At 40-ish, I don’t like to think of myself as exactly geriatric, but I’m aged enough to recall the “original” Hovis ad and shopping with shillings and pennies. That said, my pocket money came in the form of a modest (very 1970s) and newly decimalised ten pence piece.
I am also the only person on the relatively youthful RadioTimes.com team who can remember regularly reading The Listener (well, the only one in the office when I asked), a high-quality publication launched by Lord Reith in 1929. It was pitched as the intellectual counterpart to the Radio Times, providing transcripts of radio broadcasts, and later television shows.
We at Radio Times do our best to be intelligent of course, but looking at the fantastic content in the newly launched online Listener archive – currently available by subscription to institutions ranging from public libraries to media companies – the roll-call of heavyweight contributors is certainly impressive: EM Forster, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, Bertrand Russell, WH Auden and Sylvia Plath, to name just a few.
Naturally, these luminaries weren’t just writing about what’s on the telly. As the magazine evolved, it became a forum for discussion on politics and the arts, and a platform for new poets. Anyone who was anyone in the cultural life of 20th-century Britain seems to have had their say in The Listener.
Private Eye’s Ian Hislop wrote for the magazine in the 1980s and his humorous recollections of the experience feature in the latest edition of Radio Times. He also recognises that in the age of iPlayer, where programmes can be accessed in a few clicks, The Listener is unlikely to be revived.
Nevertheless, the archive is probably the perfect marriage of technological and cultural achievement and certainly worth a look.
Learn more about The Listener archive.