I can't get enough of Radio 4's Uncovering Iran season, which began last Sunday and continues until 29 September. It's a fantastic and timely idea, and, unlike the station's recent Memory Season, it has been properly commissioned, drawing on real expertise rather than the thoughts of a few sad celebrities. If it were possible, I'd listen to every single programme (with the probable exception of a special edition this Sunday of The Food Programme; Iranian food is delicious, but I fear that we are unlikely to get much sense of this from stern old Sheila Dillon).
Honestly, the whole thing is so well put together, I may have to lay off teasing Mark "Axeman" Damazer - for a while, at least.
Among the shows yet to air, I'm especially looking forward to the look at Iran's film industry (28 September, 4.30pm), presented by Francine Stock, and to Mixed Messages and Secret Diplomacy (25 September, 8pm), in which Gordon Corera will attempt to decode the murky relationship between the US and Iran since the 11 September 2001 attacks.
Of the first week's programmes, I caught two. One was the start (17 September) of the weekly series A Revolutionary State (Sundays, 1.30pm), which examines the making of modern Iran in the 20th century. It was presented by Sir John Tusa. The BBC describes this three-parter as the centrepiece of the season - and, for once, I agree with the hype. It is wonderful: informative, nuanced and bold. The producers obviously felt that it was more important to try to capture the real Iran than to worry about being excessively politically correct; their brush strokes were broad but felt authentic. There were moments when you could almost smell the orange blossom.
A Revolutionary State succeeded because it provided a glimpse of the Iranian psyche. The facts were all there (the carving up of the country by Britain and Russia; the 1953 coup that installed the shah; the 1979 revolution that deposed him), but I was more interested in hearing about the Iranian superiority complex - a product of 2,500 years of Persian history. Several Iranian historians were wheeled on to testify both to this, and to Iranians being extremely conscious - whatever George Bush might think - of not being Arabs. They are better than Arabs; unlike the Bedouin, they do not, as one historical source put it, "eat the skins of lizards".
Iran Awakening (Book of the Week, 18-22 September, 9.45am) was just as gripping. This memoir by Shirin Ebadi, who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, was read beautifully by Souad Faress (aka Usha Gupta in The Archers). It is a troubling account of how it feels to fight for a revolution, only to find that the men with whom you stood at the barricades hate and fear you. In 1979, Ebadi was with the protesters all the way; if push came to shove, she had more in common with the clerics than with the shah's men, who would rather be in St Moritz drinking French pop than in Tehran, facing up to urban poverty. When the revolution came, she cheered.
But the smile soon faded. At the court over which she'd presided as judge, she was now a secretary. Ebadi's account punctuated Tusa's brilliantly: the magisterial sweep, and then a story so personal that it brought everything into focus. Two and a half thousand years of history, yet still a world can change overnight. This isn't just deft commissioning - it is inspired.
Pick of the week
What Does Gordon Really Think?
23 September, 11am, Radio 4
Nick Robinson asks Brown's friends - and enemies - what he'd do as prime minister.
Composer of the Week
25-29 September, 12 noon, Radio 3
Marking the 50th anniversary of Gerald Finzi's death. If you don't know his work, you're missing out.
Don't miss . . .
The Puppini Sisters
After an evening of entertainment with the Puppini Sisters, you are plagued by a dull, peeved feeling that life is more fun for Stephanie, Marcella and Kate. With this glamorous trio, 1940s Good Housekeeping meets burlesque cheek. And they've swept into the charts after signing to the Universal record label.
With numbers including "The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", as well Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" and Morrissey's "Panic", this show is definitely worth a night away from the wireless.
27 September, Madame JoJo's, London W1, and 29 September, The Spirit Bar, Manchester M1. www.puppinisisters.co.uk