Making an exhibition

Some museum pieces are a puzzle - take Chris Evans

The British Museum/BBC co-production A History of the World in 100 Objects (weekdays, Radio 4, 9.45am) - each 15-minute programme examining one object in the museum's collection - got off to the sweetest of starts with the director of the BM, Neil MacGregor, musing over a coffin containing the mummy of a priest from Thebes: "240BC . . . He is his own document." MacGregor said the casket had been designed as a time machine, in which the priest would weave through space to meet his heroes. "But, let's face it," he added, "Bloomsbury might have been a bit of a disappointment."

All this was taking place with the sounds of the museum behind him, people marching down corridors and pointing things out to their companions. It seemed that MacGregor was very much speaking off the cuff (he has real ease), although surely it was all pretty tightly scripted - certainly, he never once reached for the erms and pauses most of us scuttle behind. The same couldn't be said for some of the expert witnesses brought on for variety. "I think what probably happened around 100,000 years ago is that different bits of the brain got connected together in a new way," explained one; a little woolly, I'd say. "So, like, they could . . . combine what they know about nature with what they know about making things." But that was OK. Possibly he was distracted by the noise around him - all the new multimedia exhibits and whatnot.

Much as I appreciate the ever-evolving British Museum, there really is very little in life more comforting than a place to which nothing has been done since you, the visitor, were nine years old. Hence the popularity of the Angus Steak House. "Here is not a bad place to tell a world history," proclaimed MacGregor, reminding me of a story I once heard Simon Jenkins tell of two tourists asking him, on the steps of the British Museum, where the British Museum was. "Well, it's here," he said, cocking his head backwards. "No," they said, "the British museum - with all the British stuff in it. That place is full of stuff from the rest of the world."

Meanwhile, Chris Evans made his debut in Radio 2's breakfast slot (weekdays, 7am). One assumes the show will become less choreographed, less paranoidly packed with set pieces and items as time goes on, but, at present, Evans is rather too Butlins Redcoat to bear for long. But then I've never fully registered what persona he is trying to project. With most presenters, it's easy. George Lamb, for instance, is just a collection of reflexes. Lauren Laverne's construct is that of a normal, fallible human being. Terry Wogan's persona was actually fairly complicated. By which I mean that if he didn't exist it would have been hard to make him up. But Evans? I struggle to get it. More anon.

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 25 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Afghanistan: Why we cannot win this war