The week in radio and podcasts: House of Dreams; Between Ourselves with Marian Keyes; BBC Sounds app – review | Miranda Sawyer

An artist’s house is full of warmth, Marian Keyes is a hoot – and why the Beeb is wrong to can iPlayer Radio

House of Dreams | BBC Radio 4
Between Ourselves with Marian Keyes | BBC Radio 4

Two engaging and very different Radio 4 shows this week; succour in dismal times. House of Dreams concerned the home of the artist Stephen Wright, in East Dulwich, south London. Wright lives very near one of my son’s friends and I’ve often wondered about his house, an ordinary small terrace that, even from the street, is clearly a strange and magical environment. A blue fence with bright tiles, faces on top of the columns, lots of trees…

There are pictures of the House of Dreams online if you want to see it, but the beauty of this programme was that you didn’t need to. Made by producer par excellence Eleanor McDowall, this told a different, nonvisual story, of life and grief and art and acceptance.

Wright bought the house in the 90s with his partner, Donald, and, inspired by a TV programme about outsider artists, began decorating it with toys, trinkets, found objects – the tat that others leave behind.

Several years later, after Donald died, when Wright met his present partner, Michael, there was nowhere for Michael to sit down. When he found somewhere, he was faced by about 40 doll’s heads, all staring at him.

McDowall, rather than obsessing over the freakery, focused on Wright’s gentle character, and the relationships that inspired his art-house-life. Donald was one, clearly, and Wright gave a lovely description of how and when they met, just around the corner: “I was wearing a red check shirt and blue jeans.” That instinct for remembering is very much part of Wright’s art. Just outside the front door he has his late mum and dad’s dentures, set in cement: “I can see their faces through their teeth sticking out,” he said, sweetly.

Music, specially made by Jeremy Warmsley seemed to reflect Wright’s gentle eccentricity, his care and love. People visit the House of Dreams, and they tell him about their lives. What a beautiful man, and what a beautiful programme.

Marian Keyes: ‘a laugh-out-loud hoot’.
Marian Keyes: ‘a laugh-out-loud hoot’. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images

Between Ourselves with Marian Keyes, also on Radio 4, put together the author Marian Keyes with the actor and writer Tara Flynn, and they were a laugh-out-loud hoot. The show, recorded in front of a live audience, allowed both women to be funny, though it was really there to showcase the immensely popular Keyes. She read her nonfiction (about the true meaning of Irish words, and getting a passport from the Irish embassy in London) and I laughed like a drain.

Producer Steve Doherty is responsible for putting David Sedaris’s live shows on radio, and this was just as warm and hilarious. It made Radio 4’s usual 6.30pm comedy efforts seem very stagey – which is weird, as this was very definitely staged. Funny women given space to be funny. A tonic.

Not much room to bemoan the BBC’s premature shutting down of its iPlayer Radio app, but bemoan it I shall. The app is to be wound down tomorrow, as – according to the BBC – the BBC Sounds app does everything that iPlayer Radio does and more. But it doesn’t, does it?

Sounds is driven by music (a mistake, I think, given that Spotify does everything Sounds does much better), and so doesn’t serve speech fans well at all. As an app, it’s not very instinctive. When you eventually find a show (the search function is bad), if you click on it, you get information instead of the show playing. The play arrow is confusingly far to the right, so it looks like you get information there. The download function is hard to locate, which is a mistake: not everyone streams all the time, because we can’t get the wifi and younger listeners want to download, to save their data. There’s no alarm function, so listeners can’t wake up to the radio. You can’t link to a show (say, to promote it, or recommend to a friend) before it’s actually gone out.

And – this is truly criminal, I think – the Sounds app only works with relatively recent operating systems. So if you have an iPhone 5, for instance, it won’t work at all. I understand that the BBC wants us all to use Sounds, but forcing people away from an app that they love is surely a huge mistake.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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