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Paternal judgement

19 September 2014


THERE was a lot about dads and granddads this week - and the clip of the week came from an unexpected source. Anybody who still needs reassurance that Chris Evans has made the transition from cocky TV presenter to charming Radio 2 star should listen to his interview on Saturday Live (Radio 4, last week) about the joys of reading to your children.

It would be a hard-hearted person indeed who did not well up - as Evans himself did - at the recollection of a childhood without bedtime stories. Which only goes to show that long exposure to the nation's favourite radio station makes softies of us all.

Zak Ebrahim, on the other hand, is no softie. When people ask him about his father, he feels disinclined to give the expected answer: "But, in the end, he's still my father, and I love him." The man in question is El-Sayyid Nosair, an Egyptian American who was involved in a number of Islamic extremist crimes in the United States, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Ebrahim was being interviewed by Matthew Bannister on Outlook (World Service, Thursday of last week) to promote a book, The Terrorist's Son: A story of choice. The clue is in the title: Ebrahim is clear that his father made choices, influenced, for sure, by his circumstances - not least, his losing his job and getting in with the wrong crowd. But, ultimately, his actions represented moral judgements entered into freely.

Most gripping was the formation of impressions in the mind of a young boy. When did Ebrahim start to think that his father was acting more strangely than the other adults he knew? At the age of seven, the boy asked his father how he had become such a "good Muslim". The answer stuck in Ebrahim's mind: it was when his father came to the US and saw how steeped in corruption it was.

In the wake of the Edinburgh Festival, Radio 4 gets to benefit from the work of fresh, eager comedians who still think that the BBC is a good gig to have. Thus Tom Wrigglesworth - Utterly at Odds with the Universe (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week) filled an early-evening spot that might otherwise have been taken by one of those tired comedies that had outstayed their welcome.

Wrigglesworth's revised Edinburgh show is about his relationship with a grandfather who taught him the finer points of DIY, and how not to drive; and a philosophical method unique to Yorkshire. "Falling is not the problem," one of his epigrams ran. "It's the landing you need to worry about."

The set had some great material; but, at its heart was a heartfelt encomium to a much loved relative, pitched at just the right level so as not to be mawkish - just as to hear Evans actually cry would not be half as effective as hearing him almost cry.

Space allows for only a brief thumbs-up for last week's Beyond Belief (Radio 4, Mondays); a more topical episode than usual, which discussed the survival of religious pluralism in Iraq. In its great wisdom, the BBC has now made it available to download for longer than the usual one week; and this is certainly one to revisit. No laughs here, I'm afraid; and a good few tears.

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