Urban Language, 2006
If you’re interested in learning how to tell stories, you could do worse than spend your Saturday mornings listening to that old BBC radio show, My Word.
My Word began broadcasting in 1956 and ran until 1990. The premise was this: two teams, each comprised of two writers, attempted to best each other in a series of word games. At the end of the show, one person from each team would be asked to describe the origin of a famous line or quote.
I must have started listening to My Word sometime in the early 1980s. (There was also a sister program, My Music.) When my wife and I went to London for the first time in 1989 and I realized that the theater where My Word was broadcast was just around the corner from our hotel, I rushed around to see what there was to see. What I found was an abandoned, boarded up theater, leading me to believe that My Word had likely gone out of production long before then. (The show never had references to current time and the predilection of some panelists to mention people like Noel Coward in the present tense only reinforced this ambiguity.)
The whole show was fun to listen to. I’d never heard of some of the panelists; with the exception of Antonia Fraser, there were mostly aging writers, poets and the like from Britain who’d probably never had much of an audience in America. But their knowledge of literature was extensive and their humor wonderfully dry and clever.
The real meat of each episode was the part at the end where two panelists were each charged with explaining the derivation of a famous line. It was understood that a serious answer wasn’t expected. But the panelists each wound through lengthy and digressions before reaching their hilarious homonymic conclusions.
If you check around, My Word and My Music still show up in reruns on a lot of public radio stations.