing he was sure he was right about was his use of language: everyone else was wrong. "I wish these Somerset folk would speak English," he grumbled, when they called him "purzon". Times do not change. Jean Aitchison has already stirred up a storm with the first of her Reith Lectures (R4) on The Language Web. Choosing such a speaker is clearly a cunning plan by Michael Green to rouse the British to furious debate on his network. Nothing so incenses a R4 listener as a suggestion that to harmlessly split an infinitive is no different than to not allow a double negative - never, nowhere, no matter what. On Start the Week (R4) Melvyn Bragg detected snobbishness in Aitchison's suggestion that we adopt varied speech depending on our audience - but then his nose for social condescension would not disgrace a sniffer-dog. In the first lecture, Aitchison did little more than set up her coconuts: it will be fun to watch them fall.

Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
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
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
News
i100
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
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

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Day In a Page

    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015
    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall