Radio: Anatomy of a death

05 November 2008

by Edward Wickham

“HOW COULD he be so nice to me?” For Holly, the 22-year-old driver responsible for a man’s death as a result of poor driving, it was the redemptive forgiveness of the bereaved father which proved the most difficult thing to take.

Anatomy of a Car Crash (Radio 4, Thursday of last week) was a pro­gramme of traumatic details, both physical and emotional. But after the broken ribs, the 63 pieces of glass removed from the face of one victim, and a nervous breakdown, the challenge of another person’s kindness was almost too painful.

Anatomy of a Car Crash did something that is rare on TV or radio: it presented a drama from almost every angle, while main­taining the microphone’s complete independence. At only one point did we hear the voice of the inter­viewer, when he asked Holly what she would like to say to the family of Michael, who was unfortunate enough to be travelling the other way when Holly attempted a dan­ger­ous piece of overtaking on a road in Cornwall last year.

Fellow passengers, the police, the paramedic, and — crucially — Holly and her family told the story with honesty and an impressive degree of objectivity. That the pro­gramme did not end up sounding like a road-safety documentary is because of the emotional articulacy and lack of self-importance of the protagonists.

If you have young drivers in the family, however, you could do worse than play them this show. If the nervous breakdown does not get to them, the shards of glass will.

The same title could have been used to describe last week’s Feedback (Radio 4, Friday), which picked over the Russell Brand-Jonathan Ross scandal with CSI-like diligence. “An accident waiting to happen” has been one of the many clichés issuing from poli­ticians and media com­mentators. Feedback gave us the opportunity to watch the whole pile-up in slow motion.


Of course, the story really begins long, long ago, when Radio 2 was the station of Sing Something Simple. Every year, it seems, has seen an eruption of bilious outrage from traditional Radio 2 listeners as presenters from Radio 1 have found slots next door. Steve Wright was one of the first to provoke ire; Mr Ross and Mr Brand are the latest in this procession. As a result, Radio 2 has gained more listeners than any other radio station.

It is no good arguing — as people do in these circumstances — that few people complained when the show first went out, and the whole thing is a Daily Mail-inspired campaign against the licence fee. People are entitled to get upset about the idea of a broadcast, and the message it seems to pro­claim about broadcasting values in general.

What the affair exposes is the level of frustration experienced by people who feel themselves ex­cluded from some new, savvy, vulgar, and young media culture. It comes at a time when the world’s economy has been crippled by savvy, vulgar young bankers and hedge-fund managers.

It is all part of “the culture of excess”, as the MP Danny Alexander said on last week’s Any Questions? (Radio 4, Friday). So, for those of us who secretly and shamefully found the show funny (but still un­broadcastable), we are in for a chastening period of moral, as well as economic, belt-tightening.

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