Let’s get this over with. Most people who want to follow the London Olympics will do so on the television. There, I’ve said it. I mean no disservice to Radio 5 Live and its special dedicated network for the duration of the Games – 5 Live Olympics Extra. It will be doing the same brilliant job that it does every day of the year – making sports events come alive with words rather than pictures – but when it comes to Tom Daley’s dive, Victoria Pendleton’s pedalling or Usain Bolt’s supersonic sprint, people want to see it happen. And so, for those of us determined not to abandon the radio in this fortnight of frenzied physical activity, here are my recommendations for programmes to stimulate the mind.
1. Archive on 4: The Smart Dumb Blonde – Saturday at 8.00pm, Radio 4
It’s been 50 years since Marilyn Monroe’s body was discovered in her Los Angeles home and yet her face and figure are embedded in popular culture to this day. She was the most famous “dumb blonde” in the world and her global currency was her sex appeal. But was she really as ditzy and as air-headed when the spotlight was switched off her luminous skin and that dazzling (bottle) blonde hair?
Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd uses poems, letters and diary entries written by the actress, as well as archive clips and new interviews with people who worked with Monroe, to paint a picture of a young woman with aspirations.
Marilyn would dive into a book when the director stopped a shoot – she wanted to be bright as well as beautiful. Dowd argues that today’s “blondes” – Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian in particular – celebrate their ignorance. It’s a tenuous argument: neither of them are stars, and what of women like Madonna and Hillary Clinton who are just as well known for their brains and independent spirits as they are for their looks or their husbands? But this is a quality piece of radio and gives women of every hair colour something to think about.
2. BBC Proms 2012 – Sunday at 3:30pm, Radio 3
Wallace and Gromit make their Proms debut with a concert packed full of music that will appeal to the whole family – from the opening triumph of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man to a closing piece penned by Wallace himself – My Concerto in Ee, Lad. The performance features specially filmed new animations of the duo preparing for their Proms appearance, which you can check out via the website, bbc.co.uk/proms.
3. Desert Island Discs – Sunday at 11:15am, Radio 4
It’s not often that one turns to Desert Island Discs for baking advice, but to find out how to ensure your pastry never suffers from a soggy bottom again, look no further than this week’s castaway, Mary Berry. She’s a great enthusiast for cooking in schools and thinks it should be a compulsory subject. But we also encounter a less familiar side to this bright, ebullient woman when she talks about why she set up cookery courses in her own home – she simply could not bear to leave it after her son died in a car crash 20 years ago.
4. The Now Show 2012 – Live! – Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11:00pm, Radio 4
Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis embark upon two weeks worth of live satire with the Olympics as the butt of the jokes. It could be the athletes, it might be the BBC’s coverage or perhaps even G4S’s security service that feels the sharp end of their javelin-sharp wit.
5. Great Lives – Tuesday at 4.30pm, Radio 4
The subject of this “great life”, as chosen by Des Lynam, was charming, kind and generous to a fault with his time. “I have nothing bad to say about him,” says Des, who shared a commentary box with him for 15 years. He was also one of only three men to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award twice. Have you guessed who it is yet? Henry Cooper. Lynam is joined in his praise for the boxer by Cooper’s biographer, Norman Giller, who first met Cooper in 1958 when he was a reporter for Boxing News. It’s a warm tribute to a decent man.
6. Radio 2 in Concert: Blur Tuesday – 8.00pm, Radio 2
Is this a warm-up for the band’s headline performance at the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games? It will certainly be more intimate, as this hour-long live performance comes from the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios in London. A small group of lucky fans have won tickets, but we can all share in the fun in this short-but-sweet gig.