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Radio review: The Spark, Saturday Live, and Private Passions

31 March 2023


In The Spark (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), Annie Duke argued for greater respect for the art of giving up

In The Spark (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), Annie Duke argued for greater respect for the art of giving up

“SHOULD I stay or should I go?” Thus deliberates Mick Jones in The Clash’s 1981 hit. If he had consulted the decision strategist Annie Duke, the answer would have been obvious. As he says himself, “If I go there will be trouble; and if I stay it will be double.” On a cost-benefit analysis, the rational thing to do is to go.

In relationships, in jobs, in geo-politics, it is often better to quit. That is Ms Duke’s message, as delivered on The Spark (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week). A former professional poker player, Ms Duke is used to making expensive decisions, and has learned that clever people fold more often than raise. For the rest of us, the instinct is to double-down on a poor judgement: we have put in so much time and effort trying to make it work, it would be such a waste to let all that go. Too bad, Ms Duke says: that time and effort is already wasted. Suck it up and move on.

Of course, life doesn’t generally yield to such clear-cut rationality. What Ms Duke is arguing for is a greater respect for the art of giving up: a finer balance in our thinking between quit and grit. We regard as heroes those who died attempting the summit of Everest, but not those who — 300 yards from the summit — sensibly turned back and survived. Grand failure impresses us more than tactical withdrawal.

One institution that can never seem to end a relationship properly is the BBC. In the case of the BBC Singers, they were going to go (News, 10 March), and now they are staying. As for the Revd Richard Coles, he certainly has left Saturday Live (Radio 4, Saturdays), but, even with this most amenable of celebrities, there is more than a whiff of bad odour about his departure. “A gentler process would have been nice,” is what he said — at least in public.

The reason given is innocent enough: the production is moving to Cardiff, and Fr Coles does not wish to pursue a long-distance affair. But there are ways of doing these things that are not so brutal. One thinks of Simon Mayo and the embarrassment of the cancellation of his swipe card before he had even had the chance to leave the building. The BBC is hopeless at break-ups; and that only serves the cause of those longing for the break-up of the BBC.

There are few actors who can boast on their CV both Jesus and the devil. Robert Powell — the guest in last week’s Private Passions (Radio 3, Sunday) — is one. We all know the Zeffirelli TV series Jesus of Nazareth; but Mr Powell also excelled as the Antichrist in Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. And it was the former role that he almost passed on. When you are playing the Son of God, there is no possibility of excelling: “The most you’re ever going to do is get away with it.” In the absence of any useful stage directions in the Gospels, Mr Powell opted to stare unblinkingly into the camera.

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