The internet has now made it possible to listen to what previously only those lucky few with fancy fancy shortwave radios used to be able to hear: the BBC. I'm a big fan of BBC Radio, especially Radio 1 (pop music), Radio 4 (news, plays, and arts-related programming) and BBC 7 (rebroadcasts of classic BBC comedy and drama shows). There's not anything in the states quite like it: NPR comes the closest, but with fewer diversity and variety. You gotta love a radio network that runs both Car Talk and A Prairie Home Companion, of course, but for an Anglophile bull like me there's no comparison to the Beeb.
My hotel room comes equipped with a TV that broadcasts radio, so I tune to BBC Radio 4 after midnight as I slip into bed and listen for a while as I fade in and out of consciousness. It takes me a while to realize there's a setting to turn off the picture (a slideshow of the hotel) while you're listening to radio, but at last it's dark and cozy in the room and I slide against my puffy pillows and listen to Book of the Week, which today features screen actor Nigel Havers reading a fifteen-minute installment of his funny and bright autobiography Playing with Fire. Again, I'm not aware of any similar show on NPR (the weekend Selected Shorts is the closest NPR comes to reading literature on the air) and Radio Four especially does several shows like this, including the famous Book at Bedtime, which is working its way through Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust this week. If I weren't so keen on getting up and about and seeing everything that London has to offer, I'd likely to be glued to BBC Radio 4 all day. Tomorrow they are featuring a special on the history of sound effects in British radio, including my fave Britcom of all time, The Goon Show. Luckily I can listen to the show at any point online for seven days after broadcast (and so can you!).
If I may blow my own horn, I'm pretty savvy at how Amazon.com US sales rankings work, but less so on Amazon.co.uk rankings. Right now Playing with Fire ranks at #314 at Amazon.co.uk, which is a respectible selling level. It's a brand-new hardcover and having the author read it on the BBC has got to be a good sales boost for the publisher. I know for a fact that American publishers like Norton would vastly benefit from having an American version of Book of the Week or A Book at Bedtime: you can definitely see the sales increase when an author appears on Fresh Air, so imagine the spike in sales if you could actually hear the book. I know I've never been particularly aware of Nigel Havers one way or another, but the excerpt he's read (on appearing in A Passage to India) is so delightful and funny that I think I'm going to have to buy his book. See? The system works.
Fifteen minutes of Havers is followed by a lullingly placid lengthy Shipping Forecast, one of my favorite shows on the BBC. You might remember my celebration of the Shipping Forecast (and a book devoted to travelling its exotic realms) in a post from last year's London trip, so if you're baffled by mention of the Shipping Forecast check that out to learn why it's a wonderfully calming and relaxing way to send you off into dreamland. At one AM BBC Radio Four shuts down broadcasting for the night, and closes down by playing the national anthem, God Save the Queen. You are supposed to stand whenever they play it in public and I'm not certain if the same is true in your hotel room, but just to stay on the safe side I stand up in bed to attention until the anthem is over. I glance at the clock and see it's one AM. Funny, I would have thought the Queen went to bed earlier than this. Apparently you're not allowed to go to bed in the UK until she does, so it's a bit of a relief to tired tired me when God Save the Queen ends (I can never hit the high notes) and I'm allowed to sink back into my comfy warm bed. The BBC World Service now gets broadcast over the Radio Four frequencies, so if you want you may listen to rich dulcet tones of BBC newsreaders all night long, but I reach for the remote and click off the radio-on-the-TV, and roll over to go to sleep, dreaming of curries and Fair Isle and the Queen's pyjamas.