The ultimate turn-off

by
02 November 2006

CONSIDERED, balanced, measured: one cannot always describe the BBC’s reaction to a notable death in these terms, but the BBC does not always have the chance to prepare for such occasions.

With the death of the Pope, for once the experts had something to say; a variety of opinions were offered, and we were not choked by bland sentiment.

Radio 4 saved its main appreciation of the life of Pope John Paul II for Sunday afternoon. Presented by David Willey, this was the kind of slick radio obituary that one might expect from a papal reporter who has observed the entire 26-year reign of the man whom he first knew as Karol Wojtyla.

But, to my mind, Mr Willey’s earlier piece, on Broadcasting House was the more touching. A journalist’s career is so often tied to history’s great protagonists. As a Vatican correspondent, he travelled on many of the Pope’s staggering 104 pilgrimages: and now the travelling has ceased. On the way, Mr Willey witnessed courage, sensitivity, charisma and humour, and got to grips with papal protocol and Vatican jargon.

The station’s other major commemoration was a Meditation on the Life of John Paul II (Radio 4, Saturday), a thoughtfully-packaged anthology of prayers, poetry and music for a late-night audience. Strangely though, its sombre, ecclesiastical tone felt out-of-kilter with the stories we had been hearing about the Pope’s escapades in Africa and South America, but also with the current expectation of a non-European successor.

At the other end of the spectrum was Green Jade, an über-trendy band leading the way in the UK’s holy hip-hop movement. The band was a guest on Beverley’s Gospel Nights (Radio 2, Easter Wednesday), a show that marked the end of its current run with an interview with the Revd Jesse Jackson.

“Religion makes us political, but politics doesn’t necessarily make us religious.” The statement might as well have been made by the late Pope, but it was Mr Jackson’s, reflecting on the inspiration of Martin Luther King, whose death prompted him to become a minister. The cross-over between religion, politics and music in the gospel movement is clearly demonstrated in the incorporation of Mr Jackson’s scintillating “Morning Time” speech into a gospel album by Aretha Franklin.

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Mr Jackson is always good value, and — fortunately for her — the presenter Beverley Knight didn’t have to work. But what she lacks in journalistic skills, she more than makes up for in vocal talent, as she belted her way through a Sam Cooke number to end the series.

It’s the sort of confidence that Chris Maslanka is going to need if he is going to find his life-partner. At least that’s the advice that he got on A Puzzle Beyond the Panel (Radio 4, Easter Monday), a charming, if slightly embarrassing, look at a year of dating in the life of Mr Maslanka, known to Radio 4 aficionados as the presenter of Puzzle Panel.

We heard an array of theories about why he was unattractive to women, as well as incidental information about the undesirability of beards. Strangely, he didn’t tell his numerous dates that he was the presenter of a Radio 4 quiz show. Was he afraid that this might have been the ultimate turn-off?

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