Arts: The Week In Radio

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The Independent Culture
"OOH!" SAID Auntie Hilda, rummaging in her handbag and handing round the mint imperials, "I'd forgotten about Sing Something Simple. We always have the telly on at home these days."(BBC Radio 2 Sunday 4.30pm). A million people a week haven't forgotten it, and The Cliff Adams Singers, conducted by Cliff Adams, have notched up four decades together this year.

So before 1999 is out and the networks go bonkers on nostalgia, let's honour the man who has always evoked an age of tiled fireplaces, grey woollen knee socks, and tartan rugs in the back of the Wolsey, with his "non-stop collection of songs old and new".

By old, he means the Seventies - the 1870's. ("My Grandfather's Clock"). As for new, he hopes you'll be "listening and joining in with the songs you know and love so well," including his versions of such recent hit parade smashes as "Blackberry Way", "Light My Fire" and the Byrds' LSD anthem "Mr Tambourine Man".

With the same opening words, the same format and frontman, the same accompanist (Jack Emblow on accordion), and the same producer since 1959, here's a show that's totally sentimental, charmingly cheerful and relentlessly cosy. The theme tune is so automatically nostalgic that it always induces in me a sense of rising anxiety that I haven't done my homework. I'm 41.

But as our host takes care to point out throughout half an hour of back- to-back ballads, this is a stress-free zone.

The idea is to relax, relax, relax, and calm down with Cliff every Sunday before facing the modern world again. Don't try it if you're having a run-out, though. You could find yourself, as I did, nudging a dizzying 30 in the fast lane of the M1.

Meanwhile, you won't find Cliff (76) putting his feet up. He's an extremely enterprising composer, with unforgettable melodies such as "For Mash Get Smash" to his credit. And who can forget the sultry temptress lobbing her cleavage at the camera to the jingle "Fry's Turkish Delight"? That's one of Cliff's too. If souped-down versions of the rock classics "We are the Champions", "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Delilah" on the piano accordion are more your bag, then you'll be rushing out to buy his new CD, which he promotes mainly as an opportunity to "see what we all look like".

Unable to wait, I contacted Cliff, who was enjoying a nice soak in the bath (presumably to get down to speed for the next show), and he kindly sent me a copy of "A Sentimental Journey", his fifth album, complete with team photo. The line-up comprises 18 men and five women, 10 pairs of glasses, four beards and some gorgeous evening gowns. The lack of nice knitwear is a crushing disappointment, and frankly some of them look a bit young.

"The personnel's changed," says Cliff, "but you can listen to the recordings that we made 25 years ago and the noise is still the same." This Cliff may never have that all-important Christmas No 1, but he does hold a very special record for the longest-running non-stop music show on the radio in the world. Ever. He's never missed a week in 40 years and modestly attributes the show's success to the fact that it "pleases the majority and offends nobody".

Which is something to bear in mind when listening to the series that currently precedes it: Stars in My Eyes, with Max Bygraves (4pm Sunday BBC Radio 2). In his own words: "It's quite a simple format. I talk about artists and performers well-known to the public who I've known personally, and would like to tell a story about".

He also flatters them with his own compositions. He told us last week of his fleeting discomfort on a showbiz trip to South Africa in the Seventies over what he still calls the "colour question".

"I was approached by a tall blonde with a microphone. You had to guard what you said in interviews. Any little thing would make a headline, and then it would get back to England and suddenly you'd find yourself defending what you'd said."

Actually, she'd come not to seek his views on apartheid but to tell him that Bing Crosby had just died. What a relief.

There was the inevitable celebrity golf saga, a tale about walking James Stewart's dog, and a rapturous appraisal of Lena Horne's figure, with a reference to her "mixed marriage". He also gave us the following insight into Max Miller's popularity: "He was a handsome man. The women adored him. If the women like you, half the audience has been won over." At least he's mathematically correct.

This week virgins, the wife, the mother-in-law and council workers got a passing mention. He also revealed that he once spotted Joyce Grenfell in the boarding house where he was staying. Not so long ago, I had the good fortune to spot Tom Jones getting on a plane. Linda Nolan once queued in front of me at a cashpoint. And then there was that marvellous occasion on which Alvin Stardust let me share his shopping trolley.

Do I get a series?