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Radio 3’s week in the forest saw seven days of stupendous programming

Woodland music, masques, legends, fairytales, outlaws and fables – it had it all.

By Antonia Quirke

“It’s the only song I know with a female orgasm in it” was one of several less-than-usual declarations during a week of stupendous programming on BBC Radio 3 dedicated to woodland music, masques, legends, fairytales, outlaws and fables (18-24 June). The speaker on an edition of The Essay had evidently never heard Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” (although I think the moment in that song is ruined when an ex turns up with chips and pitta bread) but still, an actual gasp went up at the very mention of the lyrics to the old song “Three Birds in a Bush”.

Otherwise, standing around in woods was the station’s chief activity. There can’t remain an inch of copse on these isles not fought through at some point by a Radio 3 grandee, such as Cecil Vyse in A Room With a View using his walking cane to clear elder shoots, hurrying Lucy Honeychurch away from the sight of naked men cavorting in a woodland pond. And if they weren’t among trees, presenters were finding ways to talk about them. On The Verb, Ian McMillan attempted to “refresh the language” of forests (“parasol” of trees rather than “canopy”?) An edition of Mixtape featured unusually long clips of woodland birdsong. It showed that messing even slightly with the received rhythms of BBC radio discussions and features can make things sound completely vivid.

The Breakfast Show, broadcast live from five different rain-drummed forests, has never been better (where Today on Radio 4 has shed 65,000 listeners in a year, the audience for this show has risen by 64,000. Discuss.) Even when Petroc Trelawny had to feign appreciation of the Welsh medieval instrument the crwth (the saddest thing you ever heard, like strings being drawn over old bones and dead regiments) he did so with feeling.

And when some bloke turned up with a guitar made of 5,000-year-old English oak and talked about resting it against standing stones to allow the air to whistle a mysterious melody (such experiences over the years have driven women into the arms of truck drivers) Trelawny merely guided him towards perhaps instead playing Bach. Not a moment all week was duff! 

Into the Forest Week
BBC Radio 3

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This article appears in the 27 Jun 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Germany, alone