Monday, January 11, 2010

Guest Editor of BBC Radio4's Today

Copyright Random HouseEvery year, BBC Radio4 hands over its Today show programming between Christmas and New Year's Eve to guest editors. On December 31, it was 89-year-old best-selling crime writer, conservative peer, and former governor of the BBC P.D. James's turn. To me, a fan of all things P.D. James, this was a remarkable opportunity to hear the doyennne's voice.

For her program, James interviewed BBC's director general Mark Thompson, pressing him on the future of the corporation and the pay of senior management. "She was scathing about the large salaries being paid to BBC executives, programmes such as Dog Borstal and Britain's Worst Teeth and Britain's Most Embarrassing Pets, and the controversial decision to drop Arlene Phillips as a judge from Strictly Come Dancing, which she said could only be a kind of ageism."

"Baroness James shares what she sees as considerable public anxieties about aspects of the criminal justice system. These include cases of dangerous criminals released to offend again, the difficulty of deporting foreign criminals and the effectiveness of the sentencing available to the courts after a conviction for murder. She discussed these concerns with the Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw."

"[She] asked home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw to look into current police training."

"To investigate the relationship between crime fiction and real crime, she persuaded the former Met commissioner Sir Ian Blair into the studio with fellow crime novelist Lynda Le Plante."

"P.D. James thinks people are less articulate now than they used to be. She left Cambridge girls' school in 1936 when she was 16, an age at which children sat the Leaving Certificate exam. Correspondent Sanchia Berg took exam papers in English from that time to a modern Cambridge comprehensive, Parkside, to see what the pupils made of them."

"One of the ideas guest editor James wanted to look into was the notion of national identity and patriotism. In the National Portrait Gallery in London, historian David Starkey and Sunder Katwala, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, analysed our patriotic past and future."

"James chose some of her favourite poems to play during the programme. Poetry, she believes, is central to British identity and there should be a greater emphasis on bringing poetry to children in schools and opening their minds to the richness of our poetic heritage. The programme featured Philip Larkin reading his poem The Explosion, Charles Causley reading his poem Timothy Winters, Sir John Gielgud reading from Shakespeare's Sonnet 73, and James herself reading Tennyson's In Memoriam at the end of her editor's interview."

Regular Today presenter Evan Davis was clearly impressed. "She shouldn't be guest editing, she should be permanently presenting the programme," he said. I concur wholeheartedly.

[Please forgive the share bookmarklet weirdness below. My code testings skills are very rusty. I can't seem to isolate the problem.]