Meeting Myself Coming Back - review

An interview with Paddy Ashdown leaves Antonia Quirke desperate for a bite.

Paddy Ashdown. Photograph: Getty Images

Meeting Myself Coming Back

Radio 4

The latest series of Meeting Myself Coming Back (30 June, 8pm), Radio 4’s interview strand in which the presenter John Wilson plays old clips to prominent figures over the course of an hour, was confident. No sense of anyone being hurried to answer or react. No atmosphere of set-up or manufactured controversy. No awkward image of the interviewee standing on a verge pulling a comb through tangled hair after a panicked dash to freedom; but equally not quite the atmosphere of money that can mar this sort of archive-based programme – there’s nothing worse than feeling one has been permitted to join the subject in their walled garden overgrown with clematis next to an Olympic-sized pool always kept at 75 degrees.

Wilson, who wears his research just lightly enough, can sometimes sound practisedly bemused but never works up a cod tone that suggests his guest is being as annoying as a faulty washing machine. In response, his interviewees tend to bring their voices nicely right down, even though many of them much more naturally tend towards the sort of carrying quality developed by years terrorising charity committees or standing, loudly, knee-deep in tiny bridesmaids at a daughter’s wedding.

Take the last guest, Paddy Ashdown. Many of the clips played – of him as a young officer on the Indonesian border drumming his fingers on a bamboo desk (“Oh, we had such a boring time tramping through that jungle”), or from a rather undergrad-ishly earnest report he wrote donkeys years ago about colonialism – clearly came as a pleasant shock. “Well, you have been digging deep,” he muttered, and “bless you for suggesting I was selected but I can assure you I was not!” and “let me perhaps put it a different way” and “I remember that particular speech, yes, but possibly not that bit of it”. It turned into a masterclass in modesty. Had there been dogs about they would have been wandering, panting, over to him, shoving cold noses in his hand. We learned zilch about the man beyond his politician’s love of dread words and phrases like “breaking asunder” and “preamble” but the programme gave the impression of so much more, leaving you in a deep-wader’s trance, waiting and waiting for a pull on the line.