Best of the weekend's radio: The Kinsey Report — and Karl Marx in the age of the smartphone
Simon O'Hagan on how Americans learnt the truth about their sex lives, and 21st-century commodities given the Das Kapital treatment
The Kinsey Report seems to belong to a bygone era — a postwar America of convention and respectability into which the truth about people’s sex lives landed with all the explosive force of a rock falling from a great height into flat-calm water.
But who knew that the Kinsey Institute continues its work, documenting sexual behaviour in the 21st century with the same academic rigour and detachment that characterised Alfred Kinsey’s work at the time of Harry S Truman and earlier.
This is one of the things to be learnt from Matthew Sweet’s excellent Sunday Feature (Sunday 6:45pm Radio 3) marking 70 years since Kinsey published Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female followed in 1953).
Sweet visits the Kinsey Institute, in Bloomington, Indiana, the town that was home to the pioneering biologist whose first specialism had been the reproductive cycle of the gall wasp. Kinsey himself emerges as just as intriguing a figure as you might expect, and it’s all done with Sweet’s trademark wit.
There’s also great cleverness on display in the Radio 4 Saturday afternoon drama, Das Kapital, in which Sarah Woods updates Marx’s signature work, imagining what its author would make of the global economy, with specific reference to the smartphone. It really works, and David Threlfall plays Marx with a sombreness that contrasts beautifully with the modern-day scenes.
In other drama, the next Shakespeare in Radio 3’s season is The Winter’s Tale, a repeat of a 2016 production starring Eve Best and Danny Sapani (Sunday 7.30pm), and Radio 4’s Love Henry James season moves on to a dramatisation of The American (Sunday 3pm Radio 4), in which an American businessman falls in love with a French aristocrat.
Desert Island Discs is back after a five-week break, with screenwriter Abi Morgan, whose most recent TV credit is The Split, talking to Kirsty Young. Meanwhile Pam Ayres is scheduled to be on both Saturday Live (Saturday 9am Radio 4) and Graham Norton (Saturday 10am Radio 2). Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo is good value on Radio 4’s monthly Bookclub (Sunday 4pm), talking about his novel The Snowman.
Is it too much of a risk to suggest that winter is finally over? One marker of the season is the “From the Met” live opera relays that are such an adornment to Saturday evenings on Radio 3. The last of the 2017-18 productions we’ll be hearing (Saturday 6.30pm Radio 3) is Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, conducted by Placido Domingo. I’ll miss it — especially From the Met presenters Mary Jo Heath and Ira Siff, who are a winning double act.