The BBC's memory season remembers all the wrong things
So what do you think of the BBC's memory season so far? Launched with great hullabaloo last month by Mariella Frostrup and Dr Mark Porter on Radio 4, the season embraces drama, stories, surveys and science. I am not impressed. The whole thing smacks of an ideas meeting that got out of control.
"I know," you can imagine someone saying into an awkward silence - "what about a season of programmes on . . . memory?" Cue all the producers around the table sharing their own, not-very-interesting stories about where, after a long search, they found their car keys (in the bin!). I suppose the impulse was inclusive: everyone has memories. But most people dream, too - and there is nothing so crushingly boring as listening to someone tell you all about their dream.
The launch programme, The Memory Experience, was quite desperate. Mark Damazer, the controller of Radio 4, has ditched Home Truths, where listeners got to ring in and drone on about their lives, and yet there we were, enduring phone calls from people who had - wait for it - mislaid their bank cards.
Then there were the "experts", on hand to advise us how to keep our memories in top condition. The shock news is: using your brain helps. Talk about stating the bleeding obvious. On Today, which laboriously plugged the new season, an expert told Edward Stourton that it was fascinating how people of different ages remember different things. Stourton, who sounded elegantly mystified, asked if this wasn't rather a dumb point to make, given that people of different ages have lived through different times. The expert waffled happily on.
As such, this past week, I have studiously avoided all programmes marked The Memory Experience on the grounds that they might send me mad. Instead, I sought out less feebly populist Radio 4 fare. The new Classic Serial is Great Expectations (Sundays, 3pm), and it is wonderful. Anna Maxwell Martin, who was such a fantastic Esther Summerson in BBC1's adaptation of Bleak House, plays Estella, and I would listen for her alone: she is the best actress of her generation.
Squatters' Paradise (2 August, 11am, Radio 4) was about the 45,000 people who, let down by the postwar Labour government which had promised to build millions of homes for returning war heroes, illegally squatted the country's derelict army Nissen huts. A documentary such as this - full of facts and adorned with human voices that actually have something relevant to say - shows up The Memory Experience (not to mention Sound Advice, the awful new Saturday-morning programme with Gyles Brandreth) for what they are: cheapskate, rather patronising efforts to lure people to the station by littering the schedule with "celebrities". The contrast between the two kinds of programming is not only depressing but chastening, too. "So the war, all of it, was over a year and two days ago," wrote a woman from Sheffield in her diary of 1946. "I think it passed unnoticed. The peace is so grim, it occupies all our time." I thought about her words - and those, equally poignant, of some of her fellow squatters - for the rest of the day.
As for Sue Lawley's confession that she once forgot to get off a bus in Bristol, that went in one ear and straight out of the other.
Harry Benson in Edinburgh
Benson has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. It was his portrait of four fresh-faced, pillow-wielding pop stars (the iconic Beatles Pillow Fight) that cemented Glasgow-born Benson's position as the darling of America, beloved by celebrities and politicians alike. From Martin Luther King's funeral to a post-op Elizabeth Taylor, from the Watts riots to the Clintons enjoying a conjugal moment, it seems there is hardly a defining image of the past 50 years that he hasn't captured on camera.
"Being There: Harry Benson's 50 years of photojournalism" is at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (0131 624 6200) to 7 January 2007
Pick of the week
Andy Kershaw in Algeria
6 August, 10.15pm, Radio 3
Kershaw goes where others fear to tread. The reward: a performance by the Algerian star Rachid Taha.
More Than Just a Song
6 August, 10.45pm, Radio 4Robin Denselow explores the role of music in political activism. Part one (of three) looks at "The Red Flag"