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Turbulent priest

17 April 2014


"I'M NOT going to die, even if they kill me." And, so far, the words of Giovannino Guareschi have proved true, at least to devotees of his most celebrated creation, Don Camillo.

Guareschi died, of natural causes, in 1968, but, with fresh translations of the Don Camillo stories soon to appear in English, and an international following, Guareschi lives on.

Much to the chagrin of his many enemies, no doubt. For, as we discovered in Blind Date with Don Camillo (Radio 4, Thursday of last week), Guareschi managed to make himself unpopular with almost every regime he lived under. To be imprisoned by Mussolini's Fascists, and then held by the Nazis in a POW camp - such might be expected of a satirist of Guareschi's impertinent courage.

But then to be imprisoned again by the post-war Christian Democrat party in Italy demonstrates the extent to which he got up people's noses. At various times his works were censored by the CIA and the Roman Catholic Church, and Guareschi featured on a death list drawn up by the Communists.

The element of danger that must, in the Cold War era, have infused his accounts of an RC priest and his knockabout encounters with the local Communist mayor, cannot be suitably into modern Anglo-Saxon culture, as the extracts from recent Radio 4 adaptions of the Don Camillo stories demonstrated.

In Italy, however, the memories of ideological struggles between a right-wing RC Church and the Communist Party are bred in the bone. In a particularly apposite moment in this documentary, the presenter, Peter White, met the current priest of Don Camillo's town of Brescello, who admitted that he himself was the son of a Communist.

It was an entertaining piece of radio - but perplexing that the producer should feel the need to refer, in the title, to the presenter's blindness. Other than the fact that White is a fan of the books, it was entirely beside the point.

A harder sell might be a full-length treatment of the economics of waste disposal, presented by an ex-environment minister. And Rubbish: The great waste crisis (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) got off to an unprepossessing start as Chris Mullin attempted to make a commentary on the arrival of a rubbish lorry sound interesting, and then conduct an interview with a bin-man over the roar of the engine.

But, of course, it is very important stuff, rubbish - and there is money in it, too, if you are clever about it. Not that the people trying to get gold out of old mobile phones sounded particularly convincing: it takes three tonnes of them (about 30,000 handsets) to make 1kg of gold. Conversely, with the help of microchips in our bins, the worthies across the water in Flanders have devised a way of extracting money from households for improper disposal of waste.

All sorts of figures were scattered around this programme, and, for much of the time, it was unclear what we were supposed to do with them. And as for the claim, made by a councillor, that the water underneath her local landfill site would stay toxic for 4700 years, I was wondering whether this combination of statistical extravagance and precision was worthy of investigation by the Radio 4 programme More or Less.

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