FOR those of us who don’t go out much, the next best thing is listening to opinionistas who really ought to stay in more. Culture by proxy has always played an important part in the development of those of us with ambitions to pretentiousness: television’s Late Review and Radio 4’s Saturday Review provided the perfect combination of information, wit, and prejudice.
It is disappointing, therefore, to hear that, after the demise of Late Review, we are also to lose Saturday Review, to be replaced only by a weekend edition of Front Row. One sensed that something was wrong with Saturday Review when three esteemed critics were sent along to review the film Dirty Grandpa, which they universally panned, and the presenter, Tom Sutcliffe, asked his listeners whether they wanted the programme in future to cover these mainstream monstrosities, or stick to the art-house.
If you have to ask so directly what your listeners want, you have lost them already. Free Thinking (Radio 3, weekdays) would not stoop so low. This amalgam of book-plug, review show, and open discussion is presumably the position to which Saturday Review listeners are expected to fall back, but, if Wednesday’s edition last week was anything to go by, they will be as confused as I was.
The subject was terrorism, and the items included a book-plug by Baroness Warsi; an essay by one of Radio 3’s “Free Thinking” scholars; and discussion of a play by Ferdinand von Schirach. You listen to things like this for the titbits — Baroness Warsi’s dislike for Michael Gove was one of the tastier bits — but, as a whole, this format is a mess, and reveals something of the compromises required when shows must rely on guests’ turning up for free in return for publicity.
I have been at this game long enough to realise that you should be careful what you wish for. In the past, I may, I confess, have been snooty about a form of documentary on Radio 2 in which the commentary is drenched in a ceaseless soundtrack. But so lazy and disengaged was Paul Merton’s Beatles: The album the Beatles never made (Radio 2, Monday of last week) that I wondered whether any conscious being had been involved in its creation.
The presenter, Paul Merton, sounded as if he was reading the script while doing the ironing, and the promising concept — what would the Beatles have produced had they kept going until 1974 — was merely an excuse to play songs from the Fab Four’s solo albums.
And so to some quality radio. Here’s How the Story Ends (Radio 4, Monday of last week) was an investigation by Giles Edwards into the riots in Portsmouth after the revelation in August 2000 that a paedophile had been resettled on the Paulsgrove Estate.
This was not the expected chastisement of an ignorant community, but an indictment of poor communication and media with little else to report — until a Russian submarine sank, the reporters vanished, and the riots subsided.