World Agony

Irma Kurtz, Cosmopolitan magazine's Agony Aunt for over 40 years, talks to a different agony aunt from around the world for each programme in this series.

She speaks to Aunts from America, India, Australia, Egypt and South Africa, and reflects on the universal and contrasting problems that occur in their particular society. These Aunts, many of whom have dramatic personal lives themselves, offer advice in newspaper columns, on radio phone-ins and on-line.

Irma draws on her ample experience to offer a useful perspective on their approach to problem solving. Together they discuss the problems specific to their communities and listeners hear examples of some of the letters they receive and the advice given.

Episodes

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01Cheryl Strayed, Usa2014071420141110 (R4)

Irma Kurtz, Cosmopolitan magazine's Agony Aunt for over 40 years, talks to a different agony aunt from around the world for each programme in this series.

She speaks to Aunts from America, India, Australia, Egypt and South Africa, and reflects on the universal and contrasting problems that occur in their particular society. These Aunts, many of whom have dramatic personal lives themselves, offer advice in newspaper columns, on radio phone-ins and on-line.

Irma draws on her ample experience to offer a useful perspective on their approach to problem solving. Together they discuss the problems specific to their communities and listeners hear examples of some of the letters they receive and the advice given.Irma talks to Cheryl Strayed, an American agony aunt who has received thousands of queries to her 'Dear Sugar' online column. Cheryl has grappled with many problems herself, including sexual abuse, bereavement and divorce. It's no surprise then that her strap line reads, "From someone who has been there".

Irma and Cheryl compare notes. They consider American optimism compared with the perceived attitude of the British stiff upper lip and reflect on why so many men write to Dear Sugar.

Producer: Ronni Davis

A White Pebble Media production for BBC Radio 4.

02Bachi Kakaria, India2014072120141111 (R4)

Irma talks Bachi Kakaria, who writes her advice column Giving Gyan in two Indian newspapers, the Mumbai Mirror and the Bangalore Mirror.

Giving Gyan translates roughly as 'laying it on the line', and Bachi certainly does that. This is a very different style of agony aunting to the one we're used to. She is level headed and empathetic but doesn't wrap her advice in any sentiment, as her strap line intimates: 'There are agony aunts and then there's Bachi, she'll sort you out'.

Her qualifications, she says, are none - other than a close observation of life, personal and professional. Her post bag reflects the concerns particularly of young people who, after years of Indian socialism, have been plunged into consumerism. On the one hand there is liberalism and, on the other, conservatism - so there is confusion and conflict in the minds of India's young.

Produced by Ronni Davis

A White Pebble Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Producer: Ronni Davis

03Kate De Brito, Australia2014072820141112 (R4)

Kate de Brito writes her advice blog 'Ask Bossy' for the news.com.australia website. Her strap line reads 'Got a question? Ask Bossy. It's the advice your friends and relatives are probably too polite to give.' And Kate, who is one of the few agony aunts with qualifications in counselling and psychotherapy, does indeed give practical and clear-sighted advice. The two agony aunts discuss attitudes to gender differences in Australia, problems concerning the aboriginal community, and the importance of referring serious issues on for specialised counselling.

Produced by Ronni Davis

A White Pebble Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Producer: Ronni Davis

04Youssra El-sharkawy, Egypt2014080420141113 (R4)

Youssra el-Sharkawy had an advice column in The Egyptian Gazette, an English speaking newspaper. Agony Aunts are usually older than the people who write to them, but Youssra is young - only 27 years old. Her career as an agony aunt began when she joined an all-women theatre troupe and became drawn into helping her fellow actors with their problems. Her correspondents tend to be young and idealistic and Youssra deals with their concerns with a rational and mature approach. The revolutionary events in Egypt mean that some of the women who write to her are alone and depressed. She talks to Irma about the position of women in her country and her frustration at being a free-thinking woman in a country where many women are far from liberation.

Produced by Ronni Davis

A White Pebble Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Producer: Ronni Davis

05 LASTCriselda Kananda, South Africa2014081120141114 (R4)

In the final programme of this series, Irma Kurtz talks to Criselda Kananda - an agony aunt in South Africa, where more than six million people are living with HIV. She tells Irma that the practical and optimistic responses she gives to the many letters she receives from people who are coping with the condition comes from first hand experience. Criselda was diagnosed HIV positive 15 years ago and knows only too well the ignorance and confusion that such a diagnosis can cause. Criselda talks about her own relationships, the letters that lift her spirits and her mission to remove the stigma of HIV.

Produced by Ronni Davis

A White Pebble Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Producer: Ronni Davis