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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • 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

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before