Show Hide image

Perfectly tailored

Christmas radio reviewed.

Christmas radio
Various stations

Radio this Christmas has a particularly heavylidded sense of sweet familiarity. Bradley Wiggins and Paul Weller (26 December, 1-3pm, 6 Music) are teaming up for a one-off show “jammed with classic tracks while the sideburned duo trade anecdotes about their musical heritage”. It sounds like something you’ve surely heard before (and enjoyed in a vague way) a certainty born from the countless times the pair have been photographed gladhanding each other on various red carpets recently, Wiggins trying politely to not look so tall.

If this trial goes well, expect three hours with Wellins to become a seasonal feature. Radio 3’s Early Music Show (22 December, 1-4 pm) goes for the hardcore trad jugular, looking at the earliest English polyphonic carol, “Ther is no rose”, sung by the velvet-togged consort Alamire with an emphasis on the cosy surely only matched by Radio 4’s look at Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester (27 December, 11.30am) – which reveals the story is based on fact (I knew it!).

Experts on Potter, interviewed to the sound of a ticking clock, reveal that as a child she had no friends (her gloomy Unitarian parents kept her a prisoner at home) and would smuggle baby hedgehogs and squirrels into her nursery to try to befriend them, a common story for lonely children. (The Chinese flautist Guo Yue once recalled trying desperately to befriend a dragonfly in a field after the Cultural Revolution).

Life continued quietly, with Potter secretly running her Kensington menagerie and feeling ever more keenly that “the lords and ladies of the last century walked with me”. But then during one euphoric visit to her cousins in Gloucester she watched while wassailers fed cider-soaked bits of toast to robins in a tree (noting down the lyrics to their rendition of “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”) and read in the newspaper of a tailor called John Pritchard who had opened his workshop next to the city’s cathedral on Boxing Day to find the intricate mayoral jacket he had been working on mysteriously finished to perfection.

Investigations revealed his workers had had a lock-in, and finding themselves unable to leave the premises in daylight without discovery had finished the jacket to pass the time until they could slip away in hungover darkness the night before. Still, the mice theory lingered locally for years and Potter first set it down in a letter to a young friend. “I have no news for you,” the letter modestly starts, “so here’s a story . . .”

Those already pleasantly asleep by now may turn with weak fingers to the World Service (22 December, 2.06-2.30pm) to hear a programme on the history of lullabies, recorded in a remote rural village in the Atlas Mountains . . . when the world was young and we lived as safe as brooms in broom closets, as safe as tiny parrots in forests within a forest, a thousand years ago (my apologies to Milan Kundera).

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Brian Cox and Robin Ince guest edit