Summer Over England (Radio 3)

There was a time when all voices tended towards RP.

You know it's June when BBC Radio - with the sly gait of the apparently leisured - starts to put out repeats of heavily archive-based programmes such as Summer Over England (20 June, 8.15pm), a collection of very pretty soundbites concerning English summer days: the aural equivalent of sandwiches of spongy new bread greased with mayonnaise.

On came the reflections as though swirled by a hot wind, along with memories of girls in thin dresses worn high on the leg, whistled at by young men standing lethargically around news-stands. One particularly striking contributor had a voice so wistful, so alone-seeming, one could scarcely imagine the original producer broadcasting her with the luxury of an entirely peaceful conscience. "You can't get nice summer dresses to fit big people," she said, resigned. "Sleeveless ones. But I just don't look the same. I always make one big promise when the nice weather comes - that I'm going to start to slim, but . . ."

Then came extracts from Dylan Thomas's 1946 BBC broadcast Holiday Memory (DT was devoted to the radio; as a teenager he formed the Warmley Broadcasting Corporation with a friend, relaying programmes from an upstairs room), with its parade of inventive, seaside-based collective nouns: "A tuck of trousers . . . a compromise of paddlers . . . a sunburn of girls . . . a lark of boys . . ."

Alistair Cooke pointed out small details of English men's clothes (the slanting vents of trouser pockets, the exclusively circular frames of glasses). Cooke's voice is familiar, but less so was Laurie Lee's - less Gloucestershire than one would think. Just as Dylan Thomas sounded less Welsh - barely at all.

The certainty projected was that all voices, all experiences, once tended towards the RP, and as though to prove this came a final monologue from Vita Sackville-West appreciating the gardens of a stately home that clearly had an "extremely able gard-nah". Highlight of the programme - make that the week - was V S-W clearing her throat very loudly and unapologetically mid-sentence, like someone rattling the silver handle in a door long taken over by weaving worms. There was something so expensive in the sound. l

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 27 June 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The food issue