Speak easy hit from word go
The ABC celebrates 60 years of its highly successful Book Reading program
WHEN the first book was read aloud to ABC radio listeners 60 years ago, the world was a very different place. World War II was a vivid memory, most men wore hats and Don Bradman’s ‘‘Invincibles’’ were wiping the floor with the English cricket team.
Australians are still tuning in to hear the written word.
In an age of high-speed broadband internet access, fast-paced television news and multimedia entertainment options, Radio National arts editor Richard Buckham says there is still a place for book reading on the wireless.
‘‘People still love novels. They still love the experience of being read to and they still like to hear a really good reader tell them the story,’’ Buckham says.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Book Reading this week, Radio National has selected three milestone novels first published in 1948— The City the Pillar by Gore Vidal, Ruth Park’s Harp in the South and Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.
Each work was chosen for its pioneering depictions of political, social and sexual issues that still resonate with readers today.
‘‘Gore Vidal, who is still writing, as a very young man writes this book about a young gay man and for the first time someone writes about gay life in a way that doesn’t portray the character as either effeminate or neurotic,’’ Buckham says.
In contrast, Harp in the South was instrumental in turning the social spotlight on inner-city Australian life.
‘‘It wasn’t about the bush and it woke people up to the fact that there was poverty in the middle of our cities,’’ Buckham says.
Cry, the Beloved Country brought the harsh reality of South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime to the world.
Such tales are part and parcel of Book Reading’s legacy that at one stage was responsible for literally stopping listeners in their tracks. The service has aired at varying times over the years, including one period in the ’70s and ’80s at 8.50am.
‘‘People used to write or ring and say ‘I had to stop the car, or stay in the car and was late for work, because I had to find out what happened,’’ Buckham says.
‘‘That was always good. We always loved making people late for work.’’
BNow broadcast in 15-minute episodes at 2pm and 11pm weekdays, it takes about two weeks to finish a novel. In years gone by, readings could take up to six weeks.
Tastes have also changed. Many of today’s listeners would raise their eyebrows at some of the novels read in the past.
‘‘You are hard-pressed to recognise a lot of them from the late ’40s and ’50s because, of course, a lot of popular fiction just doesn’t last,’’ he says.
Featured books have not always been confined to popular fiction.
‘‘Back in those days, people were still interested in hearing a Jane Austen or Henry Lawson short story,’’ Buckham says.
Technology such as the internet has served to broaden the program’s appeal.
Visitors to the ABC website can listen to readings either by 15-minute episodes or in their entirety at their leisure. Podcasting plans are in the works. UCKHAM says the internet has not only enabled the service to reach more listeners, but has been a boon for authors as well.
More than 60 per cent of the writers highlighted are Australian, with contemporary authors already featured this year including Alex Miller, Tim Winton, Helen Garner and David Malouf.
‘‘The internet is a global medium and it takes Australian writing all around the world,’’ he says, adding it’s rare for writers to read their own books on the program. Instead, actors such as Melbourne-based Anne Phelan, Julia Blake and Fred Parslow step behind the mic.
Having the right voice conveying the story is integral to the listening experience.
‘‘If it’s a really good reading, if the reader has a real knack, then I think you end up feeling they’re reading just to you,’’ Buckham says.
‘‘It’s a sort of one-to-one experience.’’