City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Cracking newsletter entry from Radio 4’s In Our Time’s Melvyn Bragg a week ago:


I’m just passing Eros in Piccadilly Circus. If I remember rightly (did I say that – what a terrible phrase) this was the centre of London to which all signposts all over the empire referred. Therefore, when you are at the Cape of Good Hope and it says a great number of thousand miles to London, it means that if you travel like an arrow you hit Eros, which seems about the right way round from the Cape of Good Hope/the Cape of Storms. (I think that’s called having it both ways)

Felt very rusty this morning after being off for a few weeks. Slept very badly; strange to have first-night nerves again and again and again. I think live radio is a permanent state (damn, here’s a taxi bearing down on me) of first-night nerves. I had a very peculiar morning, a bit like a hero in Turgenev (hero’s too strong). After the programme and after a discussion with the three principals who roared on about the subject in hand, and gave us jewels which included the apparent fact that the New Caledonian crow is the second-most skilful worker with tools on the planet next to us and well ahead of the chimpanzees; that had the dinosaurs not been extinguished, then there is every possibility that a raptor in 2001 would be using a mobile phone because the brain structures or the brain definitions are just the same as ours, as are those of dolphins, as are those of crows (a lot of praise for crows) although the neural systems are different. And much else. I embarked on this bizarre 19th century route. I went to try on a jacket which had been re-cut because the first time I tried it on it looked like a sack. I went for a haircut. Then I went to be measured for handmade shoes – a Christmas present from my wife who is fed up with me moaning about how my toes are crushed, my feet don’t work and that sort of thing. Afterwards, I had lunch with one of my oldest and closest friends and we discussed this newsletter and he said "you dictate it, don’t you? It’s quite obvious and", he added gallantly, "all the better for it!". I think I must emphasise that he is a good friend.

I hope to be de-rusted next week.

Best wishes
Melvyn Bragg"

Remember, In Our Time is currently available to you as an mp3 download (and podcast).


7 responses to ““Live radio is a permanent state of first-night nerves””

  1. Mags Avatar

    I did download last week’s In Our Time and it’s brillaint. Easy to get, clear recording and it can be paused properly. I know we’re meant to feed the BBCi types via the feedback link on the page but seeing as I read you more than I read BBi and I think the mp3 download is much, much better than the streamed player.


  2. Gunnar Avatar

    Great blog you have here. Quality!


  3. Alex Avatar

    Thanks for that – have been trying to convince colleagues of just how great crows are all week. By the way Dan, you’re in the latest issue…


  4. Dan Avatar

    Friday’s newsletter – thought he dictated it 😉
    Nice Oscar Wilde quotation too:

    “I like to dictate the newsletter after a lunch which feels like dinner because, soon after In Our Time, the feeling of “a day’s work done” sets in. I found that it’s very pleasant to combine it with a walk through whatever part of London I’m in – after all, Wordsworth walked while thinking up and memorising his poems and Dickens is supposed to have walked for as many hours a day as he wrote (nothing like pulling the best possible examples off the shelf) but it rained this morning. That miserable, drizzling stuff that makes you want to stay indoors unless you are properly clothed outdoors on the Fells.

    So here in my office on the south bank of the Thames, the first thing to report is that the Green Room consisted a lot of the usual “ones that got away”. The most significant omission was Oscar Wilde, who in The Soul of Man Under Socialism wrote, “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at””


  5. Dan Avatar

    Latest aside from the newsletter:

    “I think I ought to add here that their Lordships are mustard keen
    commentators on this programme – a straw poll in ermine – but the remark of
    the morning has just been made by a particularly eminent Lord who has just
    passed by and said “enjoyed your programme this morning. Didn’t understand
    a bloody thing.””


  6. Dan Avatar

    More dictation info from last newsletter:

    “To continue this rather pointless exercise of telling you where I am when I
    dictate these messages – I’m in the kitchen of a cottage in north Cumbria,
    Brantwood to the south, looking out at bare trees and good sun with
    fascinating clouds, that is to say a countryside I can’t wait to get out in
    and walk over. I’ve been up here for a few days, walking and writing in a
    part of the world than which there is none better of enduring value and

    That rather ponderous sentence was to introduce the shame-faced confession
    that I gave myself a lie-in this morning and I listened to Ruskin in bed.
    It felt strangely and pleasurably sinful. It brought to the programme all
    the liveness it needed. As usual, I admired the way in which academics of
    such immense scholarship can encapsulate ideas so clearly for, well, for me
    for one. I was also fascinated by the deeper background to Ruskin – the
    family history of insanity and suicide – and touched by the way in which he
    flailed so gallantly on every front. The idea of an art critic finding in
    the criticism of art the key to the explanation of the way life ought to be
    led is astonishingly bold, even today.

    Enough of that. I’m off out for a walk.”


  7. Dan Avatar

    Great aside on London as ‘city Earth’ in latest ‘In Our Time’ newsletter:

    “I was going to go back to my office to dictate this newsletter because I wanted peace to pinch slabs from some of the notes. But it’s such a terrific day and I am on Waterloo Bridge and I wonder whether Wordsworth was right about the priority he gave to Westminster Bridge. Earth certainly hath not anything much better to declare than what I see now – that is city Earth. It’s quite amazing. I stand here looking west at the Houses of Parliament and the Wheel and the up river Thames and then east to St Paul’s and the Gherkin and the land of Dickens. Boats drift up and down packed, buses go past packed, London this morning is the kind of idyllic playground they don’t write about or paint anymore. Men in shorts, women in shorter skirts and the ubiquitous shirt dangling over the bum.”


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