PJ Harvey on the ‘Today’ programme: A radical and refreshing take on a radio staple

Harvey generated her own digital birdsong: a flurry of comment on Twitter

Share

There has been talk in the offices of the Today programme of scrapping the tradition of handing control of Radio 4’s flagship news broadcast to guest editors at the end of each year. The feeling was that, after 10 years, the gimmick may have run its course. But after hearing PJ Harvey’s edition this morning, I hope they keep it going.

The musician approached her role from a completely different perspective. The result, filled with snippets of music and poetry, felt radical and refreshing.

Thought for the Day was split between former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams reading his poem “Passion Plays”, and Julian Assange delivering an alternative version in which he explored the relationship of knowledge and power.

Perhaps predictably, the more reactionary parts of the media immediately condemned her efforts, with the Daily Mail website branding it the “worst ever” edition of Today, and a Daily Telegraph headline dismissing it as “left-wing tosh”. One Telegraph writer suggested the show should have been replaced by “birdsong”.

Harvey’s Today generated its own digital birdsong: a flurry of comment on Twitter which was complimentary and critical in equal measure – surely a sign that the programme was generating debate.

Nick Robinson took issue with a John Pilger piece titled “Is the media now just another word for control?”, but it won’t be the first time the BBC political editor has shouted at his radio. Yes, the programme skewed to the left, but it wasn’t tosh. Photographer and triple amputee Giles Duley talked of the plight of injured servicemen. Russian history professor Bob Service condemned the totalitarianism of Kim Jong-un and Leonid Brezhnev.

At the start of the show, presenter Sarah Montague observed that it was “a quiet news day”, emphasising the value of the guest editor experiment. She may have been getting an excuse in for the unusual material, and I would imagine that some of the Today regulars felt a little uncomfortable.

It can’t have been easy for business presenter Simon Jack to hand over to John Rees of the National People’s Assembly Against Austerity, who cued up his report with the Jam’s “In the City” before letting rip at the Square Mile.

PJ Harvey is an outspoken liberal, but let’s not forget this was part of a Today series that included guest editions by the CEO of Barclays Bank and a former head of MI5. She knew she was testing boundaries, but I didn’t feel BBC editorial values were compromised.

She had demanded that the BBC did not restrict her contributors in what they could say, or edit their pieces “without their full consent”. A lot of the content she had chosen “is about censorship in one way or another”, she added. Bravo the BBC for not putting on the shackles.

React Now

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

Read Next
Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in The Honourable Woman  

Women wait for the call: This week's reshuffle is David Cameron's chance to act on his one-third pledge

Jane Merrick
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?