A scene too horrible ever to be forgotten

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The Independent Culture
SOME of this could disturb you, said the chap on The World This Weekend (R4). He meant you, sitting down to Sunday lunch last week; you, rejoicing in spring sunshine and wondering whether to cut the grass; me, thinking quick, I'll turn it off, I can't face hearing about Belsen - not now, not today, not even 50 years late.

But I listened, to hear Ben Bradshaw introducing an old man who had been with the British troops as they entered the camp. Colonel Bob Daniels, now 93, spoke for the first time about the worst day of his life. He was given two hours to investigate the place. Nothing could have prepared him for what he found. I can't even type the things he said, but I'm glad he said them, glad to have heard them. When the truth is becoming so flexible, it seemed important to pay attention. At the time, said Bradshaw, the first films of the camp were shown to appalled British audiences in the Movietone News: people stumbled, vomiting, from cinemas as the announcer's voice declared, unnecessarily, that it would be "wise if all of us retain a lasting memory of the horror of this place".

Bob Daniels has a lot in common with Timothy Langton, a character in Rukulibam (World Service). This short, powerful play was about two people meeting by chance on a train in 1995 Prague: Langton, who at 19 had been a soldier in the liberating army, and Milina Vitova, who had been interned in three of the most notorious camps. Helen Kluger, the playwright, is the daughter of a survivor whose own experiences were the bedrock of the play. Hana-Maria Pravda, who played Milina, is herself a survivor; her name means truth, despite the ironies attached to it. These, too, were people worth listening to.

And what they said was that we must, certainly, remember that people can be hideously cruel, but also that recovery, though terribly difficult, is possible if we help each other. Milina had been desperately ill with typhus in April 1945, crawling to hide under a heap of corpses. A young British soldier had discovered and rescued her, and she had eventually become a wise, humorous, generous woman. Gently coaxing Langton's story from him, she realised that he might have been that very soldier. Traumatised and virtually silenced by his experience, he was travelling to a survivors' reunion in the hope, perhaps, of tackling it at last. "I do get upset talking about it," he said, "so it's best not to." By the end, like Col Daniels, he didn't really mean that.

The World Service is a jewel-case of excellence, underrated at home, where its programmes are squashed into a tiny corner of any listings page, but right- ly treasured abroad. Another small, polished gem was Telltale Tunes (WS), in which Thomasin Magor, a young Kenyan photographer, talked about what she had learnt from the Samburu tribespeople who had befriended her. Their spirituality and acceptance had helped her endure a month of lying in darkness in hospital after she lost the sight of one eye.

Listening to Kathy Mattea's song "Walk the way the wind blows" had also helped and, hearing it, you could understand why. Music is uniquely therapeutic. All through this Holy Week, Passion Carols (R3) have been reminding us of the importance of the season to our Tudor ancestors, whose domestic devotional music the carols were. The Hilliard Ensemble gave a flawless performance of these early, unaccompanied polyphonic songs, whose solemn, meditative words, stately pace and wincing, near-discordant harmonies were, curiously, intensely moving - as remote and yet as intimate as the contemporary poems accompanying them.

From the sublime to Ambridge. All addicts were this week envying the team assembled to face Brian, Jill and Eddie in The Archers Pro-Am Quiz (R4), a ludicrously enjoyable parade of arcane knowledge about the doings of these fictional characters, who are infinitely more familiar than our own neighbours. Of course anybody who remembers the seductive Deirdre Underwood could have told them Shula's middle name or recognised Aunt Laura's antipodean tones. It all seemed far too easy until one of the amateurs astounded me by knowing, immediately, which Mrs Archer had four legs. Elaine Bones has been listening since before she was born, and her long apprenticeship paid off. It was Eddie's long-dead ferret. Do you remember it? It was a jill.

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