With Great Pleasure is one of the best programmes on BBC Radio 4.
If you haven’t discovered it, do give it a try. The series asks well-known names to pick prose and poetry they love - so it’s a fantastic way to discover new writers and hear old favourites.
This week I got the chance to attend a recording of two forthcoming programmes at the BBC’s Broadcasting House. The shows featured two ultra-inspiring women – the first, comedian and writer Natalie Haynes and the second, Vogue editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman.
The programmes will both be broadcast in February so I don’t want to give too much of the game away but Natalie Haynes’s selection included two rare and exquisite readings by one of our most distinguished writers. Like the rest of the audience, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when he walked on to the stage.
Then it was time for the second recording. I was fascinated to hear Alexandra Shulman’s choices – not only because she is a brilliant editor but because she is exactly the same generation as me. And sure enough, listening to her choices (beautifully read by Tracy Wiles and Stella Gonet) sent a shiver down my spine. Her favourites included Noel Streatfeild’s classic White Boots, Dorothy Parker’s The Telephone Call, Rosamund Lehman’s Invitation to the Waltz and even Mediterranean Cookery by Elizabeth David. Shulman recalled how the book took her straight back to her North London childhood, in the days when her mother (the distinguished journalist Drusilla Beyfus) would rush in from work and start cooking supper from scratch in their tiny kitchen.
As the child of two journalists, Shulman said that when she was growing up journalism seemed like very hard work for little remuneration. But she loved reading journalists’ writing and the journalist she most admired was Joan Didion, whose Play It As It Lays was another of her (universally excellent) choices.
Shulman, dressed in a stylish bottle green velvet dress, was surprisingly modest and self-effacing as she talked about the titles she’d selected. Being asked to do the programme was, she said, “an incredible treat and privilege.” Actually, being part of the audience was a treat and privilege too.
PS. Alexandra Shulman’s debut novel about three friends who graduate in the 1980s is out in paperback this week. Can We Still Be Friends (Fig Tree, £5.99)