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Radio review: Apocalypse How, Beyond Belief, and Heart and Soul

04 December 2020


In Apocalypse How (Radio 4, Monday), Jolyon Jenkins investigated what would happen if a rogue nation detonated a thermo-nuclear device

In Apocalypse How (Radio 4, Monday), Jolyon Jenkins investigated what would happen if a rogue nation detonated a thermo-nuclear device

AFTER months of argument over proportionality and risk, what more efficient way to have the sense knocked into us than a massive electro-magnetic pulse (EMP)? When it comes to existential threats, Covid-19 is a bit player. There are far greater things to worry about. In Apocalypse How (Radio 4, Monday), Jolyon Jenkins is introducing us to the top three.

If it sounds like the stuff of a Tom Clancy novel, that’s because it is. The scenario has been played out in many works of fiction: a rogue nation threatens to detonate a thermo-nuclear device in the upper atmosphere, thus creating a pulse that will fry all power networks and electrical devices, and bring an end to civilisation — or, at the very least, send us back to the Dark Ages, which may not be so bad for the Church.

The pleasing surprise here was the level of technical detail into which Jenkins was prepared to venture as he investigated the claims of EMP advocates. Even more admirable is his patience as his main witness, Dr Peter Pry, relentlessly berates him for ignoring his evidence. It is at least fair to say that the destructive force of an EMP is unproven. Two tests back in the early 1960s by the United States and USSR were inconclusive; and the general view is: why waste a good nuke on a whim?

Had nuclear fission been discovered in the Abrahamic period, one might be tempted to label an EMP event a disaster of biblical proportions. But the Bible provides more useful templates for drama at the other end of the dial, in soap operas that forever play out storylines of sin, redemption, and self-sacrifice. This was the subject for Ernie Rea and his guests in Beyond Belief (Radio 4, Monday of last week), in which all agreed that soaps were not to be sneered at.

The obvious charge here is that we can find value in whatever television shows we love best: Dr Katie Edwards talked admiringly of Coronation Street, while John Saxbee is an EastEnders fan. There was nobody to speak up for the spiritual integrity of Home and Away or Days of our Lives, but our devotion to the rituals of soap-watching creates meanings and narratives from the tritest materials.

The highlight here was hearing June Brown, aka Dot Cotton, explain how she shaped the way in which her character’s faith was expressed so that it matured from “kindergarten Christianity” to a portrayal so credible and sympathetic that, when the character experienced a period of doubt, the producers were bombarded with letters of anguish. One assumes that not all were from believers; and this gave evidence of a seam of faith-by-proxy which drama is in a powerful position to exploit.

A similar sentiment explains the particular impact made by Rukiye Turdush and her story of exile, told in Heart and Soul (World Service, Friday). Part of the 1500-strong Uighur community in Canada, Ms Turdush has been assiduous in maintaining its particular religious and cultural identity — an ambition that we understand intuitively, if imperfectly, to be a good thing.

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