Arts: Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
THE BIRTH of Philippa Archer last week was not an occasion of unmitigated joy. Hundreds of listeners inundated Radio 4's Feedback programme and the Archers unit in Birmingham with irate calls and letters. This was a little surprising as it was a remarkably jolly event, with the parents, Ruth and David, even stopping off for a Big Mac on the way to the hospital. Once in the studio delivery room, there was a bit of obligatory cathartic shouting by the mother at the father, then a few puffs and groans into the microphone, and Pip's your daughter.

Listeners were unmoved by this radio verite: 'Entirely unnecessary,' wrote one. 'Farmers wouldn't behave like that,' said another, 'Next time we have a baby in The Archers, draw a veil over it please.' One lady believed it 'would put young women off having babies,' a second complained, 'It was not a nice episode for my daughter-in-law, who is expecting a baby'. One imagines that if the two minute-long scenes upset her, the real thing might come as a shock. I rang the Archers unit, and they said they had received many favourable letters, including a card sending 'Best regards to David and Ruth. Philippa Rose is such a nice name.' I wondered if the programme had ever inspired such a fuss before? Well, yes, a spokesman said, people did get very worked up when characters split infinitives.

All this hoo-ha got me thinking about some advice I once heard from a radio producer, who maintained that painful things should be toned down for radio, because they are harder to take when you can only hear them. As if pictures prevented the imagination coming up with something worse. I wasn't convinced, but on Wednesday's Today programme there was a graphic account of an Irish girl who had been raped every week by her father. One day on a walk, he kicked her in the eye, blinding her. She was still bleeding after the 27-mile walk to the hospital, where her father told staff she had been mugged. Some things just don't bear hearing.

FOR TWO minutes last week it looked as though the Barbican's Festival of Britten had come up with a revelation at its rare screening of the 1930s film Love from a Stranger, for which Britten wrote the soundtrack score. The auditorium was packed, a Britten expert gave a talk, the lights went down, and the titles ran: Love from a Stranger . . . Music By . . . Hans J Salter. Hah] So Britten used a pseudonym for hack work, murmured sharp-eyed critics, scribbling down the name. Then the film stopped, the lights came up and an embarrassed man came forward to announce that the Barbican had been sent the wrong film. This would none the less be shown, should anyone be interested in the music of, er, Hans J Salter.

A NEW national rock radio station takes to the airwaves on 30 April. Unlike previous competitors to Radio 1, Virgin Radio does not have an eye-patch and a parrot on its shoulder. It is smooth and corporate, aiming at 'intelligent and discerning rock music lovers who take their music seriously', and pledging to replace traditional DJ chatter with 'informative comment'. You don't have to be a lifelong devotee of Simon Bates to find this ominous. Exhaustive market research seems to have established narrow parameters of good taste. 'Virgin has no room for dub reggae and urban dance, but there will always be space for Bob Marley and UB40.' Heavy metal, glam rock and post-punk will also struggle to get a look in. Whatever one's view of individual genres, the joy of pop radio has always come from unexpected juxtapositions. Virgin seems to be in real danger of throwing the baby out with the bath-water.