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Radio review: A Short History of Sadness, The Conversation, and Happy Birthday Tony Blackburn

03 February 2023

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In A Short History of Sadness (World Service, Saturday), the author Helen Russell introduced listeners to a world of grief

In A Short History of Sadness (World Service, Saturday), the author Helen Russell introduced listeners to a world of grief

IF YOU want to book a great team-building exercise and you’ve exhausted the delights of paint-balling, then why not try rui-katsu? Guaranteed to relax your over-stressed middle managers, rui-katsu is a crying therapy developed in Japan which encourages participants to let the tears flow. The entrepreneur Hiroki Terai says that he has helped hundreds of thousands through this organised catharsis; and, if you pay extra, you can hire a handsome actor to come and wipe the tears away.

In A Short History of Sadness (World Service, Saturday), the author Helen Russell introduced us to a world of grief, from the untranslatable Portuguese concept of “saudada” to the legendary stiff upper lip of colonial Britain. The commodification of crying which her Japanese case-study exposes is not so bizarre in the context of other, age-old rituals of performative grief.

The most touching aspect of this documentary was Ms Russell’s own journey to self-awareness. A self-styled “happiness expert”, she consulted her therapist about why she has made emotion her business. Like all the most reassuringly expensive therapists, his response started with “Why do you think . . . ?” Between them, they worked out that she was herself terrified of being sad; and that sadness should be regarded not as an emotional state in its own right, but as an absence of other forms of emotional stimulation. Not bad advice, especially since we the listeners didn’t have to pay his fee.

As a demonstration of the therapeutic benefit of ritual, one could hardly imagine a more dramatic example than that provided by Dr Senzokuhle Doreen Setume in The Conversation (World Service, Monday). In her native Botswana, the protocol after the death of a twin is for the surviving sibling to lie for a short time in the twin’s coffin. Dr Setume now regrets that, on the death of her identical twin at the age of 37, she did not go through this startling ritual; and, as an academic working in the field of ritual, has accumulated evidence to support the claim that such dramatic public displays can help deal with overpowering grief.

Radio 2 listeners who are experiencing overpowering grief at the departure of Ken Bruce might at least find comfort in the fact that Tony Blackburn is still at it, and last week celebrated his 80th birthday. The Master of Ceremonies at Happy Birthday Tony Blackburn (Radio 2, Friday) was Dermot O’Leary, and, throughout the two hours, the younger man could not evince one snide or sarcastic word from his poptastic idol.

Tributes were phoned in from all the stars, including Cliff Richard (“great guy”), Noel Edmonds (“lovely guy”), Marty Wilde (“what a great, lovely guy”), and, while all the gags were about his age, the voice retains the same full-beam smile that it had back in the days of Radio Caroline. Will we see his like again? If the BBC continues to lose its talent at this rate, I doubt it.

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