Arts: The Week In Radio

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The Independent Culture
"IT'S STARTED already, the chaos," said Sue MacGregor Betjemanesquely, after misplacing the weatherman on Saturday morning's Today (Radio 4) and, indeed, so it proved this week. The Dante's Inferno variety appeared on Crossing Continents (Radio 4, Thursday), which featured the shipbreakers of the world's largest scrapyard, at Alang in Gujarat, who beach over half the world's decommissioned vessels and then dissect them, by hand, down to rusty jetsam. The work is lucrative and suicidally dangerous, in a way that the Reith lecturer Anthony Giddens, speaking on "Risk" this week in Hong Kong, would no doubt have described as "rather inadvisable". Workers are regularly killed by falling steel plates, and the only safety- net is the five-bed Red Cross hospital nearby.

From money-spinning old hulks to the Rolling Stones. From Station to Stadium: the Rolling Stones on the Road (Radio 2, Saturday) was an extremely leisurely ramble by the four still standing 220-year-olds along their journey from pasty-faced little oiks in 1964 to the desiccated samurai/ lovable cabbie status they occupy today. "We'd only play, like, four numbers and that would be it... not very good for our creativity," mused Mick Jagger pathetically. Keith Richards drolly described guiding the Chief Constable of Chester in full regalia over the rooftops, on his labyrinthine municipal escape route, at some point in the Sixties.

Between sublime guitar riffs, the three senior Stones and Young Ronnie Wood trundled along Memory Lane in a metaphorical limo. The boys fondly admitted almost no recollection of the vast Hyde Park concert of 1969; they were, appropriately, so stoned that Charlie Watts, from what even now sounded like a very reclined position, recalled only "the butterflies"... "and my wife being hit on the back of the head by a sandwich".

Keith conceded that these days, their tours "are an eternal quest to turn a football stadium into the Station Hotel, Richmond". Radio 2 ironically illustrated this by playing a track from the famously intimate El Mocambo Club concert of 1976. Narrated by the incongruously pukka-sounding Paul Jones, himself a contender for Jagger's place in the very early days, this was all admirably witty and self-deprecating.

In contrast, over on the grandiosely named Broadcasting House (Radio 4, Sunday), Eddie Mair had Paul Carberry dragged out of bed at first light to describe just how it felt to be the Grand National winner the morning after the night before. It is said that Keith Richards once went without any sleep for a fortnight; here the luckless jockey dozed fitfully against the microphone while Mair, possibly as revenge for bad bets, burbled inane questions at him before finally letting him go.

At least Carberry was spared a grilling by John "Mind Your Ankles" Humphrys. What is happening to this broadcaster? Some radio mandarins have got his cage permanently rattled; I recall him decorously reading the television news in 1982, at about the time I went to see the Stones' (supposedly) farewell concerts. Now, rather like a prize Airedale with distemper, he is, as they say at the Kennel Club, "temperamental".

Interviewees take their seat only to find that Humphrys has figuratively plucked it away from under them and is already in breezy mid-tirade, leaving them hopping on the back foot through the ensuing damage limitation. Charlie Watts wouldn't put up with that. As he once said, 35 years with the band translates as five years playing and 30 years sitting around. Watch out Humphers, here comes that sandwich again. Fetch!

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