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Radio review: How to Be a Muslim Woman, Steve Penk's Radio Nightmares, and Britain in Bits with Ross Noble

23 November 2018


Baroness Warsi explored the nuances of Islamic women’s allegiances and priorities, in How to Be a Muslim Woman (Radio 4, Friday)

Baroness Warsi explored the nuances of Islamic women’s allegiances and priorities, in How to Be a Muslim Woman (Radio 4, Friday)

IN A private conversation in 2016, David Cameron is reported to have said that Muslim women were “traditionally submissive”. You might think he would have learned by then that there was no such thing as a private conversation. The ensuing Twitterama was as vigorous as it was predictable, with the saving virtue that it provided a platform for many level-headed Muslim women to demonstrate how that combination of words needed to be re-examined.

In How to Be a Muslim Woman (Radio 4, Friday), Baroness Warsi argued that our obsession with the burqa prevents our understanding the nuances of Islamic women’s priorities. If there was any conclusion to be drawn from the diverse conversations in her programme, it would have to be something glib: Muslim women are complex individuals, like everyone else.

But as ever, the revelations come in particular interactions — as with the trainee army medic who admitted that the army enabled her to be more herself than any of her Pakistani friendship groups ever did. Or the poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, who argued that patriarchy was not solely a Muslim phenomenon, nor the misogyny with which it wielded its power. Or the political activist who owed her inde­pendence and sense of empowerment to a pushy and opinionated father who was determined that his daughters were not going to submit in the traditional manner.

If you are a David Cameron, your bloopers are recorded and disseminated mercilessly. For the less exalted, they are archived until a show comes along such as Steve Penk’s Radio Nightmares (Radio 4 Extra, Saturday). In the course of an exhaustive and exhausting three hours, we were treated to an anthology of radio blunders so extensive as to make the late Denis Norden seethe with jealousy. It is true that the range of possible radio cock-ups is more limited than television: there is no humour in listening to footage of a reporter being groped by an elephant. But the attention that radio directs solely at the spoken word results in slips that are bizarre and revealing.

It is, of course, better when the presenter’s default register is formal. Thus, it is much funnier to hear Radio 4’s Charlotte Green mess it up than Radio 5 Live’s Anna Foster.

Just as with accidental comedy, it has often been said that deliberate comedy is rarely successful if the people creating it appear to be enjoying themselves. Britain in Bits with Ross Noble (Radio 4, Tuesday) is a serious business: the smiles are never more than wry. And this is the only way to manage a script so sensationally bonkers that it recalls the surrealism of Spike Milligan.

It is not all equally successful, but there is more than enough for the late-night comedy slot; and the image of a tunnel linking Piccadilly Circus to Broadcasting House, in which one might bump into random celebrities going to and from work, is one now branded into my consciousness.

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