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Come by here

17 April 2015


READING through one's teenage diaries is never a comfortable experience. But when the entries envision the ideal husband as somebody who will never let you out of their sight, and who has a clear sense of mission, then the only proper response is to squirm.

And so we squirmed with Jenn Ashworth as she divulged her youthful enthusiasm for a life of devotion to the Church of the Latter-day Saints, in The Faith of Children or Kumbayah and All That (Radio 4, Easter Monday), during which we heard from writers and comedians brought up in a variety of faith traditions.

As it transpired, Ashworth's testimony was the most vivid and authentic of the five contributors here, her teenage piety balanced precariously between intensity and scepticism. Neither she nor any of the other protagonists have held on to their faith; but she, at least, gave some sense of what it was like to believe in a set of doctrines, however peculiar they appear in retrospect.

In the other case-studies, reminiscence seemed coloured by the scepticism of the adult; and one wonders whether the title of this programme was intended to make up for this lack of engagement with the nuts and bolts of faith. Curiously, nobody even mentioned the song "Kumbaya" - that quintessential expression of piety; and anybody keen to relive, through some masochistic impulse, the pains of Sunday school would have found no catharsis here.

Eighty years ago, two drunks met in a bar, and embarked on a kind of catharsis that would transform their lives, and those of millions. Alcoholics Anonymous, Henry Kissinger said, is America's greatest gift to the world: a gift currently received by two million people worldwide. The 12-Steps system has inspired any number of other self-help regimes, although it is not universally admired.

No 30-minute documentary is capable of covering all the bases, but AA: America's Gift to the World (Radio 4, Easter Monday) was inadequate as an account either of the history of the organ-isation, or as an assessment of its efficacy. In A. L. Kennedy we had a guide who could not provide answers to some basic questions. Thus the apparent lack of a central organisation or organising principle went unaddressed; as did the movement's roots in the more explicitly faith-based Oxford Groups of the 1920s and '30s.

The central characters, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, were sketchily drawn - the former, a mercurial visionary with a Wall Street background, keen to spread the message globally; the latter, the more punctilious and parochial of the two - but the fascinating archival recordings of their voices were marred by inadequate contextualising and attribution. I hope that this important anniversary is marked with a more coherent account before the year is out.

If you get no kicks from champagne or any other booze, what about the Teletubbies? The show termed "crack for babies" is returning; and Profile (Radio 4) last Saturday reminded us what all the fuss was about. If nothing else, it is guaranteed to become cult viewing for the inebriated, nostal-gic adolescent.

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