Entertainment Archive on 4: The Art of Silence: how Marcel...

Archive on 4: The Art of Silence: how Marcel Marceau became a hero of the Second World War

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A less nuanced, but nonetheless cosy, time is being had over at Radio 3 in the run-up to Christmas. Clive Myrie has a new series, broadcast each Sunday in Advent, called Clive Myrie at Christmas. Now, getting BBC News presenters to host classical music programmes is very much the foundation of the Classic FM schedule these days (see: John Humphrys, Zeb Soanes, Moira Stuart, Andrew Marr, Joanna Gosling…), but it’s a relatively new direction for Radio 3, whose new controller, Sam Jackson, joined the BBC from Classic FM earlier this year. And this series certainly has a Classic FM feel: crowd-pleasing pieces, introduced with a relaxing mildness by a highbrow celebrity.

In the most recent episode, Myrie played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: Winter, and other familiar works by Bach, Mozart, Saint-Saëns and Hans Zimmer. The most interesting and unexpected choice, by a mile, was the fantastically stirring traditional Nigerian Christmas piece, Betelehemu, performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. “I guarantee you’ll love this,” Myrie said, just before playing it. And I certainly did. But I’d also have loved to hear more about it: the origins of the piece and the musical and spiritual context in which it sits.

Deeply etched with a war reporter’s painful experience of having to tell true stories of terrible things, Myrie’s voice somehow still always sounds warm, gentle and full of hope; he’s wonderfully suited to radio. And this series is nothing if not comforting: the sort of thing to listen to while having a Sunday afternoon doze under the electric blanket with a mince pie.

But we already have Classic FM for that, don’t we? Isn’t Radio 3 supposed to be a bit more challenging than this? It feels silly to complain about radio that makes you feel too relaxed, but Myrie is now quite rare in being a BBC News presenter with serious intelligence, experience, wit and gravitas who hasn’t yet left the corporation to get paid more at a commercial rival. Radio 3 would do well to make the most of that.

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