The Politics of Pandas (Radio 4)

A documentary examining the role pandas have played in international diplomacy failed to establish an awful lot more than the obvious. "I've come all the way from Warrington," said a visitor to Edinburgh Zoo, where the male Yan Guang and female Tian Tian have recently taken residence, "and I think that they are incredibly cute, you can't deny that." "They are rare," confirmed an expert, "and they usually exist only in China and their image is cute." A branding executive put her full weight behind: "It's bold, its cuddly, it's concerned with the environment," where London Zoo's former curator of mammals dropped the bombshell: "They have black and white patterns. They are easy to draw."

Down the line from Hollywood, an animator involved with the hit animation Kung Fu Panda whipped up an intellectual headstorm about the beast. "I thought they were bears and that's about it." This being the one programme I'd been looking forward to all week, by now my note-taking had been superseded by the desire to simply drink it all in. Apparently five government ministers were involved in getting the pandas to Edinburgh - David Miliband, Gordon Brown, Jim Murphy and Alex Salmond, but it was Nick Clegg who "actually signed off the panda deal". Your correspondent immediately logged on to Edinburgh Zoo's "Panda Cam" to monitor Yang Guang in the flesh ("Yang Guang means sunshine") but could see zip. "He loves to be outdoors even in the heavy rain," the site assures us, "although once eaten he likes to climb into his basket for a snooze."

More active was Japanese Lance Corporal Shoichi Yokoi, who spent 28 years hiding in the jungle after the Americans stormed Guam in 1944. A captivating ten-minute edition of Witness marked the 40th anniversary of his discovery, quite by accident, as he carried an eel trap through a field of foxtail grasses wearing an outfit he had woven from hibiscus plants and shoes made from the skin of poisonous toads. Having lived on little more than rats for three decades, Yokoi was too weak to fight off his rescuers and later confessed he had kept himself going by allowing the "occasional" thought of his loved ones back home - these thoughts strictly occurring in the few moments he washed in the river at moonlight. Warrington, mon amour.

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 30 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, President Newt