Today’s radio highlights

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The best radio programmes on BBC, commercial and digital stations chosen by Gillian Reynolds, the UK’s top radio critic.
Gillian Reynolds, the UK’s top radio critic.
Stephen Hird
By Gillian Reynolds 5:00PM BST 15 Apr 2011

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THURSDAY 21 APRIL

The Simon Day Show

Radio 4, 6.30pm

New situation comedy. And it’s one worth catching. Written by and starring Simon Day, its six episodes feature him as different people who turn up to perform at a small theatre (so small there’s a real person taking telephone bookings). The first one Day gives us is Yorkshire poet Geoffrey Allerton, whose observations on his own life (“My dad had big hands, like paddles…”) bear more than a passing resemblance to one or two voices often heard on the airwaves. Catherine Shepherd, Arabella Weir and Felix Dexter are among the shining support cast.
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Bob Harris Country

Radio 2, 7.00pm

Emmylou Harris, multi award-winning singer and songwriter, is Harris’s guest. She has a new album out, Hard Bargain, and she sings tracks from it here (as she will tomorrow, on Radio 3’s World on 3). The songs are about life, what we learn and how we transmute even the most painful things into the riches of experience. One, The Road, is about her long musical partnership with Gram Parsons, how she met him by chance and how it changed her life. “Like a comet striking the Earth,” she tells Harris, in the course of a gently searching talk about life and work.

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FRIDAY 22 APRIL

Good Friday Liturgy

Radio 4, 3.00pm

Tina Beattie, director of Catholic studies at Roehampton University, considers the last day of Christ’s life, treading the path to the cross in Jerusalem. Radio 3’s Easter at King’s (7.00pm) reflects the day with a performance of Frank Martin’s Passion, inspired by Rembrandt’s Three Crosses, live from King’s College, Cambridge. Radio 2’s meditation At the Foot of the Cross (8.00pm) features a complete performance of Fauré’s Requiem by the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Hertfordshire Chorus, youth choir Cantate and the BBC’s Choristers of the Year.

Sense and Sensibility

Radio 4 Extra, 9.00pm

Radio 4’s Friday night drama slot is filled for the next 12 weeks by the omnibus edition of Martin Sixsmith’s Russia: the Wild East. So here’s a fine alternative, Jane Austen’s novel of precarious fortunes, snobberies and unexpected turns of fate, starring Abigail McKern and Jane Leonard. It was Austen’s first published work (1811) although the cover said “By a Lady”. Its insights into the workings of inheritance and the consequent plight of the Dashwood sisters will have been relevant to its contemporary readers. They’re still remarkable.

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SATURDAY 23 APRIL

Jazz Library

Radio 3, 4.00pm

Al Cohn, tenor sax player, composer and arranger, who played in the mighty bands of Buddy Rich, Woody Herman and Artie Shaw, is featured today. Alyn Shipton discusses Cohn’s best discs with composer and sax player John Altman. They’ve picked a sample of his work with the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band. They’ll definitely feature his work with Zoot Sims. I hope there’s room for his song (for which wonderful Dave Frishberg wrote the lyrics) The Underdog.

Opera on 3: Live from The Met (Radio 3, 6.00pm) brings Capriccio by Richard Strauss, with Renée Fleming as the Countess and Joseph Kaiser as the young composer vying for her affections with a poet. Which will win, words or music? Live from New York.

The Early Music Show (Radio 3, 1.00pm) considers The Lamentations of Jeremiah, the book of the Old Testament which has been such an influence on Jewish and Christian religions, such an inspiration to composers from Tallis and Byrd to today and remains an astonishingly powerful read in troubled times.

Hear the trumpets from Tutankhamun’s tomb in Ghost Music (Radio 4, 3.30pm; repeated from Tuesday). First played in 1939 by an intrepid bandsman (remember that “curse” on Lord Carnarvon’s excavation of the tomb?) recorded by Rex Keating, lodged now in the National Sound Archive. The poignant thing is that this may be all we have left of one of them since it was looted in Cairo’s recent revolution.

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SUNDAY 24 APRIL

Good Morning Sunday

Radio 2, 6.00am

PD James, crime writer, public servant (former BBC Governor, still a working peer, active member of the Society of Authors and Lay Patron of the Prayer Book Society) is a guest. In the 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible, she celebrates the role this glorious translation has played in literature. The Easter Sunday message comes from the Archbishop of York. The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu. (There’s more PD James in Radio 3’s Words and Music (10.15pm), alongside Harper Lee, Shakespeare, TS Eliot and Oscar Wilde, the theme being law and order.)

The new Classic Serial (Radio 4, 3.00pm) is Jorrocks’s Jaunts and Jollities, RS Surtees’s great comic character, the Cockney grocer who becomes a rural Master of Foxhounds in the days when hunting was becoming less of a farmers’ necessity and more of an elite sport. It’s pretty daring of Radio 4 to put on this Pacificus production. No one would show even the old Jimmy Edwards TV version these days.

Drama on 3: Kafka, the Musical (Radio 3, 8.00pm) stars David Tennant as Franz Kafka who, in a situation reminiscent of his great short story Metamorphosis, finds he has to play himself in a musical about his own life. It’s by Murray Gold and directed by Jeremy Mortimer.

The First Time with Harvey Goldsmith (BBC 6 Music) finds Matt Everitt talking to the impresario about putting on the Live Aid concert, discovering how he chose the acts.

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MONDAY 25 APRIL

Tracks of My Years

Radio 2, 9.30am

Bryan Ferry makes the choices all week, talking today about the Motown records of his Newcastle student days, picking Martha and the Vandellas and Dancing in the Street, remarking how loud the tambourine still sounds to him. Across the week you’ll hear why he responds so deeply to Cee-Lo Green, learn of his admiration for The Ink Spots and Marvin Gaye, why Phil Spector’s productions make him think of the waltzer at the fairground. Bob Dylan, sax player Junior Walker and current chart star Jessie Jay all show his taste in music is as sharp as his suits.

Out of Africa

Radio 4, 10.45am

Emma Fielding plays Karen Blixen in this delicately dramatised version of her book about living in Africa, learning to be on her own again after her husband’s death. We meet her true love, second husband and distant cousin, Denys Finch-Hatton (Tom Goodman-Hill) as she recalls him. She had moved to Kenya in 1913, started a farm with her first husband, been widowed, found an unexpected love. The adaptation is by Judith Adams, Gaynor MacFarlane directs. It’s a really good listen, especially after more raucous recent dramas in this regular slot.

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TUESDAY 26 APRIL

The Music Group

Radio 4, 1.30pm

Return of the series where three people pick a favourite record and discuss it with each other. The chairman, setting the tone and spurring them on, is Dr Phil Hammond. First guest up today is novelist David Nicholls who picks Shipbuilding, sung by Robert Wyatt, a lament for the Falklands war written by Elvis Costello (whose version is better). Voice-over artist Julie Berry loves it. Writer/humorist Stewart Lee applauds the seriousness of the song’s intent, analyses Costello’s gift for lyrics, recognises the bass player. Its gloom encompasses all else.

Fallout: the Legacy of Chernobyl

Radio 4, 8.00pm

Nick Ross marks the 25th anniversary of the nuclear power station disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine, then part of the USSR, now a republic. Ross has been there to see what’s happened since and links it, not surprisingly, with the many doubts and fears about the recent nuclear power station shut down in Japan. At almost the same time (8.06pm) BBC World Service is broadcasting Alive in Chernobyl by Ukrainian-born Olga Betko, about people who were evacuated from the area, went back to their lands, grow and eat crops, live there still.

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