Goodbye to all that

A week of love and loss on the airwaves.

Life at 24 Frames a Second, Radio 4

The film critic David Thomson's series of ten 15-minute biographical and historical programmes on cinema (ended 28 January) never tried to be epic and definitive - yet it was. It helped that Thomson also happens to be a great actor (he role-played occasionally during the programmes) and broadcaster. He's like Alistair Cooke, pulling off a nice, slow, seemingly off-the-cuff ramble.

That is what makes Thomson such a good critic. He has a way of formulating ideas in a way that doesn't require you to agree or disagree; it is a casualness that can't be learned. Then there's his strange, musical voice, which seems to contain a lovely whiff of lonely Hollywood. It seems always to be saying that California is a place across which you drive but never quite feel a part of.

For Radio 4, Thomson talked about happiness, love and violence in film - among many other subjects - with a wistfulness that didn't congeal into oozy nostalgia. Seeing Citizen Kane as a youth was, to him, an "awesome, emotional encounter with solitude". The wistfulness rang true partly because of the aura of innocence that still clings to cinema. Film is the most innocent of media. Ed Wood! Chuck Heston, unaware that his Ben-Hur has been turned, by the foxy Gore Vidal, into a thwarted homosexual! I'm sad that the series is over. But then there's
always something to mourn when it comes to movies: even, sometimes, their arrival.

“I was there for the film - but I always wanted it to be next week," Thomson confessed sweetly in one episode, recalling his childhood passion for movie trailers. Here, the programme played a clip from the original trailer for The Maltese Falcon. Where did they get that? It was a thrill to hear it. I get a similar ache from trailers. There's just something unbearable about how the big films come and go and wither on to DVD. Nothing but monstrous mayflies, hatched, used up and forgotten.

Elsewhere, the BBC finally confirmed the loss of a third of its staff at the World Service - cuts that will lead to the shedding of 30 million listeners. It's a catastrophe for the station. Short-wave broadcasts in Hindi will cease altogether, along with all evening radio programmes from the Arabic Service. Other services will be cut in China, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and elsewhere. It is inevitable now that the station will be eclipsed by Voice of America as the leading global broadcaster. All we can hope for - and hope we must - is a renaissance in 2014, when the licence-fee payer takes over responsibility for the station's funding from the Foreign Office. Until then, says the World Service director, Peter Horrocks, we must "put our arms round each other and get through this". A BBC executive publicly asking for a hug . . . Could things get any worse?

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 07 February 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The New Arab Revolt