Lovely, lovely Radio 4 Extra. It’s exactly what you need when you have switched on equally lovely Radio 4, but it’s a consumer programme about cyber criminals targeting confused octogenarians and how ‘Diana from Guilford is yet to receive compensation from her bank and must now live in a bin’. Or it’s Westminster Hour and you can’t face the shouting or Kate Adie is calmly telling you about a 14-year old in some far flung land who has been sent to prison forever just for stealing a carrot.
Radio 4 Extra is your safe space. It has marvellous dramas from the Fifties like Paul Temple, about a novelist turned amateur sleuth, who calls his wife ‘Steve’ and gets involved in cases called things like ‘The Jonathan Affair’. It has omnibus editions so you can download a dramatised book in one and listen to it in the bath. It has repeats of Dad’s Army and old episodes of Desert Island Discs. You might switch over to hear Michael Palin reading you a story or Hugh Grant in an Agatha Christie from the early Nineties. It doesn’t have the news – that doesn’t qualify as entertainment, so it’s not allowed. It’s the adorable, less serious cousin of Radio 4. A holiday from the information.
Yes, some of the comedy is questionable and yes, sometimes they do this thing called the Seventh Dimension that has, on occasion, broadcast strange, science-fictiony plays where someone is shouting at someone else about a made-up planet they’re stuck on. Perhaps it’s just because the people who like science-fictiony plays need to be represented too? Fair enough. You’ve just got to assume they’re playing those during The Reunion or In Our Time because they know no one would switch over from Sue MacGregor, or The Archers, Melvyn Bragg shouting at someone from Birkbeck College for not being clear about the Spartans’ strategy during the Battle of Thermopylae. Just know it’s there when you need it.