Saturday 26 March 2016

From Our Own Correspondent

Broadcast weekly by the BBC since 1955, From Our Own Correspondent is an odd throwback, as its title suggests.

Introduced by veteran reporter Kate Adie, the format has never varied: "a number of BBC foreign correspondents deliver a sequence of short talks reflecting on current events and topical themes in the countries outside the UK in which they are based."

There's a pre-Suez, colonial-era feel to the programme, an assumption that British hacks are always first on the scene and first to file their copy and that Great Britain still has an entitlement, an obligation even, to legitimise or disapprove of anything that happens anywhere in the world. The show's title itself harks back to long-gone Fleet Street traditions, a world satirised by Evelyn Waugh in Scoop (which, whenever I re-read it, strikes me as the funniest comic novel of all time). The tone of From Our Own Correspondent ranges between the jaunty and the world-weary. The latter predominates, although there is a tendency to accentuate the positive, to suggest that things might improve in some hellish post-colonial backwater.  Our correspondent will typically describe an encounter with a local worthy which leads to a greater understanding of what's going on in Botswana or Uzbekistan. 

"As we walk towards the compound along the dusty highway, the commissioner flashes me a broad smile and invited me for a drink"; 

"A child, no more than four years old, is playing with a hand grenade in the shadow of the burnt-out medical centre"; 

"Times are hard for Mr Papadopolus, who remembers when the militia first arrived on his dairy farm"; 

"The old woman has seen famine before, but never on a scale like this."

The prose style is sub-Graham Greene, the delivery rather stilted - the reporter reads from a script and no naturalism creeps in. This is what seems particularly old-fashioned about the programme - the once commonplace format of the 'talk' now largely banished from the airwaves in favour of unscripted discussion and off-the-cuff analysis. It's like overhearing an undergraduate reading an essay to a dozing don.

It's surely worth pointing out that From Our Own Correspondent began in the same era as The Goon Show. Spike Milligan's surreal genius despatched the hero Neddie Seagoon to far-flung outposts of Empire where he would invariably bump into Major Denis Bloodnok ("late of the 3rd Disgusting Fusiliers") and the gallery of grotesques who reassembled each week (literally in the case of Bluebottle, who was regularly blown up at the end of the show). But I'm beginning to ramble about a favourite radio show. The highly-esteemed Goon Show that is - From Our Own Correspodent with better jokes and sound effects.

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