Life on Air: A History of Radio Four by David Hendy - review by Valerie Grove

Valerie Grove

Long Wavering Radio

Life on Air: A History of Radio Four


Oxford University Press 500pp £25

Something terrible happened while I was reading this book. I almost fell out of love with Radio Four. How could this be? I am one of Radio Four’s legions of champions. I fill my ‘Wireless’ column in The Oldie with praise for Desert Island Discs and The Archive Hour. Nothing about this network, born forty years ago on a September morn with Farming Today at 6.35am, could possibly bore me. But David Hendy has sorely tried my devotion. Hendy was the producer of Analysis and The World Tonight – excellent examples of what makes Radio Four the envy of the civilised world. He dissects for us the BBC office politics, the ego-trips and internecine wars that have somehow contrived to produce, over four decades, Radio Four’s audience-winning formula. Yet an encomium from Ned Sherrin (‘Revelatory in its detail – on a very special and important subject’) suggests the somewhat lifeless quality of Hendy’s history. 

Ironically his title is Life on Air; the same title as David Attenborough gave his memoirs. Attenborough and Radio Four both fall into the category of national treasure. Each enjoys the reverence accorded to those we regard as part of the British way of life. Each has authority, familiarity, eccentricity,

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