Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Private Passions (Radio 3) Telegraph review

On radio: good company is what makes great radio

Presenters who make you listen, rather than just hear, are the key to successful programmes, says Gillian Reynolds, the Telegraph's radio critic

John Amis, talking to Michael Berkeley on Private Passions (Radio 3, Sunday) said he nearly died last year and, knowing it, thought to himself: "Well, that's OK. I've met a lot of people, I've heard a lot of wonderful music, I've had some nice sex, I've enjoyed my food. Why not? Goodbye. But I didn't."
So there he was, back on the radio, remembering being taught about life by Michael Tippett and about music by Benjamin Britten, recalling working all those years on My Music, and how well the team got on though they met only in the studio and didn't socialise outside it, declaring passion was what he looked for in music. To all of which this listener, awed, dazzled and glad, could only respond (quite faintly, seeing it was so hot outside): "Hurrah."
This was one of those conversations that showed why, in this country, we love radio. It's because the company is so good. In nations where what comes out of the little box is mostly music, the chances to get to know interesting people via the airwaves are correspondingly fewer. British radio listening remains very high, with nine out of 10 of us listening an average of 23.8 hours each week, because we like what is on it. An essential ingredient of this successful mix is the people.
These days, if you want to listen to music, there are internet services that can construct you a personal playlist made up of tracks you've told it you like, plus new ones the computer will add, selected to fit your predilections.
Such a service won't give you the company of a John Amis, a Michael Berkeley, a Terry Wogan, a Russell Davies, an Andy Kershaw, a Johnnie Walker. If people like them make you listen rather than just hear, they are worth both pay and praise.

Meanwhile, on Sunday's Private Passions, that friendly neighbouring harbour for freights of music and memories, John Amis was on top form. We don't know him, but radio creates such potent illusions we imagine we do.
As soon as he starts talking, however, we realise all over again that we don't, but, because we love what we pick up from him, whether about his marriage, or Frank Muir's quip about Donizetti's demise, or Denis Norden's genius for timing, or why he thinks Tippett was like Beethoven but Britten more of a "know-it-all" like Mozart, you really couldn't ask for better company.

Radio 3 Private Passions website

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