Belle’s not on the ball

Belle de Jour’s History of Anon - review.

Belle de Jour’s History of Anon
Radio 4

A short series on the subject of anonymity in writing is presented by Brooke “Belle de Jour” Magnanti (31 December to 4 January, 1.45pm), who opened the first programme with her intense CV (“. . . my anonymous blog about 14 months as a call girl living in London eventually turned into a series of fiction and non-fiction books and a television series starring Billie Piper and a protracted media hunt to find out who the real Belle was . . .”).

All was delivered in her pretty, unassuming, Floridian accent while music tinkled underneath, the kind of music which, if it wasn’t the French band Air’s late-Nineties album Moon Safari, certainly dragged it to mind (Moon Safari was a favourite album of the producers of the first series of Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef and was doggedly used as the soundtrack to Jamie’s postprandial strolls around the park with the leggy Jools, who would gamely play on children’s roundabouts while Jamie rubbed his garlicky hands in the Camden fog).

Only, this music played for a full five opening minutes of the 15-minute programme, inexplicably accompanying the musings of various churchmen roped in to confirm that much of the Bible is anonymous (“they came up with the delicious idea that the Proverbs were invented by King Solomon”) and especially the bits of that text that were supposedly signed. “A letter from St Paul to the Apostles? Impossible. I don’t want to get into the details here but . . .” Many of these fast-talking contributors were cut off abruptly at the end of a thought or phrase, making you think more of what they were about to say than what they had managed to blurt out. Seven minutes further in, the music started up again – Portishead this time, inexplicably playing under a discussion of book eight of the Odyssey. Then a few moments later under somebody contemplating Job.

As music usually denotes an introduction or an approaching conclusion (am I being a bit Winifred Robinson-ishly particular about this?) the programme had an air of extreme brevity – as though the whole thing had been a mere trailer. Still, the quote of the season came from Robinson. “Welcome to You and Yours,” she said firmly, as New Year approached, “precisely the kind of consumer programme you want to listen to when the bounce has gone on your Xmas bungee. Just imagine if you could get all that money back.”

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 07 January 2013 issue of the New Statesman, 2013: the year the cuts finally bite