Interview: Ken Bruce on Museum of the Year

  • 25 June 2015

We spoke to the celebrated broadcaster about presenting Radio 2's Friday Night at the Museum, in which the BBC Concert Orchestra celebrate the six Museum of the Year finalists, and why museums are such a national treasure.

Ken Bruce BBC Copyright

Ken Bruce

Friday Night at the Museum is an unusual concept for a radio show where the music is inspired by museum exhibits. How do you approach a radio show that is so visual?

There is no reason why radio can’t do a visual thing – it just needs a little bit of description. Anything that encourages people to use the museums is a great thing. We got the lovely curators to come and describe some of the key pieces of their museum collections. No one can describe the exhibits better and more intimately than their curators. 

How did the music and the objects complement each other?

We chose the music very carefully. For instance, for Douglas Bader’s wings and portrait [from the IWM London] we chose music from Reach for the Skies, a film about Bader’s life. [Bader was a fighter pilot during World War Two.] When you have an emotive piece of music, the whole thing is strengthened and brought to life.

What was your favourite museum exhibit?

That’s difficult because they are so different in so many ways. For me, the Douglas Bader wings were very evocative. I also really liked the materials from Dunham Massey – Lady Jane Grey’s tambourine and the autograph book – which contained comments by people who’d been there. Those very personal touches were very moving.

As part of the Museum of the Year season on BBC Radio 2, you visited one of the finalists, Oxford University Museum of Natural History. How did you find it?

I used to live near it and I have always assumed that it was a closed museum that was only available to the students and university staff. When we went, it was fantastic! I spoke to one of the volunteers who said that he volunteered there because he simply loved the place. That sort of enthusiasm comes through when you go around a place like that. I’m going to take my family there.

What do you like most about museums?

If you go along with four or five people of varying ages and experiences, there is always something for everybody to take something away from it. I like how museums have that great variety.

There is so much inventiveness and a great deal of thought that goes into how to best present the items and how to attract people towards them. I take my hat off to the museum staff – they put so much work into it. They make museums so accessible to so many people.

Ken Bruce will be presenting a special Museum of the Year edition of Friday Night is Music Night on 26 June. Tune in to BBC Radio 2 at 8pm.

As part of the Museum of the Year season on BBC Radio 2, you can also listen to BBC Radio 2 presenters visiting Museum of Year finalists.

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