Radio 4's highbrow talkfest broadcasts its 500th episode this week. The Guardian's Elizabeth Mahoney writes a fine appreciation of a national treasure which is also hosted by a national treasure:
It shouldn't work, even on a pretty highbrow speech network – academics tussling with mind-bogglingly chewy issues, shepherded by Bragg who never bothers to hide when he's bored or frustrated, or the talk goes off topic. But it does, with its unrivalled range of subjects and uncluttered format in which clever people simply talk about fascinating ideas and concepts.
There are other key ingredients in the hugely successful mix, and I love these quirky elements almost as much as the content. Bragg now says "hello" at the top of the programme so quickly that it attaches itself to whatever word follows, so keen is he to dodge presenting niceties and move onto the subject. There is always a battle for the most authentic pronunciation of foreign words, and a similar tussle over who can say the word "Renaissance" in the poshest, most learned way (that is: absolutely not as "Renaaaysonce", but as a shuddered near-monosyllabic utterance). I also like the regular muted chortles, and the moments at which it's obvious that Bragg considers a guest either a particular genius or twerp.
Link to In Our Time archive.