The week in audio: International Women’s Day; The Last Bohemians; Tonight With Andrew Marr | Radio


International Women’s Day Scala Radio, BBC Radio 3, BBC 6 Music
The Last Bohemians House of Hutch
Tonight With Andrew Marr LBC

International Women’s Day last Tuesday, and radio stations filled the airwaves with music and interviews from “queens” and “trailblazers” and “inspirational” women; all great, but it does make me wonder about those of us who muddle along being not very magnificent at all. Women still have to be fantastic, even on IWD. It’s often said, but we’ll know we’re equal once a woman is allowed to be as mediocre at her job as a middle-aged white man. As for being rewarded with a knighthood for being sacked … nobody would want a world where that could happen. Oh.

Anyway. Scala Radio, which always showcases an admirable amount of female composers and musicians, had a good week. Simon Mayo, a natural feminist ally, was as relaxed as ever, highlighting Dame Kiri Te Kanawa’s birthday; Penny Smith had an interview with the soprano Gabriella Di Laccio. The station has also brought back She Scores, the Sunday night show featuring female film, TV and video game composers.

Radio 3, which also has a pretty good gender balance, went all out: premiering the lost 1583 madrigals of Maddalena Casulana, exploring sisters in Free Thinking, and showcasing female composers in a live lunchtime concert. This committed focus on women’s work in classical music is amazingly interesting. The station also made some lovely short videos that highlighted the various roles of women behind the scenes; encouraging stuff when we remember that just 10 years ago, only 1% of radio programme editors nationally were women.

6 Music has long had two women installed in the mornings, Lauren Laverne and Mary Anne Hobbs, both of whom regularly play music created by women; thus, despite the station’s promotion of International Women’s Day, both shows sounded as they always do – meaning as great as ever. Hobbs provided my full-on “Hooray, women are great!” moment, by playing PJ Harvey’s wild, hilarious 50ft Queenie straight into the mad scales of Anna Meredith’s Sawbones. Sometimes talk isn’t what’s needed, just an enormous shout at the sky.

For something more intelligent than sky-shouting, you might try the first episode of series three of The Last Bohemians. Kate Hutchinson’s interview podcast is always worth a listen, and she kicks off with a doozy: the brilliant artist Maggi Hambling. Hambling, an iconoclast from her wild hair to her cigarette tip, is a quote machine and a hoot, and she did not disappoint. At one point her phone went off. Its ringtone was God Save the Queen, played on a trumpet. Hutchinson, who did well not to laugh, asked Hambling: “Are you a royalist, Maggi?” “Of course,” said Hambling airily, and immediately returned to her tales of “drugs, a lot of queer business”, debauchery and art.

The artist Maggi Hambling in front of a large canvas.
Maggi Hambling, true iconoclast. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Like many older interviewees, she has a habit of repeating entertaining but well-worn anecdotes, but Hutchinson did well in pinning her down. When Hambling trotted out a familiar quote about her lover Henrietta Moraes – “I became her subject rather than she mine” – Hutchinson asked what she meant and got a touching story about Moraes’s death. We should all be more Hambling, I feel: saved by her work, full of doubt but continuing on. “I refuse to be told what to do,” she said. Amen.

Over to LBC, which did nothing much at all for IWD (Shelagh Fogarty aside, its daytime hosts have long been resolutely male). On Monday, another chap – Andrew Marr – started his new one-hour evening show. It’s a strange one. Marr, who came to LBC with Rob Burley, exec editor of his old BBC TV programme, has simply transplanted a telly show on to the radio. If you watch it, he’s sitting at a semicircular table, giving his opening (Autocued) links straight down the barrel of a camera, cutting to footage of parliament or Ukraine. Fine: but many of us want to listen rather than watch, and Marr’s tone sounds manic to anyone expecting radio. TV is about broadcasting to the nation; radio is about talking to one person. Marr’s energy is a bit The Day Today for us listeners, and he sounds positively nuts when he throws to news or travel.

Andrew Marr sitting at a desk on his new LBC show.
Andrew Marr in the studio at LBC. Photograph: PA

A few other points. It’s ridiculous to invite on journalists of the calibre of fellow presenter Camilla Tominey (Monday) and Pippa Crerar (Tuesday) for the entire one-hour duration of the programme and only have them say a couple of things. The show is very politico-celeb heavy – Michael Gove first night, Jeremy Hunt the next – which adds status but not much warmth. No listeners call in, not even a tweet is read out. In short, it’s very old BBC, which clearly has its merits but comes as a shock after LBC’s daytime schedule.

The station’s USP is feisty, informed, welcoming presenters who can keep to schedule while including listeners and never seeming frantic. Marr hasn’t yet acquired all of these attributes. His show feels alien, though it’s clearly meant to usher in LBC’s TV era; the brilliant Iain Dale, on after Marr, is now also hosting at the semicircular table and delivering some of his links to camera. Luckily, Dale is such a pro that you can’t notice this when you’re listening. Of course, Marr will settle into his new show, but there are already plenty of excellent radio presenters who do TV (Eddie Mair and James O’Brien come to mind), as LBC well knows. Victoria Derbyshire could do this show standing on her head, and involve the listeners too.

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