Arts: THE WEEK IN RADIO

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The Independent Culture
ONE OF the minor irritations that will one day drive me to live in Tunbridge Wells, a place where they understand disgust, is the line from the Franz Ferdinand song "The Dark of the Matinee" that goes: "So I'm on BBC2 now, telling Terry Wogan how I made it..." Because, obviously, Terry Wogan was always on BBC1, if we're talking about his long-defunct chat show, and if we're talking about his radio career, it's called Radio 2 and he doesn't do celebrity interviews anyway. I mean, it's not as if any of this is classified information.

Still, the line's main point is clear: Wogan is being used as an emblem of hackneyed, meaningless chitchat. This is worth thinking about, since Wake Up to Wogan (7.30am, Monday to Friday, Radio 2) was last week anointed the nation's favourite breakfast show, with eight million listeners a week - one in seven of the population - and rising at a rate of about 30,000 every week. In the face of this news, and having spent several hours listening to Wogan's merry blathering, I have to admit to a sense of impotence. It is surely part of my job to say what is lovable or loathsome about him; but I can't work up any feeling at all, beyond a vague sense that there might be something quite nice on Radio 3 right now.

So, what is the secret of his success? Part of it, to be fair, is that he is sometimes ingenious and witty, and has a shrewd sense of his place in the scheme of things. Last Wednesday morning, apropos of something I've forgotten, he remarked: "I'm a lonely head on a shelf in Madame Tussaud's, beside Kevin Keegan's and William Hague's. They melted me body down to make Ant and Dec." That is very neat - the way self-depreciation is coupled with a gently expressed belittlement of a new generation of celebs. But such moments are very rare, drowned out by his funny accents, the cheery banter and his listeners' amusing letters. These letters conjure up a lost, Terry and June world, one in which husbands spend their afternoons pottering in sheds and nights sleeping in disgrace on the sofa.

And then there is the music. The Traveling Wilburys! Charlie Dore! Billy Joel! ("Good on yourself, sir," Wogan chirps up, "`Uptown Girl' - up-tempo, uptown lady.") Perhaps the secret is that Wogan harks back to easier, or at least more certain, times: hearing him, you could drift into dreaming that most of the last 20 years never happened.

With Ray Gosling, I have the opposite problem: I can work up far more feeling about his programmes - for and against, though for dominates - than I can fully account for. Sheer eccentricity, of diction and action, does come into it. In yesterday's edition of Gosling in Retail (11am, Monday, Radio 4) - the title is anomalous, since this series is all about manufacturing businesses - he was in The Potteries, visiting the last remaining traditional pottery. Inspecting its range of commodes, he came across one style called a "Welsh hat" - because, he said, that's what they look like when you tip them up and put them on your head: for the benefit of onlookers, he demonstrated.

But it isn't only dottiness. Using the excuse that one of the patterns used in this factory is called "Calico", he launched, unaccountably, into Edward Lear's "Calico Pie": "Calico Pie, the little birds fly..." At the end, he reprised the chorus: "They never came back! They never came back! They never came back to me!"

At which point, it became clear that, for Gosling, this was a lament for a dying industry: what will never come back is pride in craft, a mingling of the personal and the professional. At his best, Gosling reaches poetry.

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