I was listening to the podcast of this week’s “In Our Time” on the walk into work this morning. Without a doubt it’s the best thing on Radio 4, and by extension that means it’s the best thing on the radio. For those unfamiliar with the format, every week Melvyn Bragg chairs a discussion, about more or less any subject, between three experts in their field. So capacious is this format, there probably isn’t a subject under, over or beyond the sun that it hasn’t covered already or won’t get to in the end. In the last three weeks alone it has looked at the role of women in 18th century Enlightenment science, the Volga vikings, and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Key to IOT’s success and it’s infinite capacity to enthral is Bragg’s understanding that he is there not just to chair the discussion, but to help guide it away from abstruse shores and towards a clearer understanding for the benefit of a lay audience. This means that although some of the subjects under discussion are incredibly complex (anything about logic or advanced science tends to leave me struggling to catch up, but that’s my failing, not the programme’s), you will always come away after 45 minutes knowing at least something that you didn’t know before. Through IOT (but not exclusively), Radio 4 continues with the BBC’s Reithian mission to “inform, educate and entertain”, something conspicuously abandoned by the terrestrial channels. I know that sounds paternalistic and elitist, but this 45 minute radio discussion, probably the cheapest form of broadcasting available, is worth the licence fee alone.
Anyway – extraordinarily – the BBC Radio 4 website contains links to every episode of the series. I’ve only glanced through it myself, because I know that once I start I would pretty much never stop. Enjoy – if you’re from the UK, you own it.
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