Best of the weekend’s radio: Alec Baldwin meets Julie Andrews – and Eurovision fever sets in

Simon O'Hagan on a showbiz legend, the white heat of competition, and questions of identity

Julie Andrews (Getty - SO'H)

Stuck for something to listen to this weekend? Radio Times expert Simon O’Hagan lists an eclectic mix of the best radio programmes to tune into from Saturday 12th – Sunday 13th May… 

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Radio 4 and 4 Extra have a nice line in US imports. There’s The Moth, and Radiolab, and last year 4 Extra gave over a Saturday morning to three hours of the golden age of American radio. These shows are the cream of the crop, and 4 Extra has come up with another winner this weekend when it starts a short run of a show called Here’s the Thing in which movie and TV star Alec Baldwin interviews a range of fellow showbiz figures.

Here’s the Thing (Saturday 8am and 3pm Radio 4 Extra) comes from WYNC Radio in New York. In the first of five programmes, recorded in 2015, Baldwin meets Julie Andrews, and the conversation is relaxed, revealing and not short of anecdotes. Baldwin’s other four programmes feature Sarah Jessica Parker and Ian Schrager; Paul Simon; Carly Simon and Joe Jackson; and Mickey Rourke, John Turturro and Viggo Mortensen. An embarrassment of riches.

“Music is not fireworks, music is feeling,” according to the 2017 Eurovision winner, Salvador Sobral of Portugal. The first-time host nation is understood to be channelling that spirit on Saturday night by keeping things simple, and maybe the 63rd final will be less of a television experience and more of a radio one (Eurovision Song Contest, Saturday 8pm Radio 2).

Ken Bruce — who first covered Eurovision for Radio 2 back in 1988 — once again presides, and the number of countries entering — 43 — is a joint record. There are, alas, only slim hopes of SuRie adding to the UK’s haul of five victories, the most recent of them — Katrina and the Waves with Love Shine a Light — all of 21 years ago.

Eurovision means Graham Norton is in Lisbon in order to host the TV coverage and so his Saturday morning Radio 2 show comes live from the Portuguese capital, where his guests include the director-general of the BBC, Tony Hall. Not an interviewee you’d expect to find on Graham Norton, but when the boss comes calling …

The other music contest worth the attention is BBC Young Musician 2018: Grand Final (Sunday 7.30pm Radio 3), with three young soloists competing for the huge career boost that victory would bring. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is the orchestra that each performer will accompany, and Sheku Kanneh-Mason — the cellist who won in 2016 — performs during the evening, a warm-up for his appearance at the Royal Wedding later this month.

Britishness is a subject much discussed but Archive on 4 (Satuday 8pm Radio 4) has come up with a different take by asking writers Julie Burchill and Dominic Grace to consider it in the light of Humphrey Jennings’s classic 1942 propaganda short Listen to Britain. More questions of identity are raised in The Weekend Documentary: My Mixed-Up World (Sunday 2.05pm BBC World Service) in which — as Meghan Markle joins the royal family — Nora Fakim asks what it means to be mixed race in 2018. And the subject also feeds into an item due on Open Book (Sunday 4pm Radio 4) in which there is discussion about whether the publishing industry — almost entirely London-based — should move north.

Publishers could perhaps take their inspiration from cultural institutions like Opera North, whose production of Verdi’s A Masked Ball is the Opera on 3 (Saturday 6.30pm Radio 3). Alternatively, there’s In the Tongue and Talk of the People – England’s Dialect Poets (Sunday 4.30pm Radio 4) in which Catherine Harvey return to her roots in the north-west to find out if there is still life left in the dialect poetry of the cotton mills of 19th-century Lancashire.

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The folk star Eliza Carthy appears on Saturday Live (Saturday 9am Radio 4), the guest on Desert Island Discs (Sunday 11.15am Rdio 4) is businessman and philanthropist Peter Lampl, and The Food Programme (Sunday 12.30pm Radio 4) enjoys a taste of Japanese whisky.