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Radio review: The Silence and the Scream, The Genius of Accidents, and A Life's Work

03 August 2018


THERE is something peculiarly chilling in the idea of a New Age cult setting up residence in rural Ireland. To borrow a famous strapline, in Donegal no one can hear you scream.

Except that, in the 1970s and ’80s, plenty of people did hear them scream, since the main method by which members of the Atlantis Foundation found contentment was through primal-screaming therapy. Garrett Carr investigated in The Silence and the Scream (Radio 4, Monday of last week).

The Foundation, or “the Screamers”, were led by the reputedly charismatic Jenny James, although, to our modern sensibilities, she came across only as a sexually confident feminist. For her, the way to throw off repression was to shout abuse at fellow cultists and at the abstract tyrannies of childhood.

The greatest tyranny was that of gender, and, in James’s cosmology, men were to be treated like little crustaceans, “scuttling from rock to rock on this barren landscape”. This makes it all the stranger that men were drawn in almost equal numbers to the cult as women.

In the case of Eoife and her par­ents, the philosophy was immensely damaging. Attracted to the Atlantis Foundation as a form of therapy for couples, Eoife’s father, it became clear, was enjoying rather too much the opportunity to hurl insults at his wife, who promptly left. Eoife now teaches mindfulness.

The ability to listen to the energy of the Universe may not just benefit your soul. It was, after all, as a result of such listening that scientists detected sounds that supported the theory of the Big Bang.

Adam Hart told this intriguing story on Wednesday as part of his week-long series The Genius of Accidents (Radio 4), highlighting the moments of serendipity which lead to ground-breaking discoveries. In this case, it began with a couple of radio scientists who were con­fused by the ubiquitous buzz around their signal — it was there even when they cleared their antennae of pigeons; so they consulted some astro-physicists who happened to work down the road.

Sometimes, there are programmes that simply fail to engage. A Life’s Work (Radio 4, Monday of last week) has all the hallmarks of a B-list commissioning idea, relegated to a summer vacation slot. Sensible, if uninspiring as a concept: three representatives of a particular career exchange notes; and, worthy though the material most certainly is — in the first episode we heard from three female police officers about the changing status of women in the force — this conversation never took off.

It doesn’t help, being reminded how well the issues of discrimination in policing have been handled else­where. Jackie Malton, for instance, was the inspiration for the Helen Mirren character in Prime Suspect; and, throughout, I was itching to break open the box set of Life on Mars.

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