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Radio review: Moral Maze, In Our Time, BBC2 Breakfast Show, and the Zoe Ball Podcast

22 February 2019


Michael Buerk, the presenter of The Moral Maze (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week), where an expected dispute never materialised

Michael Buerk, the presenter of The Moral Maze (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week), where an expected dispute never materialised

THE most insightful religious discussion of the week came in an entirely unexpected context. The Moral Maze (Radio 4, Wednesday) does do religion from time to time, but, last week, it was supposed to be talking about the “decolonisation” of the curriculum: namely, the replacement of the humanities as defined by dead white males in favour of black, gender, and queer studies — all, apparently, at the behest of a billowing storm of snowflakes who are never happier than when they are no-platforming some poor academic has-been.

But of the intended scrap there was nothing to see, not least because nobody really believes that the situation is as bad as all that. Professor Kehinde Andrews invited his inquisitors to bring it on — but none of them bothered. So it was left to the historian Tim Stanley and Fr Phil Sumner to talk about liturgy, Catholic universalism, and truth; and, later, for Canon Giles Fraser and Tom Holland to discuss the subversive nature of Christian history. Fast-forward over the first 20 minutes, and the programme actually becomes quite good.

In Our Time (Radio 4, Thursdays) shares with The Moral Maze the intention of presenting complex subjects and arguments to the public through the mediation of intelligent lay people, although the style of questioning is notionally different.

Melvyn Bragg is consistently impressive in the way in which he manages to keep up with his experts as they enthuse about quarks, muons, and other scientific exotica; so last week’s topic — depictions in art of the murder of Holofernes by Judith — ought to have been a breeze. But his inability to grasp for some time that the story was not just biblically but also historically apocryphal, suggested some inattention. Loyal listeners such as I am would forgive him a hundred and more such lapses, but one felt some sympathy with his bemused guests.

If you can bear the blood and gore, the pictures under discussion are well worth a look for their symbolic manipulation of subject and their sheer visceral energy — even if, as one of our art historians pointed out, Caravaggio’s Judith is not wielding her sword at quite the right angle to sever her victim’s head completely.

Over on Radio 2, the only real radio story of importance is unfolding: how Zoe Ball is managing on the Breakfast Show, now that Chris Evans is grazing in pastures new. Surely only the adamantine heart can resist the charms of Ball; and, on the evidence of the Zoe Ball Podcast (Radio 2 download, every Friday) which distils the best bits of the week, this is a package that is going to have to rely heavily on that charm, because there is not much content to rely on.

If the best of the week includes a lengthy cross-plug for BBC Comic Relief, some squawky saxophone, and a feature on how men and women take off their jumpers, then bring back Judith with her sword and let her do her worst.

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