“Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time has become something of a badge to be worn with pride by the contemporary British dilettante. I often find myself groping for conversation, when my interlocutor, perhaps sensing my abstraction, will reveal that she listens to – and loves – the Radio 4 discussion programme on the history of ideas. I, too, am happy to concede that I’m an In Our Time fan, preferring to catch up on it via podcasts listened to on my iPod when I’m walking the dog.
“There is always a measure of surprise – from one dilettante to another – when we admit to this fondness for Bragg’s programme. In part, this has to be because of the peculiar position he himself occupies in the sixth-form common room of British culture: though a self-confessed swot, his face displays the sheen of populism – the result of several decades’ spraying by television’s incontinent regard. While other pupils have come and gone, he remains; and when it was announced last year that, after 30 years, Bragg’s principal vehicle, The South Bank Show, would be ceasing transmission, there was – among those I spoke with – a feeling that this was the end of an era: the barbarians were at the gate. Moreover, we would miss Melvyn’s perkily browned features – like those of a handsome walnut – as the camera cut away from this or that artistic nabob, to show him bobbing and grinning assent (shots that are known in the industry as ‘noddies’).”
Read the rest of Will Self’s Diary piece in the London Review of Books here.