In praise of... Radio 4

It's subtle, it's intellectual, and it should be on the university curriculum, says Eleanor Doughty

Talking to a head teacher over the weekend, I wondered if my listening habits might be beneficial to those both less boring (not hard) and younger than me. Shouldn’t Radio 4 be part of the curriculum? I think so.

Putting my serious hat on, I am convinced of it. It doesn’t have the ‘cool’ music like Radio 1, the yummy presenters and television personalities. And it’s not ‘cool Mum’ like Radio 2, for anyone with a lingering interest in Chris Evans.

But no one actually tells you about Radio 4. For some reason you have to work it out alone – it is quite inhumane. Where was Radio 4 during my A Levels? A few Desert Island Discs might have aided my cantankerous descent into literary anarchy. Or during my GCSEs, where was Radio 4? It definitely would have shone some light at the end of the treacherous tunnel that was An Inspector Calls, the famed play that put my parents to sleep in a sheepish Norwich theatre. I suppose, in that era, I was too busy avoiding revision to care.

I admit, my interest has been renewed. Radio 4 was the kind of thing my Dad always had on at home in the background. But until this year it wasn’t my choice to listen. Presumably the public opinion comes with a reverse age restriction: none under the big Five-Oh, thanks. I take it all back.

For Radio 4 is much more than the Shipping Forecast. Or The Archers and its jingly theme tune. It is full of jolly smashing stuff. Women’s Hour, inviting eminent ladies to comment on the week; Front Row, a culture sanctuary and home to extended interviews with those from David Mitchell to Danny Boyle. There are shows with all the answers: Am I Tone Deaf? – something many would like to know – political affairs: The Art of the Foreign Minister, and best of all scream-tastic cases like Australian Aboriginal Rap, which is something everyone should indulge in. It is all-inclusive. There’s even a Monty Python analysis, should that take your fancy. It is a splendid amalgamation of every television channel combined, from the whole of time.

And what better news than that the humble station has been useful for university too? The charming Desert Island Discs archive is packed full of everyone one could possibly need for study: Roald Dahl, Tracy Emin, Sir John Betjeman. The list is endless. And in times of essay-desperation, the tiniest anecdote might make all the difference. It’s funny what a stonking good operatic performance can do for rhetoric nerves. It’s also dead easy to pass off listening to the radio as work than it is the television. It just sounds more serious, like radio is one step closer to intellectual heaven.

So Mr. Gove, if you’re listening then please consider, in all your reforms, some kind of Radio 4 induction. For no more children should grow into fine demi-adults without the help of Roy Plomley. If you want a legend, he’s your man.

Eleanor Doughty is a second-year student at Queen Mary, University of London. Follow her on Twitter here. She probably won't follow you back.

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