Rethink: The Edge of Change (BBC Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Rethink: How Change Happens (BBC Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Rethink Podcast | BBC Sounds
5 Live Breakfast (BBC Radio 5 Live) | BBC Sounds
Rethink is an interesting, rather lovely, radio idea and exceptionally BBC. What is it? Well, a few weeks ago, Radios 4 and 5 and the World Service asked “thinkers” from across the globe to imagine the most inspirational and meaningful changes that might result from the coronavirus crisis and, last week, under the Rethink title, we heard what these thinkers thought. Their ideas popped up within regular programmes as brainy, important and/or charitable people, such as the pope and Jarvis Cocker, read out their ideas in five- or 10-minute essays; others, such as George Osborne and Michelle Bachelet (former president of Chile) joined in panel discussions; regular shows including The Long View looked at history for clues as to what might emerge from this strange worldwide upheaval.
The idea is, as I say, interesting and lovely; the results hit and miss. On Radio 4, Amol Rajan hosted a couple of panels, including the one in the Start the Week slot, Rethink: The Edge of Change. Rajan is a good, spiky host, naturally unwilling to let anyone, no matter how important, rest on their global laurels, but this was a show packed with diplomats diplomatting. They spoke in sweeping, airy terms – “collective efforts”, “harnessing for good”, “the challenges are tougher but we have more tools to deal with them” – like cheery headteachers at an end-of-school prize-giving.
On Wednesday evening, Rajan also hosted Rethink: How Change Happens, which was better, simply because the talk was more focused (the UK as opposed to the world) and the guests were more direct and combative. Louise Casey, head of the government’s rough sleeping task force, was one of the best speakers I heard all week; Simon Woolley, chair of the government’s race disparity unit advisory group, was also excellent. Far from wafty concepts of no-borders cooperation, Woolley said that the best way for us individuals to enact change is to join in with well-run organisations that have emerged from the crisis. And The Long View is always thoroughly enjoyable, even when given in short, post-lunch, 15-minute doses.
I also whizzed through the Rethink podcasts: all the shorter thoughts in one place. There were some I loved. Jarvis Cocker’s idea, inspired by crop rotation, that every four years, the world shuts down its usual economy and, instead, focuses on jobs that would ameliorate climate change. Pope Francis’s speech, an extract from an interview published in Catholic newspaper the Tablet, read by actor Joseph Balderrama, which asked that we change our priorities to think less of ourselves and more about equality for all. Writer Tara Westover’s points about education, rather than economics, being the largest divide between people. These were all succinct, understandable and well delivered. Some of the other aural essays were not so memorable, little more than: “Hey, lockdown was weird, wasn’t it?” As an aside, Rajan’s podcast introductions aren’t quite as lively as his presenting: a little tired and slurry-sounding. Done in a rush, I imagine.
Over on 5 Live, with coronavirus still here and big societal change not happening as yet, listeners were hammering the phone lines with practical questions about the easing of lockdown. On Wednesday, on 5 Live Breakfast, Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine, was answering their questions. Semple, the world’s mildest man, was sweet and careful, but even he was dismissive about some governmental choices.
“I’d have liked to have seen children’s education being put ahead of amusement arcades,” said Semple. “There was an opportunity to increase education… and that opportunity was missed... Is this the right message, putting hospitality ahead of tackling obesity, mental welfare and getting education going?” Who knows? Maybe our dear PM hasn’t heard of Rethink and instead of trying out radical, society-changing ideas is simply rushing to return everything to his old normal, when kids were ignored in favour of boozing and socialising. Remember then? Back when the country thought he was a great guy.
Three shows for Pride month
Pride and Joy
Every child is a story that starts earlier than birth. Who you are, and who you are with, dictates much of how you become a parent. Pride and Joy looks at this from the queer point of view. Hosted by Freddy McConnell, a trans man who gave birth, the show highlights several complicated, interesting tales of child creation, some successful, some not. These range from ye olde turkey-basting sperm insertion for lesbians, to becoming a trans parent, to a 61-year-old surrogate, who also happens to be a the child’s grandmother. A very personal, completely universal show. Lovely.
Anthems is a show from Broccoli, a small but ambitious podcast company that has also created the Equality in Audio pact to help change broadcasting for the better. This podcast asks people to read out their short, personal manifestos and stories under a one-word title (Shine, Camp, Future) and the results can be very powerful. For Pride month, Anthems has an exciting selection of LGBTQIA+ contributors and is bringing out a new show daily. Featuring writer Raven Smith, writer-performer Scottee, Muslim drag queen Asifa Lahore, beatboxer Grace Savage, these podcasts are bright lights.
The Log Books
I’ve reviewed this show before, but I’m recommending it again, because it’s a wonderful thing. Adam Smith and Tash Walker have been working through the log books of London-based gay helpline Switchboard, which started in 1974. Volunteers would note down details of calls: Walker and Smith read these out and, if they can, speak to the people who called in. It’s a unique insight into the UK’s changing attitudes to gender identity and sexuality, the issues facing gays and lesbians from the 1970s on – and how we approach such issues today. Immensely moving, this show has moved me to tears more than once.