Review of BBC podcast on Roger Deakin’s book Waterlog

I listened to a Radio 3 Documentary in which wild swimming enthusiast Alice Roberts examines the legacy of Waterlog by the late Roger Deakin. Here are some of my thoughts about this 43-minute podcast.

Photograph: Robert Macfarlane

The podcast starts off with an introduction saying ‘This is the BBC’ and then introduces advertising and the series. It then launches into the theme song of the production, Loudoun Wainwright III’s ‘Swimming Song’. This upbeat music with clawhammer banjo as the main melodic instrument sets the tone for the whole piece – it’s joyful, laid back and humorous.

This summer I went swimming, This summer I might have drowned, But I held my breath and I kicked my feet, And I moved my arms around, I moved my arms around

Loudon Wainwright III, ‘Swimming Song’

This documentary takes the format of snippets of interviews with Deakin (recorded at the time that the book was released), interviews with his friends and people who have been affected profoundly by the book, excerpts read from the book, and linking commentary by the presenter. This is interspersed with sections of ‘Swimming Song’, timed so that the piece ends with the conclusion of the song. Interviews often take place in nature, while the person is swimming, so a lot of nature sounds are heard – the splashing of water, birdsong, whirring of crickets and droning of bees. I think of this format as ‘BBC Radio Ballads style’ broadcasting, after the series that was originally broadcast in the late 1950s and early 1960s and featured music specifically written to match the subject matter. It’s an auditory feast, and it’s totally engaging.

One technique the presenter users that I’d like to emulate is her introduction of interviewees. The interview begins with a sentence, and then she breaks the recording to insert the name of the interviewee and their context, and then the recorded sentence continues. It is done quickly and sounds seamless. It enables the listener to hear the voice before having to take in the detail of the person’s name. I find that it helps me to remember voices and know who is talking.

Breast-stroking up and down the thirty yards of clear, green water, I nosed along, eyes just at water level. The frog’s-eye view of rain on the moat was magnificent.

From the opening chapter of Waterlog by Roger Deakin.

There is an informal and personal review of the book and discussion of its themes, as well as what motivated Deakin to write it. A little of his background is given. The podcast explores Deakin’s focus on the politics of community and the fundamental human right of access, as well as his lasting legacy and the experience of being in nature in water versus on land. The presenter comments on the phenomenon of ‘wild water swimming’ that Deakin pioneered, which has been taken up by so many enthusiasts in the UK. Robert Macfarlane, nature writer and close friend, remarks on Deakin’s superb writing technique and how he captured the extraordinariness of the ordinary in a way that speaks to his readers.

The podcast ends with an anecdote by Macfarlane that illustrates Deakin’s influence and the love that people feel for him – it made me cry. I won’t describe it; this is one that you need to hear for yourself.

This style of documentary podcast is something that I can aspire to in the future if I decide to pursue this avenue of media presentation.


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