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Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Tuesday, 28 December 2010
Guest editor: Diana Athill

Diana Athill

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

The programme broadcast on Monday 27th December was edited by literary editor and diarist Diana Athill.

Diana Athill was surprised at how well her memoir on ageing, Somewhere Towards the End, was received oversees. As part of a series of short pieces examining changing attitudes to growing old around the world, our Rome correspondent David Willey spoke to Fay Caracciolo, an elderly resident of that city.

A noted literary editor and now a successful writer in her own right, she has a very low tolerance for jargon, particularly the sort used in academic circles. The Daily Telegraph's Simon Heffer and Dr Jo Cordy of Queen Mary University of London discussed whether people continue using technical language they do not understand, even after they leave university.

As part of a series of pieces examining changing attitudes to the elderly, our Pakistan correspondent Aleem Maqbool, spoke to his aged aunt and uncle in Lahore.
The joys of sport are not the preserve of the young, according to Diana Athill. She has followed the story of 90 year-old sheep farmer Reg Brown, who told BBC reporter Tim Franks how his horse Tiptronic won a race at Hereford at the odds of 100-1.

One of Ms Athill's more controversial views concerns infidelity. She explores the moral implications behind her belief that that infidelity can, at times, be explained and accepted. Couples therapist Esther Perel and Julia Cole, marriage counsellor, debated if Ms Athill is correct.

Ms Athill is a particular admirer of Damian Barr, a book-lover and "reader in residence" at several hotels. Justin Webb went to see Damian at work at MyHotel in Chelsea, where guests were invited to call him up to their rooms for a bedtime story, wearing pyjamas.
Diana Athill finds Highgate Cemetery to be "one of the most magical places in London" . James Naughtie took a walk around it with her and Jean Pateman, of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery.

Describing herself as "irreligious", Ms Athill explained to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, why her lack of faith has "waxed, rather than waned" during old age.

After the international success of Diana Athill's memoir on ageing, she wanted to hear voices from around the world about the business of getting old. Our Africa correspondent Will Ross asked an elderly Kenyan couple and their grandchildren about their experiences.

One of her great loves is newspaper crosswords. We spoke to crossword creator Paul Watling, who has created a bespoke puzzle for Diana and Today listeners.

A few days before Christmas, James Naughtie visited Diana Athill at her residential home in Highgate, north London, to ask her whether she enjoyed guest editing the programme.


Diana Athill has enjoyed a gilded career, first at the BBC, then as literary editor and latterly as an award-winning memoirist.

Now in her 90s, she recently moved into an old people's home and her impressions of this major change in her life have been a regular feature on the Today programme.

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