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Page last updated at 09:38 GMT, Thursday, 31 December 2009
Guest editor: PD James


PD James' programme review

Each year, the Today programme hands over the editorial reins to six public figures, giving them a chance to decide what goes on the programme between Christmas and New Year.

Editing the programme on 31st December was the crime writer PD James. You can hear highlights from her programme using the links below - some of which are extended versions of those heard on air.

Guest editor PD James was a governor of the BBC from 1988 to 1993. For her programme she interviewed the corporation's director general Mark Thompson , pressing him on the future of the corporation and the pay of senior management.

Baroness James shares what she sees as considerable public anxieties about aspects of the criminal justice system. These include cases of dangerous criminals released to offend again, the difficulty of deporting foreign criminals and the effectiveness of the sentencing available to the courts after a conviction for murder.

She discussed these concerns with the Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw and asked home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw to look into current police training.

To investigate the relationship between crime fiction and real crime, she persuaded the former Met commissioner Sir Ian Blair into a studio with fellow crime novelist Lynda Le Plante.

PD James thinks people are less articulate now than they used to be. She left Cambridge girls' school in 1936 when she was 16, an age at which children sat the Leaving Certificate exam. Correspondent Sanchia Berg took exam papers in English from that time to a modern Cambridge comprehensive, Parkside, to see what the pupils made of them.

One of the ideas guest editor PD James wanted to look into was the notion of national identity and patriotism. In the National Portrait Gallery in London, historian David Starkey and Sunder Katwala , General Secretary of the Fabian Society, analysed our patriotic past and future.

PD James chose some of her favourite poems to play during the programme. Poetry, she believes, is central to British identity and there should be a greater emphasis on bringing poetry to children in schools and opening their minds to the richness of our poetic heritage.

The programme featured Philip Larkin reading his poem The Explosion, Charles Causley reading his poem Timothy Winters, Sir John Gielgud reading from Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 and James herself reading Tennyson's In Memoriam at the end of her editor's interview.


Baroness James of Holland Park, better known as PD James, is one of Britain's most successful crime writers.

She has written 20 books, many of which feature her most famous creation, the detective Adam Dalgliesh. Most of her films have been translated into TV series or films.

Many of her novels are set within the complexities of British bureaucracy, an area she has first hand experience of having worked in hospital administration and the civil service. She has also served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BBC.

In 1991 she was made a life peer, where she sits on the Conservative benches.

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