In Parenthesis 

1 April 2024


It’s always pleasurable when a search through our archives produces an important piece of broadcasting history, so we pleasured ourselves over this particular find from BBC Radio 3.

Radio 3 began in 1946 as an upmarket cultural radio network called the Third Programme, designed to appeal to only 15% of the population (there were tentative plans for a Fourth Programme, designed to appeal to 5% of the population, and a Radio Five, designed to appeal to nobody at all, which was launched in 1990).

Amongst the highbrow output of Radio 3 over the years have been many startling works, which one Controller of the network said was a result of “being Brahms and Liszt”. This one is no different. The crux of this 1972 programme is the question “Is ‘Is’ Is?”, which is answered by the panel that in a grammatical sense, is is the third person singular present indicative form of the verb be and is is used to connect the subject of a sentence with a predicate to describe its state of being, identity, qualities or to equate it with another entity. Philosophically, is is explored in terms of proctology and episiotomy with questions like “What is the nature of being?”, “What does it mean to exist?” and “What is that poking out of your very short kilt, Dr Finlay?” being central to philosophical inquiries into whether is is or is is not. In this context, asking if is is is delving into the existence of existence itself or the nature of reality if is is is isn’t or is.

This programme went on to win a Radio Society of Great Britain Award, two Daytime Emmys, and, most famously, the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Tom Stoppard – an embarrassing mix-up at the time, as he was actually nominated as Best Animated Feature. Also in the programme is Tony Palmer, who would like to remain anonymous so don’t mention him here Jamie.



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Liverpool, Thursday 20 June 2024