Thoughts of an Accidental Radio Listener
I must have been a teenager when I discovered the listings in the newspaper and found that radio, as well as television, had a schedule, that things happened when it said they would. So I explored. I mainly wanted comedy, I still do, but I discovered much else by mistake. One of these discoveries was the late John Ebdon (1923-2005). He broadcast programmes on Radio 4 under the title “A Sideways Look …” and it would make my case better if I could say I can remember some of them. But I can’t. What I remember is that I listened. To the subject matter, and to his lovely voice, and that voice was the key. He spoke as if he knew something you wanted to find out, as if he had seen something you wish you had. From the comfort of your armchair, he transported you to a world of discomforts and questions and inconclusions, which left you thinking; and that was his purpose - to leave us thinking.
When he signed off from his broadcasts, Mr Ebdon used to say “Well, if you have been, thanks for listening”. That was utterly winning. “Of course we’ve been listening, otherwise we’d not have heard you!” But then, have we really listened, or did we just let the radio burble in the background while we got on with something else? But it was his gift and his charm that with John Ebdon, we had indeed been listening, because he had found us something interesting to think about, to imagine, and he had thought some of our thoughts, and imagined himself, and ourselves, into the stories he was telling.
Writers must capture us with the cold written word, warm it up, and bring it to life. The television confronts us with sweating reality. Radio provides a space between the two: if you have the sort of voice which can imply the question behind “if you have been, thanks for listening”, and know that the answer is, “yes”.