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Radio review: Slice: Politics and personality, and Tales from the Stave

22 June 2018


WHICH is the nicer party: Conservative or Labour? That was the question we all wanted answering, but Slice: Politics and personality (Radio 4, weekdays) did not go that far. In analysing the relationship between voting habits and character, Jolyon Jenkins’s series told us much; but the BBC Charter would no doubt have forbidden him to divulge the answer.

Never mind. There was more fascinating psycho-psephology to mull over, such as the fact that Brexit-supporting regions of the UK score low on “openness”; and that, in turn, may be because the area was once afflicted by plague, from which the population has inherited a mistrust of outsiders.

More entertaining still is the notion that Conservatives are likelier to own laundry baskets, while Liberals have a penchant for world music. It is on noting connections such as these that Cambridge Analytica is said to have made its fees; although it is debatable whether the connection indicates correlation or causation.

The surveys of personality on which these “facts” are based involve notoriously tricky methodologies; and the same goes for surveys of personality disorders. In Storm and Stress: New ways of looking at adolescent mental health (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), Sally Marlow examined the evidence for increased rates of mental illness among the 18-26 age group, and found it ambivalent.

The current President of the Royal Society of Medicine, Sir Simon Wessely, is clear that the situation today is no worse than in the 1880s, when access to higher education for women led to anxiety about women’s mental well-being. The increase in awareness and reporting is a double-edged sword; but, in one area at least — that of self-harming by young women — the statistics do, indeed, appear to support the picture of a burgeoning problem.

The most disturbing part of this documentary came in an interview with an anorexic who described the social-media forums that she would visit during her illness. Competitions for who could lose the most weight; advice on how to avoid eating for a week: this phenomenon, at least, was not around in the 1880s.

You might suppose that a programme about music as it appears on the page might not make for great radio; but Tales from the Stave (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) is now on its 17th series. Of course, just because a piece of music sounds good, it does not mean that it looked like much when the composer wrote it down; and Fauré’s Requiem is one such. The surviving manuscript consists of sketches interleaved with other pieces, and does not even include the famous “Pie Jesu”.

In the absence of visual stimulus, there is always the music; and this episode amounted to programme notes with audio examples, which is not a bad thing. But perhaps they could have persuaded the librarian of the Bibliothèque de France to put some images up on the website.

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