IF THE Church of England were asked to come up with a format for
a radio programme, it might come up with Agree to Differ
(Radio 4, Wednesday of last week), "a new way to understand a
controversial issue", the blurb says.
In it, two participants from the opposite sides of a controversy
meet in an empty studio, with only Matthew Taylor for company, and
state their case. No audience, no tweets or texts from listeners at
home. And, at each stage of the debate, Taylor marks out territory
on which the participants might stand together.
It is, if truth be told, a little dull - which might sound
unfair coming from somebody who detests the Moral Maze
format of confrontational debate. And the problem with the first
show in this new format was that, as a subject for debate, fracking
does not light many people's fires.
This is not to say that intense feelings are not stoked by the
topic; but they tend to be localised. As the combatants, George
Monbiot and James Woudhuysen, both admitted, people can get hot
under the collar about fracking. As an advocate of fracking,
Woudhuysen has had to face crowds of them at public meetings. These
are the people who will live next door to the plants, fearful for
the foundations of their houses and the combustibility of their
But it was the manifest paradox of this programme that the one
thing on which Monbiot and Woudhuysen could agree was that
environmental policy should not kowtow to the NIMBYs. From
Woudhuysen, such indifference to local sentiment might be expected;
but from Monbiot this position can be explained only by the fact
that the environmental lobby has its own NIMBY problem, with pesky
locals whingeing about his beloved wind farms.
The Reunion (Radio 4, Friday) demonstrates how good
radio can indeed be created in a single studio with a few people
sitting around a table. Last week's, telling the story of the
Berlin Airlift, was yet another example. There were contributions
from pilots and logistics managers who worked on what is still the
largest humanitarian mission in British aviation history.
The story can be told by statistics - the
two-and-a-quarter-million population that was provided for, the
thousands of flights - but it was the testimonies of these
participants that gave the programme such rich historical texture,
delivered in voices suffused with a form of British sang-froid
which would sound stereotyped if it were scripted.
I enjoyed the account of the pilot who, when intimidated by a
Russian plane, decided to fly right at it. "Did you see the whites
of his eyes?" Sue MacGregor asked. "I couldn't - I had my eyes
Not particularly funny now; you had to be there. Such is the
excuse, Will Self argued in A Point of View (Radio 4,
Friday), that confirms him in the opinion that "Nothing is funny
twice." His essay is a case in point: amusing and contentious while
you were in his company, but utter nonsense if you take the effort
to recollect it in tranquillity.
After all, isn't this the man who spent years as a panellist on
the TV comedy show Shooting Stars, where the humour was