SOCIAL distancing would normally be considered death to the chat show, which is why a guest such as Sir Bob Geldof is worth his weight in lavatory paper. One suspects that Sir Bob has done more than just kiss the Blarney Stone, and, on Saturday Live (Radio 4, Saturday), he demonstrated why he is a presenter’s dream guest: a ranconteur whom you could safely leave in an empty studio answering your last question while you pop out for a cup of tea.
Speaking “down the line” seemed not to diminish his eloquence a jot. There will be hard-up freelancers out there listening with a mix of admiration and foreboding at the stories of jobs that he undertook as a wannabe musician: navvy, slaughterman, pea-canner. If you have ever wondered what is meant by the sign “Heavy Plant Crossing”, then imagine Geldof at the wheel of a massive truck — a gig that took him from the M23-M25 interchange to the Arctic Circle.
There is a book, of course: an anthology of song lyrics from his days with the Boomtown Rats; and, in his perorations, it was not always clear where the extempore ended and the quotation began. The abattoir where he worked was “a slaughterhouse of human dreams” — a line that might easily be an out take from “Rat Trap”. And then there was his vivid description of the Labour Exchange, which inspired the band’s first chart single, “Lookin’ after No. 1”.
Sir Bob’s is only one vocal timbre by which we might be lulled and charmed. The chaplain to the train operator Southeastern, Dylis George, operates in a low, warm register, richly infused with the tones of her Sierra Leonean upbringing. In Faith on the Move (Radio 4, Friday), we heard how she brings this voice and her presence to bear on some of the traumas that regularly affect those working on the rail network. The account given here by a driver, of a suicide that he witnessed while driving a high-speed train, gives a harrowing sense of what such trauma entails.
There is no church, but as John Roe, chaplain to South Western Railway declared, “Paddington Station is my cathedral.” And, if much of the work is generally grim, it is grim in multifarious ways: counselling bystanders after the London Bridge terrorist attack, and helping out the triage teams after the Manchester Arena attack, the arena being close by Manchester Victoria Station. It is fair to say that this is not a job for the faint-hearted.
Returning to the theme of commanding voices, it was that of Christopher Eccleston which saw us through Drama on 3: Schreber (Radio 3, Sunday). This adaptation of a screenplay by Anthony Burgess, dating from 1975 and originally intended as a vehicle for Burt Lancaster, never quite rose to the expectations encouraged by the cast list and production team. The decline into mental illness of an eminent German Supreme Court judge never delivered the “evolution” of insanity promised by the Burgess script. Rather, we were given scene upon scene, ably delivered by Eccleston and the cast, but with no driving narrative energy — which might explain why it never made it to the big screen.