The Reunion (Radio 4)

Sue MacGregor knows how to get the best out of her guests.

The first in a new series of Radio 4's star programme The Reunion (7 August, 11.15am) was wasted, broadcast as it was on the warm Sunday in early August when the country started living the J G Ballard novel Kingdom Come.

On this long-running show, which brings together a group of people who have been invol­ved in a significant movement, task or trauma, the guests have ranged from humanitarian aid workers in Bosnia to Britain's first rock'n'rollers. It always varies in tone - sometimes a cascade of bad vibes, sometimes so much of a love-in that it's like being buried under an avalanche of lamb fat. When the guests talk about sadnesses, or how they came to blow their success, the audience clucks knowingly.

Occasionally it can feel as if the speakers need protection - from the truth, from time - and then the presenter-referee, Sue MacGregor, moves in warmly, plaudits for her tact and intelligence piling up discreetly in the background. The show is a love match: it could not be more perfect.

Even by the programme's usual standards, Sunday's episode (the 78th since the strand was launched in 2003) was exceptional, as it suggested, from one person at least, bottomless wells of psychic disturbance. It reunited Nick Leeson ("the star derivatives trader from Watford") with his former bosses at Barings Bank. One could just picture the punching of the air at the BBC when the line-up was confirmed.

Had Barings been considered a solid sort of firm, Sue asked. "It was very much pukka indeed," said the administrator Alan Bloom, defensively. "We were a collection of entrepreneurial individuals at the top of our game." And on it went, tensely, with several full-on confrontations ("You must have known!").

After a while, one stopped listening out for Leeson. He was repellently anti-charismatic and scarcely apologetic. The star was Barings's former director of operations Peter Norris, who had stood by Leeson until it became impossible to ignore the scale of his losses - £827m; bank kaput. The sadness coming off Norris felt as inescapable as carbon dioxide. In his voice, regret came over as regret should: a truly borderless country.

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 15 August 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The coming anarchy