The week in audio: The Archers; Today; Death of an Artist; Gareth Gwynn Hasn’t Fin – review

<span>‘A welcome blast of fresh air’: Today newbie Emma Barnett.</span><span>Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA</span>
‘A welcome blast of fresh air’: Today newbie Emma Barnett.Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA

The Archers (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Today (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Death of an Artist: Krasner and Pollock | Pushkin Industries/Samizdat Audio
Archive on 4: Gareth Gwynn Hasn’t Fin- (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds

Pray for this week’s radio reviewer, allergic since time immemorial to the theme tune of The Archers, finding herself writing in the thick of a blockbuster storyline. But with a crack consultant to hand (my mother-in-law, who remembers listening to Grace Archer dying in a stable fire in 1955: thank you, Lill) I’m braving the challenge.

So buckle up. The past fortnight’s action began with the aftermath of a two-vehicle crash late at night, precipitated by the no-longer-recovering-alcoholic Alice opening the passenger door of her car to be sick. Laddish local teenager George Grundy had discovered her parked up and passed out, and after finding her keys, called his father to say he was driving her home (a message he later deletes after moving a comatose Alice into the driving seat to clear himself of blame).

The storytelling through sound has, for the most part, been exemplary. That car horn, screeching wheels, George’s panic, silence… the sound of metal hitting water… argh, that bloody jaunty theme tune. There was also Alice’s first drink in an age (her chilling glug-glug-glug), and the horror-movie-grade rendering of Fallon, a passenger in the other car, being stuck in its back seat, nearly drowning.

How powerful to hear a Today presenter say ‘I’m so incredibly sorry’

Then came the twists. In recovery, the A&E doctor discovered Fallon was pregnant – a child unwanted by her, quietly longed for by her husband, Harrison – but then she miscarried. Meanwhile, vet Alistair, first on the scene of the crash with his colleague and secret love interest Denise, was pretending that they were not on their way to a hotel for their first night of naughtiness, but on call to save a poorly ewe (a proper case of baa humbug).

This past week, their fellow veterinary colleague Paul, Denise’s son, has been coming on like a rural Columbo, unwittingly pulling their story to pieces (and happily telling poor Alistair that Paul’s dad, previously distanced from his mum, is attentively back on the scene), while Alice has been falling apart as “I don’t remember any of it... [and] I killed a baby”. Hollie Chapman, who plays Alice, has been in the role since she was 11; her affecting scenes made me think how many listeners have grown up with the intimate sounds of voices like hers.

But in a few weeks, not a lifetime, of listening, I’ve got a sense and shape of these characters – plus the Sunday omnibus tune actually sounds half-decent played on accordions. If you’ll pardon the wildly inappropriate pun, I think I’m now along for the ride.

Today (Radio 4) had a similarly big moment last week – the arrival on Wednesday of Emma Barnett as its new presenter. The host of Woman’s Hour until February, she combined tenacity with an easy warmth in that role, like a hyper-competent head girl equally happy to drag you to the pub.

She was great here too. At 6.15 she congratulated co-host Amol Rajan on his early hours pronunciation of the tricksy names of weight-loss drugs. At 7.25 she interviewed a Ukrainian bassist about how US secretary of state Antony Blinken had played guitar with his punk band after finishing that day’s diplomatic duties. Finding out they’d been told Neil Young was joining them, only to discover it was Blinken instead, she couldn’t resist: “You can tell me – no one else is listening – but were you a bit disappointed?” Yes, he admitted. The studio collapsed in laughter. A lovely moment.

She also aced a sensitive interview with the son of Nottingham stabbing victim Ian Coates (how powerful to hear a Today presenter say “I’m so incredibly sorry”), and skewered policing minister Chris Philp on the National Crime Agency’s failures, plus his inability to distinguish between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on Question Time. Her new morning wake-up playlist (for 3.05am precisely) was also revealed to include Britney Spears’s Gimme More (“Amol’s not looking sure about that one”). A debut primed to give our grim news cycle a welcome blast of fresh air.

Also out last week was episode one of a new six-part podcast series by Katy Hessel, author of the brilliant survey of female artists’ contributions to culture, The Story of Art Without Men. In series two of Death of an Artist, the bold, engaging presenter tells us the story of Lee Krasner, wife of Jackson Pollock, a huge influence on his work and reputation in life (she taught him techniques and connected him to critics and collectors) and in death (she promoted and protected his legacy, despite his unfaithfulness and alcoholism).

Fabulous women were interviewed throughout, including American artist Audrey Flack, now 92, who refuses to introduce herself (“You should say here’s Audrey Flack, blah blah blah, she’s an ancient person”). Reams of gorgeous, crackly archive of Krasner – a belly-deep, drawling New Yorker – also give plentiful texture and depth.

Finally, if you love a playful Archive on 4, don’t miss Gareth Gwynn Hasn’t Fin-. Yes, that’s the title. A whirling exploration of unfinished creative projects, it takes in Brian Wilson’s Smile, Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s work and other art stymied by depression, ADHD, death and, in Gwynn’s case, “spontaneous relocation and a washing machine exploding”.

Its scrambly structure is hilarious too, including rambling voice notes to producers and comedy writer Gwynn’s “realisation” that his show is under-running (“The Mona Lisa! That’s the one thing Radio 4 asked me to include… there’s a folder on my laptop… whatevs there, put it in!”). Now I’m over-running. What a great week for listening.