From Bach to Bond and Beth Ditto – Robin Ince picks the best Christmas radio

Who even needs a TV at Christmas anymore when there's so much great programming to be found on the radio dial? Let Robin Ince tune you in

When Voyager, the fastest human manufactured object, left the Earth in 1977 and started its journey through our solar system, it had a golden record attached to it. The golden record is a sampler of the sounds and images of Earth pressed in the hope that it may one day be discovered and played by extra-terrestrials. Among others, they will hear Chuck Berry, Blind Willie Johnson, Mahi Musicians of Benin and Bach. There are two pieces by Bach. When the compilers suggested they might put more Bach on it, they were told that would be showing off.


What is it about the magnificence of Bach that may be overwhelming to aliens?

My knowledge of Bach is threadbare, so I will be aiming to use some of my Christmas to listen to Radio 3’s Spirit of Bach season that builds up to a whole day of the composer on Christmas Eve.

I will also catch up with David Suchet’s portrayal of Satan in Justin Butcher’s The Devil’s Passion, a darkly comic look at the Passion of Christ.

What is it about the magnificence of Bach that may be overwhelming to aliens?

Over the last few years, Christmas has increasingly come to be a time of Doctor Who, a time to remember he regenerated, if not for our sins, for our repeated entertainment. On Radio 2 on December 21, Jo Whiley presents Access All Areas Doctor Who Special, in which we will discover how Doctor Who has always been with outgoing timelord Peter Capaldi. It is a show that continues to be bold and justifies celebration for maintaining its position as a lifebelt for outsider children in need of quirky heroes and the joy of eccentricity.

Christmas entertainment used to revolve around the excitement of the bloated and mince pie-incapacitated drifting in and out of consciousness as they watched speedboat chases in a James Bond movie. Arguments still rage at closing time as to who is “the Best Bond”. Can we at least agree that Roger Moore was the most charming? He was an actor with a delightful sense of irony, almost winking at the camera in scenes of preposterous jeopardy. On Radio 2 on Boxing Day, wine enthusiast Olly Smith presents a celebration of the actor, who died this year. As well as being a joyful screen presence, he spent much of his life working as a Unicef ambassador, using the delight that bureaucrats had at meeting ‘James Bond’, to get them behind closed doors to discuss water sanitation and pressing health issues of their countries.

A highlight of Radio 4’s Christmas will be Lenny Henry presenting an Archive on 4 about Richard Pryor (December 23). One of the most influential comedians of the 20th century, Pryor showed the possibilities of confessional stand-up with a brutal, almost disconcerting honesty. Henry’s path from stand-up to celebrated Shakespearian stage actor has also been a fascinating view of a public figure finding the voice they are comfortable with.

Following on from Jodie Whittaker (Christmas Eve) and Beth Ditto (Christmas Day), I will also be listening to Sharon Horgan on Radio 6 Music’s Wise Women on Boxing Day because she is brilliant and extremely funny. Just a Minute: 50 Years in 28 Minutes (Radio 4, Christmas Day) should be an amazing journey through sound, from Kenneth Williams to Sue Perkins, and there is Dr John Cooper Clarke at the BBC too (December 27/28, Radio 4). I presume I will have to listen to one show in my left ear and another in my right like some kind of Home Service Man Who Fell to Earth. Now there’s a niche image to leave in your mind for Christmas.