Presenter absenter

A masterclass in the art of documentary-making.

Music Matters
Radio 3

Two documentaries this past week proved that sometimes you don't need a dominant investigative narrator or presenter to leave the listener with the feeling of having been shown ­absolutely all over the house, right up to the ­water tank concealed under the battlements. The 15-minute Music Matters (2 July, 12.15pm) was recorded in the build-up to the 14th Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and St Petersburg with its pianists, violinists, cellists and vocalists.

Over the past 20 years the competition has suffered a decline. But this year, Russia's culture ministry filled the juries with performers rather than professors. Just occasionally, we would hear from the presenter, Tom Service, giving short and apt comments, describing the "wonderful hairdos and fantastic outfits" of some of the singers, but more it was confidently left to passing voices to set the scene, which they did, memorably. As one woman said: "A winner here must be somebody as cold as anything to forget the nerves . . . and somebody as boiling as hell."

In Down and Out in the City of Angels (4 July, 11am, Radio 4), Peter Bowes went to meet several of the 18,000 homeless veterans living on the streets of LA. "Let us not forget that America is the land of the free because it is the home of dur brave," said Arnie gravely, recorded at a 4 July parade, an experience that many veterans find hard to endure because of the noise and fireworks. Many homeless veterans spoke - one was 92 and had been at Pearl Harbor; another was 23, a woman, once a combat medic. There was surprisingly little rancour; instead, a long-practised control of the hourly thunderclaps of admonition that must rage within.

Bowes presented with perfect, cousinly cordiality. He came over precisely as he ought to in such circumstances: as a person knocking gently at a communicating door and then passing calmly into his guest's room. But depressingly there was little need for him to step in and explain. "I wasn't no doctor or nothing but I had to cut people up and pack dead bodies," said one man who fought for three months in Vietnam. "It's just stayed in my mind. I live with the devil. You know what I'm saying?"

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.