Radio: Things look up

02 January 2008

by Edward Wickham

JUST LIKE the presents around the tree, the Christmas and New Year schedules contain unexpected delights and outright mistakes in equal measure. And more than the odd repeat, as well.

Joan Bakewell’s Belief (weekdays) made a seasonal outing, and proves once again that — handled properly — it is possible to sustain an engaging one-to-one conversation about faith for more than five minutes.

And the network should be heartily congratulated for reprising its practice of broadcasting an act from Wagner’s Ring cycle every weekday for two weeks. The epic works surprisingly well in serial form — even if the singing in this latest Bayreuth production is not universally satisfactory. There is a sense, at the end of each episode, of cliff-hanging suspense: not something you readily associate with Wagner. I won’t give away the ending, but, as I write, things are not looking good for the gods.

But the familiar at Christmas can just as easily become irritating. Humph in Wonderland (Radio 4, Christmas Day) was a case in point. This hour-long outing for the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue team, in a version of Lewis Carroll designed to provide plenty of opportunities for the show’s usual games, was shameful and embarrassing. Blame must be shared by the scriptwriters, complacently relying on their enthusiastic devotees to hoot with laughter at every in-joke, and by those devotees, who are never happier than when cheering a particularly witty exchange in Mornington Crescent.

For the best Christmas/New Year bumper annual, you had to re-tune to Radio 2 and Clive Anderson’s end-of-year Chat Room (Radio 2, Thursday) in which the usual comedy-panel culprits (plus Janet Street-Porter) picked apart the year’s news.

What made this a little sharper was the opprobrium poured on Griff Rhys Jones for having deceived viewers of his television show into believing he had climbed to the top of Ben Nevis — one of the many television scandals of recent months. “I didn’t know we hadn’t reached the top,” was his excuse. “Didn’t you just look up?” was Anderson’s retort.


Clive Anderson’s preamble to the show joked that it was being recorded well in advance of New Year — a piece of unacknowledged irony, since the original cast was to have included Alan Davies, the cuddly comedian who notoriously supplemented his Yuletide protein intake with a bite of a man’s ear. Oddly, the story was not among those satirised by the remaining panel.

Regular listeners to broadcast worship will sometimes sense, like the Queen touring the nation, the overwhelming aroma of fresh paint wherever they go. Liturgically and chorally, everybody is polished and on their best behaviour. So it was a breath of fresh air to tune in last week to Sunday Worship (Radio 4) from St John’s College, Durham, and hear a series of carols and hymns delivered in a full-throated, unabashed manner.

This celebration of good old-fashioned Christmas music — “The Boar’s Head”, “Masters in this Hall”, and the like — was led by Dr Ian Bradley, who is a great advocate of the genre. This was one of those “services” that might as easily have been a documentary, but we’ve probably all had enough liturgy recently to forgive this.

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