Radio review: Warm tribute to the unflappable Bamber Gascoigne

Nuala McCann

Broadcasting House Radio 4

Archive on Four Radio 4

There is something reassuring in knowing that you are far from alone.

When children's writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce confessed to believing what I always believed, it felt comfortable.

On Sunday's Broadcasting House, he was delivering a tribute to the late Bamber Gascoigne.

Surely lots of people who grew up with Bamber presenting University Challenge in the 1970s believed that that the two teams were sitting one on top of each other? Frank did, I did and we are not alone.

I thought the set was like bunk beds and nothing confirmed that more than in the Young Ones University Challenge sketch where one of them stamps a foot through the floor onto the heads of the swots below.

Fond memories of the quiz, as told by Cottrell-Boyce, included the Manchester team who, in a protest at the over representation of Oxbridge teams on the programme, answered every question with the name of a Marxist revolutionary.

Bamber always seemed unflappable. Maybe, with a name like that, he had grown up dealing with flak, or maybe it was just that he was incredibly patient.

Wikipedia reports that there are three people with the name Bamber Gascoigne – all related – but only one of them wrote jokes for Kenneth Williams.

This was a warm tribute to Bamber and to the stars of the quiz show from Hannah of the Roger Moore eyebrow to Monkman – a ball of energy firing back answers with the hearty thwack of a Federer return.

It was Cottrell-Boyce again – he's everywhere - who presented Archive on Four's Wonderlands – a journey into the world of children's books.

He's been writing children's books for over 20 years.

Think winter turning to Spring in Narnia; think Peter Pan and the lost boys or the Railway Children and that moment when their beloved father returns.

“Some books stay with you your whole life, they grow with you,” said Cottrell-Boyce.

In the pandemic, the sale of children's books boomed, he said.

Here's an interesting fact - one in three books sold in the UK is a children's book.

Cottrell-Boyce argued that children's books are as good if not better than many adult books.

“What Brazil is to football; Italy is to painting, we are to children's books,” he contended.

Case in points: the magic of Judith Kerr's The Tiger Who Came to Tea or The Gruffalo or Where the Wild Things Are - “They point us to these small pleasures that can be stepping stones across the darkest waters.”

And children's books have the best baddies and villains: from the child catcher who still stalks many a grown-up's nightmare to Voldemort of Harry Potter fame.

There were funny and endearing moments too – the publisher who started out dressed as a puffin for the Puffin Club said that this proved a meaningful role: “Children tend to tell you their secrets.”

The was a passionate and magical journey that touched on what it's like to lose yourself in a book… to be back clutching a torch under the blankets.

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