Thursday, 23 September 2010

Melvyn Bragg - an appreciation

Knowing how little you know about something is the first step in the acquisition of knowledge.
I listened mostly in complete bewilderment to the first in a new series of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time on Radio 4 this morning. The discussion programme’s subject was imaginary numbers. It wasn’t so much highbrow as furrowed brow. I was lost within seconds but I stayed on for the full 45 minutes. Such is Bragg’s skill as a guide.
Underlying his work – and here I include his much missed television arts programme The South Bank Show – is the presumption his audience enjoy having their brains stretched.
This is old school. Addressing the contemporary life of their times George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, H. G. Wells, J.B. Priestley, and George Orwell didn’t temper their prose along class/education lines. Neither does Bragg.
There are many fine television documentaries to be found in our multi-channel universe but entertainment will always triumph over intellectual challenge. Where are today’s equivalent’s of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation or Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man?
Men and women of letters do continue to campaign against injustices – Harold Pinter maintained a sense of outrage throughout his life.
Comparisons are odious but it is a fair bet that in future histories of English literature Pinter would be written the larger. I’ve seen Pinter’s plays but not read a single Bragg novel. But I believe the latter’s life has made the greater contribution to exercising the intellects of ordinary men and women in today’s Britain.


  1. I think Bragg should be horsewhipped for wasting the licence payers money. It's intellectual snobbery plain and simple.
    At nine o'clock in the morning I want something non taxing. I used to read The Reveille with my cuppa hot Bovril until they axed it - The Reveille I mean and not the Bovril- a few years ago. Then I took up doodling around with solving third order non linear differential equations as a hobby. My case comes up next week.

  2. Oh dear, I thought I'd have a free run of witty patter in my own blog. Thanks for your comment. GC

  3. I must have missed this one first time round, GC, says Jaffa. What if the witty comment above came from Bragg himself. After all you do say that he guided you around the numbers etc. And in this context look at the comment about "non linear differential equations". and the down market comments about Bovril and Reveille which could be a deliberate attempt to emphasise with your press background and your earliest days in journalism by fixing that 'period' time slot through those particular images.


What do you think? GC