Recent Programmes

British Museum – March 2017

Anthony won a major contract from the British Museum in London. He worked with a colleague, Natalie Steed, and together they have supplied the museum with new audio guides for the majority of the museum galleries.

These new guides feature the voices of the museum’s leading curators and specialists. This represents a major departure from the traditional actor-led narratives.

 

BBC Radio 3 – 07 February 2016

Mongolia: Keeping in Steppe

Presenter:  David Sneath

Producer:  Anthony Denselow

Mongolia

Anthropologist David Sneath has been visiting and working in Mongolia for over twenty years, exploring both the realities and misconceptions of this vast land and its past.

Within the span of a single lifetime, Mongolia has undergone the trauma of two revolutions; first as it changed from a Buddhist aristocratic country into a fiercely controlled communist state dominated by the Soviet Union; and more recently it saw the collapse of state socialism and the rapid rise of a market economy.

David Sneath meets a cross section of contemporary Mongolian life, talking to people from business, journalism, academia, shamanism, herding, Buddhism, and music and the arts. As Mongolia confronts the confusion of change in the modern world, David describes how the country has sought solace in traditions of landscape and in the glories of the past.

For seventy years under communism, Mongolia was a semi-secret and unvisited country where Soviet ideology chipped away at many spiritual and cultural traditions. Buddhism, Shamanism, even the country’s great history of empire was discouraged or outlawed. How do the vast open grasslands influence the way Mongolians view themselves and their culture? What happens to the nomadic lifestyle of the herders as mining companies move in and young people flock to the city? What is the role of history and tradition in the new Mongolia?

A Whistledown Production for BBC Radio 3.


BBC Radio 4 – 10 January 2016

Something Understood: Sleeping on it

Presenter:  John McCarthy

Producer:  Anthony Denselow

Quince asleep (as usual)

Quince asleep (as usual)

Every day, for several hours, the mind dissolves and enters a radically different realm where terrifying apparitions might appear. If it were described to us as a disease then the idea of sleep might be quite frightening! But sleep is also a wonderful place of rest and fantasy that we all frequently yearn for.

 

Given we spend about a third of our lives asleep you might think that we would know a little more about it. Unless we are having trouble with sleep, as millions around the world do on a regular basis, it’s a daily fact of life that we rarely consider.

 

John McCarthy explores the attractions and pitfalls of sleep and the ways in which writers and poets – from John Donne to Schopenhauer – have presented their ideas on sleep and dreams. Why does the reality of sleep make so many of them think about death? He talks to the physician and philosopher Raymond Tallis about sleep and what it suggests about human consciousness.

John introduces sleep related music from Chopin, The Smiths, and The Incredible String Band, as well as an extract from Max Richter’s epic 8-hour lullaby on Sleep.

BBC Radio 4 – 01st October 2015

From Our Own Correspondent: Keep Portland Weird

Presenter:  Anthony Denselow

Producer:  Tony Grant

Downtown Portland, Oregon

Downtown Portland, Oregon

I have never seen so many elaborate tattoos in one city – or so many beards. And weird beardy types who are likely to start talking to you on the street. Expect a unicyclist playing flaming bagpipes or a happening like the ‘zoo bomb’ where, every Sunday, adult riders career down a hill into the city on children’s bikes – ‘little bikes, big fun’. Portland has become a hipster playground or, as one local told me, ‘a place where young people come to retire’. A mass naked bike ride around the city seemed almost natural given the unusually high temperature.

Portland is a little weird and takes pride in the fact. There are public notices and bumper stickers imploring ‘Keep Portland Weird’ – an idea originally taken over from Austin, Texas.

Portland has become one of the most moved-to cities in the Union. I met several Californians who have made the trek north, away from draught, heat and overcrowding. For them Portland is an obvious lure – its liberal, attractive (nestling in the hills where the Willamette and Columbia rivers meet), with views of snow capped Mount Hood floating on the horizon most days like a gorgeous Japanese print. It’s a walking city, surrounded by wilderness, with a tiny downtown, broad pavements, and generous tram and bike routes.

But Portland is not just a haven for hedonists, boasting great restaurants, coffee shops and brew houses. “The hippie city merges with the Metropolitan”, says Joe Rose, a writer for the Oregonian newspaper, “and that perfectly fits with its history.  Portland has always been the stopping point for the non-conformist”.

Free thinkers from a bizarre mix of backgrounds helped establish its character. Arriving over the Rockies and Cascades, they followed the trail of the 18th century explorers Lewis and Clark and the Oregon Trail to establish Portland in the 1800’s, finding huge wealth in what appeared a never-ending supply of fish and timber. The city museum boasts the coin that was flipped to decide whether the place should be called Boston or Portland. Everything finally collapsed for this economy in the 1990’s when the city desperately needed a new direction. ‘Stumptown’, a nickname taken on by one of the best coffee makers in town, reflects what happened to the once booming timber industry.

The place is now forested with ideas and young talent – screen printers, bike builders, and any number of computer whizz kids; Nike is based here, Columbia sportswear, Pendleton – the makers of blankets inspired by Native American designs. Keen shoes has their HQ in the old industrial Pearl District – their motto “we promise to dedicate ourselves to building a strong community and healthier planet so we can all create, play, care” seems to make a pertinent slogan for the city.

The staff of former president George W Bush referred to the place as ‘Little Beirut” thanks to the hostile reception he received here. Portland must be the largest city in America without a professional baseball team – people go crazy for soccer and their team, The Timbers. It has no sales tax. It probably boasts more vinyl-only record shops than anywhere in the country. It voted not to have fluoride in the water – surely one of the largest cities in America without. Doctor-assisted suicide is available. Pot predictably was legalised — but strangely only recently.

