Thursday, 12 April 2012

Radio Reviews: 13 April

Written by Louis Barfe

The history of TV in six hours? On radio? Can it work? Sometimes...

Louis-Barfe-newBWSince stepping down as executive chairman of ITV in 2009, Michael Grade has reinvented himself as a documentary maker. His surveys of variety and music hall for BBC Four were patchily pleasing, even for an entertainment obsessive and pedant like me. Now, he's on Radio 2 with a six-part history of television.

The history of television in six hours? On radio? Can it work? Can justice be done? The presence of Malcolm Prince as producer gave me hope, but sadly, on the evidence of the first part, the answer is no. As the hour progressed, it seemed increasingly unclear whether it was a history of TV or a history of Grade's own career. We had a potted version of the launch of ITV, with the contribution of Grade's beloved Uncle Lew oddly underplayed, then long sections on ad jingles, Coronation Street, Upstairs Downstairs and The South Bank Show. The links were tenuous, the chronology was all over the shop and it all felt rather bitty.

Nonetheless, there were some nice anecdotes, not least Corrie's Annie Walker meeting Larry Olivier in a corridor at Granada, and Melvyn Bragg recalling Ingrid Bergman's underwhelmed reaction to the title of ITV's arts show: 'Can't you do any better?'

Also it was interesting to hear Sir Christopher Frayling admit that The Army Game opened his eyes to class differences. Less illuminating was Channel 4 newsman Jon Snow informing us that he remembers the Fairy Liquid jingle from his childhood. Considering that the last time I saw an ad for Fairy they were still using it, this is hardly a revelation.

More pleasing were all-toobrief contributions from senior executives from the golden age of telly, like Brian Tesler, Sir Paul Fox and Jonathan Powell, even if I did find myself correcting Fox gently when he credited Duncan Wood with bringing Rising Damp to Yorkshire Television (Wood inherited the show from his predecessor as head of light entertainment, John Duncan). Having interviewed Tesler myself, I can state confi dently that six hours of him just talking about his career would make great radio.

Maybe that's the answer. The framework didn't work, so let's just have the anecdotes. Who's for a series called Michael Grade in conversation with his mates? Count me in.

Michael Grade: On the Box, Mondays, 10pm, BBC Radio 2


Radio 4's online Desert Island Discs archive includes a downloadable version of Lew Grade's appearance on the show, from December 1987: 

His luxury was a crate of Montecristo cigars – naturally.

Follow Louis on Twitter: @LadyWireless or email him

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