Thursday 21 May 2015

Melvyn! Melvyn! Melvyn!

True story: I had a telephone conversation with my 82-year old dad soon after I got in from work tonight.

During it he got onto one of his hobby-horses: He thinks Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time is the most boring programme ever put out by the BBC.

I'll roughly translate what he said from broad Lancashire into 'RB' (Received Bloggerspeak), for the benefit of any soft southerners out there:
Who's that one you like? Er, the boring one, the one who comes from the Lakes? He was going on this morning about someone no-one's ever heard of, who was born in 30 AD! Who in their right mind would want to listen to that?
I rang back later to say I was looking forward to listening to it.

I mean, honestly, who wouldn't want to listen to Melvyn Bragg and three academics talking for 45 minutes about a historian from the first century AD? It's surely most normal people's idea of radio heaven. (Well, it's certainly mine.)

Even the ratings for Jeremy Kyle's eponymous TV show drop on Thursdays as viewers switch in their millions to Radio 4 for a spot of Melvyn & Co.

We all know what they're hoping for: the inevitable moment when Melvyn gets the hump with one of his academics for going off at a tangent or failing to do justice to something juicy which appears in his notes.

And then we all know what comes next: Melvyn starts throwing chairs at them, the Radio 4 audience begins chanting in unison, "Melvyn! Melvyn! Melvyn!" and Dame Jenni Murray has to rush in, with back-up from Jane Garvey, to break it all up.

Yes, it's all shameless sensationalism, of course, but that's what we In Our Time fans love about the programme.

Today's programme was about Josephus, author of The Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews.

Josephus was apparently born to a father of priestly descent and a mother who claimed royal ancestry. Melvyn did a DNA test to try to prove or disprove the matter before bringing out a lie-detector to see which parts of The Jewish War were and weren't true. 

All four of Josephus's wives were invited onto the show. They began screaming and pulling each others' hair. Dame Jenni and Jane had to rush into the studio but, oddly, instead of breaking up the fight, they began restraining Professor Alexander and Professor Goodman (the two male academics) instead (typical bloody Woman's Hour!).

Towards the end a live bear (called Evan) was brought into the studio and ate Professor Alexander. A psychotherapist came on to console poor Professor Tessa Rajak.

Oh, I do love In Our Time


  1. I listened to it ... ! The only thing I would ask is that Melvyn speaks clearly. He always mumbles his words, and speaks far too quickly. In fact he gobbles his words up, and it's vastly irritating ... ! I missed the rather delicious fight you have described, yes that sounds good!

  2. It’s one of the few programs I do still enjoy on Radio 4. I know Melvyn Bragg tries his best, but I often have the feeling that whenever one of the contributors starts saying something interesting he interrupts and diverts them onto something less interesting. We like you Melvyn, but sometimes it’s better just to shut up and listen.

  3. Even with the stuff that is bad there is still an awful lot of quality on radio 4 - even the news coverage on R4 (that is where all the important bias problems seem to come from) is superior to every other broadcaster

  4. when i say superior I mean - more thoughtful and in-depth. A biased but thoughtful report is usually worth more to me than an anodyne but impartial report that does not even attempt to dig into the details

  5. I listened to that episode. Melvyn mumbles, and he sounded particularly mumbly in comparison to the first speaker.
    Given the time constraints, the chairperson is supposed to stop contributors going off at a tangent and Melvyn often sounds tetchy when he does so. As you* say sometimes the tangent is as interesting as the core issue, which calls for discretion from the chair. I think the allotted time (43 minutes) is enough for those unfamiliar with the subject.
    (I began to fade at about 40)

    Melvyn. Enunciate the last part of every word. It’s radio.

    * There are too many Anons on this thread. Couldn't you sign off, or think of a moniker?

  6. An interesting episode. The questions about Josephus' accuracy and pro-Roman propaganda are standard. It was part of the course when I studied this stuff in school many, many years ago. The panel gave generally sound explanations of everything, and if anyone seemed to be taking sides, it seemed to be based on scholarly observation rather than some ideological agenda.

    It was a bit difficult to listen to, though. Tessa Rajak is almost unbearably shrill, and Bragg talks with marbles in his mouth. It was also tense listening because I kept waiting for someone to make the easy contemporary reference about independence and occupation and the Jewish State. But thankfully it never came. Probably my own fault for expecting bias, but at least I didn't hear any when there wasn't. Credit to the BBC for missing an opportunity for some pro-Palestinian propaganda.

    1. It was a very good episode. 'In Our Time' outshines everything else on Radio 4 - and the entire BBC - quite often, and this was an example of that.

      Tessa Rajak certainly was a bit hard hard on the ears though.

  7. I love the show EXCEPT for Melvyn's mumbling. It is the absolute worst! I get that's the way he speaks, so on and so forth, but then it is a RADIO show where people are literally listening to the people speak. So it's so downright infuriating when you cannot understand more than half of what the host is saying. I try to listen to a show because I'm truly interested, but just get so fed up and turn it off. Can he just produce the show or something instead and get someone with clear diction to properly host the radio show. It seems so obvious. It is a known complaint yet no one at the beebs cares.


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