Best of the weekend’s radio and podcasts: Biafra revisited, Sian Phillips in Henry James drama, Nigel Planer and The Young Ones

Simon O'Hagan on another great Archive on 4, actors who can't outgrow their past, and how added value is key to podcasting success

Sian Phillips

The late 1960s was such a tumultuous time in history that 50th anniversaries are coming at us all from all sides, and BBC Radio 4’s Archive on 4 is making the most of them.

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There are those who look askance at “anniversary journalism”, but the work the programme did in recent weeks on the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and then on Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech, was outstanding, and now it tackles the war in Biafra (Saturday 28th April at 8pm).

In Britain and Biafra: 50 Years On, Afua Hirsch explores the legacy of a conflict in which hundreds of thousands of people died and which produced images of starvation that seared themselves for ever on to the minds of those who saw them. In one sense, Biafra presaged the famine in Ethiopia some 15 years later in that it marked the first time the public were mobilised to donate to charity on a mass scale for such a cause. It also did much to shape the West’s thinking about Africa generally.

Love Henry James was a season of programmes that first aired on Radio 4 last year, and now it’s back with an outstanding dramatisation of his novella of deceit and obsession The Aspern Papers (Sunday 29th April at 3pm on Radio 4). There’s a prominent role for the great Sian Phillips, whose voice is one of those that compels you to stop whatever you are doing and just listen.

Also on Radio 4, the latest series of The Reunion concludes with a look back at The Young Ones, one of the TV comedy hits of the 1980s (Sunday 29th April, 11.15am).

Nigel Planer — who played Neil in The Young Ones — is one of those reunited, and in the latest edition of Radio Times, he writes beautifully about what it was like to be back in the same room as others who worked on the programme, and how different people remember things differently: “The original group dynamic kicks in and we are bickering children once more.”

Joining Planer are Christopher Ryan, Stephen Frost, Lise Mayer and Alexei Sayle, with Sue MacGregor presiding over matters with her usual aplomb.

For new comedy, the place to head is Lucy Porter in the Family Way (Sunday 29th April, 7.15pm Radio 4) in which the comedian considers the ups and downs of family life.


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After last week’s The Merchant of Venice, Radio 3’s Sunday evening drama is Measure for Measure (7.30pm), and earlier in the day on the same network Tom Service’s The Listening Service asks, ‘how does video game music work?’ (5pm). In Sound of Dance (Saturday 28th April, 3pm Radio 3) Katie Derham looks at Caribbean music and dance.

Live guests over the weekend include lyricist Tim Rice on Saturday Live (Saturday 9am Radio 4) and Lulu on Graham Norton (Saturday 10am Radio 2). And it’s been such a lively week in politics that The Week in Westminster (Saturday 11am Radio 4) should be well worth a listen. Kate McCann of the Telegraph presides.

I’m a big fan of the American writer Curtis Sittenfeld, so I hung on the three cultural recommendations that Radio 4’s Front Row invited her to make when she went on the programme a few days ago. But here’s the thing: Sittenfeld’s choices didn’t feature in the programme itself — John Wilson’s interview with her focused entirely on her new book, which was fair enough — but were included in the Front Row podcast.

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Some great people go on Front Row. Material accumulates that’s just too good to waste. And there’s always more you want to ask them. Which is where having a podcast version of a radio programme really comes into its own.