The rest of America has spread but Portland has enjoyed fixed city boundaries for the past 40 years – buildings simply stop and the wilderness begins. So more people tend to walk or bicycle to work.

Portland has a donut shop, with queues around the block to buy its distinctively phallus-shaped delicacy. It is the first state to have an all by-mail voting system. Yet it’s only the 2nd remaining city in the USA where you are not allowed to ‘pump your own gas’ or you’re your own petrol tank.

There is a dark side to the weirdness with a visible homeless and drug problem. But local press reports suggest it’s not a dangerous city – one of the biggest outrages in recent years was the attempt to remove a much-loved carpet from Portland Airport!

The city’s biggest concern must be how to avoid creeping provincialism. Joe Rose of The Oregonian asked his online readers about it, given this BBC interest. Several replies said the weird image was no longer appropriate. Portland’s ordinary now, they said: many celebrated ‘uniqueness over conformity’; some talked about how the city encouraged turning ‘passion into a profession’; while several respondents all claimed the same thing – “it’s not Portland that’s weird”, they said, “it’s the rest of America that’s weird”.

 

BBC Radio 3 – 14th to 18th September 2015

The Essay Series: A History of Indian Art

Presenter:  William Dalrymple

Producer:  Anthony Denselow

Anjuna's Penance

Anjuna’s Penance

William Dalrymple tells a remarkable history of India through five classic images of Indian art and sculpture.

Dalrymple describes their place within the major artistic movements of India and their role in the unfolding history of one of the world’s most diverse cultures.

He begins with a masterpiece of Buddhist art – the cave paintings of Ajanta, now in Maharashtra State and dating from before the 1st Century BC. He tells the story of these dramatic rock-cut caves and the superbly preserved mural art telling stories from the lives of the Buddha. He is particularly taken by paintings showing the King of Varanasi; bow in hand, out on a hunting expedition.

Two giant boulders of pink granite near the Bay of Bengal in modern Tamil Nadu are the focus of Dalrymple’s second essay. It was here, in the 7th Century, that master carvers produced a giant open-air relief telling the story of how the sacred River Ganges fell to earth and depicting the penance of Arjuna, one of the heroes of Indian mythology. This huge and intricate carving remains one of the most stunning pieces of public art anywhere in the world.

The third essay focuses on a full-length portrait from the 17th Century. It’s of the ruling Sultan of the central Indian kingdom of Bijapur, Ibrahim Adil Shah 11. Dalrymple tells the story of this scholar ruler who was also a musician, poet and singer who commissioned many of the greatest artists of the day. He also saw himself as both a devout Muslim and a Hindu devotee.

A painting by the renowned Pahari painter Nainsukh inspires Dalrymple’s fourth essay. It’s from the 18th Century. The image is of the local ruler out riding on horseback with his retinue, all clad in their finery. This is a joyful scene, brimming with spring colours of the Punjab hills of northern India.

Mazhar Ali Khan is a famous painter from the 19th Century. He worked in Delhi in the late Mughal era, in what became known as the ‘Company Style’ of painting under Western influence. He was commissioned by Sir Thomas Metcalfe and is famous for The Delhie Book of topographical images that Dalrymple has chosen as his last choice in his essay series; a stunning visual record of how this great city once looked.

BBC Radio 4 – 30th August 2015

Something Understood: Strains of Paradise

Presenter:  Samira Ahmed

Producer:  Anthony Denselow

Paradise

Samira Ahmed asks why the idea of Paradise, a place of perfect happiness, has been so potent in human history and how it survives in the modern world.

Medieval maps at the British Library actually show the places where paradise was thought to exist on earth, in many cases a walled space tantalizingly close to the known world. Samira talks to Peter Barber, Head of Maps at the Library, about early depictions of paradise and how they changed over the centuries.

She also explores how England has been viewed as a kind of paradise – from Shakespeare’s ‘scepter’d isle’ to the dreams of desperate migrants trying to cross the Channel today.

Perhaps the most persuasive idea of paradise exists within elements of Islam, especially some Jihadist groups, for whom the idea of paradise has become an added impetus to violence and self-destruction. Samira talks to the Muslim theologian and Imam Usama Hasan about the place of paradise within core Islamic thinking and about how those ideas have become so dangerously perverted.

And Samira also explores the idea of paradise as an ideal still pursued by the rich in their exclusive and often gated hideaways and exotic retreats.

‘Strains of Paradise’, presented by Samira Ahmed, with readings and poetry, including Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson, and music from the likes of Faure, John Taverner, Van Morrison, Harry McClintock and Delius.

BBC Radio 4 – 24th May 2015

Something Understood: The Fading Light

Presenter: John McCarthy

Producer:  Anthony Denselow

 

Fading Light

As the sun goes down everyday, occasionally resulting in spectacular sunsets, the event can affect people in different ways. A good red sunset (especially over the sea) can provoke great joy but the fading light can also encourage melancholia. It is no wonder that, throughout history, people have used images of sunset and the dying light to reflect on ageing and mortality.

John McCarthy explores some of the ways in which images of fading light have been used to describe our place in the world. He considers different approaches to getting old and strategies to cope with the indignities of our ageing bodies – with music, including Dylan, Vaughan Williams and Debussy; and poetry from the likes of Thomas Hardy, Tennyson and Shakespeare.