Echoes of the Moor's last sigh

the week in radio
There I was, just before dawn, steaming towards Sainsbury's in a fevered attempt to beat the world to supplies of dog food and detergent before everything becomes intolerably festive.

The car radio was on the blink, however you twiddled, and all it was picking up was an arcane local dialect of Finnish and the stock prices from Co Cork.

Then - ah, bliss - I recognised the measured and reassuring voice of the World Service, telling me I'd sadly just missed Rabbi Julia Neuberger's words of seasonal good cheer. But, sweeping triumphantly into a strategically perfect space, I caught the start of a programme I'd never deliberately sought. By the time it ended, the car-park was almost full.

It was Christopher Lee in the hot seat. You might have thought he had departed this life, but that's Vincent Price. Lee is undead, vigorous, 78 years old and looking for freebies. He was fielding calls from all across the known universe and boy could he field. He can also, apparently, golf. An innocent caller from Melbourne wanted to talk about films but Lee wanted to talk golf courses, shamelessly seeking an invitation Down Under. Such is the power of the World Service that later on he got one, but he held out for someone to offer him the flight, too.

Still, an actor's life ain't all mince pies and brandy butter and you have to grasp your opportunities. The latest to drift towards the Pride of the House of Hammer was a chance to play Jinnah, the founder of the State of Pakistan and he grasped it. To pay tribute to this extraordinary man in a manner which he would have approved was, Lee said, the biggest challenge he had ever faced. He spoke of visiting Jinnah's mausoleum and of standing in front of the sarcophagus and asking guidance (creepy or what). If Lee is to be believed, the injustice done to Jinnah by Attenborough's film about Gandhi will at last be righted.

So he plugged the film, then. And he plugged the record. Huh? Record? Yes, he's recorded that growly hymn to the gypsy bass cowboy, "Wandering Star": "and, unlike Lee Marvin, I actually sing it". And he did, kind of. But who'd want to buy it beats me. Whatever next. Actually, you know the answer: it'll be "My Way". And all over the world, from Timbuktu to the back of beyond, people will hack through the undergrowth to a phone and encourage him to sing it. That's the World Service for you.

Now here is a domestic service. If you are suffering from a seasonal bout of consumer despair, or if you are one of those people who grumble that Radio 3 is becoming indistinguishable from Classic FM, do have a listen to Sound Stories. It goes out every weekday morning at 11 and it's often very good - particularly when presented by Peggy Reynolds or, as this week, Donald Macleod. The idea is that the music played is connected with a theme, currently Castles and Palaces. On Thursday, Macleod told the story of the Alhambra, combining information with enchantment.

He began with Boabdil, the last Emir of Andalusia, who handed over his gorgeous palace in Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and departed, weeping - a hill nearby is still known as the Moor's Last Sigh. And the rest of the hour was a celebration of its cool, elaborate beauty, in the music of Rodrigo, Albeniz and Manuel de Falla and in the words of Laurie Lee and Washington Irving. Irving stayed there for a few months during the last century and discovered urchins living in one of the towers and playing a cruel and beautiful game. They would fish for swallows using hooks baited with flies "thus inventing the art of angling in the sky".

By the end, so seductive a sound-montage had Macleod created that it was a wrench to leave that most lovely of palaces, those scented gardens where the burbling and plashing of cool water induces a dreamy, sun-soaked enjoyment of all that is most romantic and mysterious about Andalusia. No wonder we speak of castles in Spain as the epitome of the desirable but unattainable - especially when we are struggling on in the grip of a northern December.

Armando Ianucci discussed his Private Passions (R3) with Michael Berkeley this week. He spoke of borrowing recordings of classical music from the Hillhead library as a child, to the disgusted incomprehension of his peers. He chose a good deal of 20th-century music - but then, as he remarked, pretty soon 20th-century music will seem very old hat. He was modest and hesitant and much, much nicer than you'd imagine.

Considering what a wonderfully witty writer he is, it was perhaps surprising that the only really funny piece he chose was the PDQ Bach madrigal parody (which is very funny). His heart was with the amazingly lyrical, elegiac Berg Adagio, written in memory of a child: in its moving simplicity, this was a revelation to me. In the silence after it finished, Michael Berkeley identified its appeal, in his usual, diffident way. "One does feel," he suggested, "that one is eavesdropping on something too private to bear." Very private, and very passionate.

Armando Ianucci's choice of music:

Tippett: "How can I cherish my man" and "Steal away", A Child of Our Time.

John Adams: Third movement, Wild Night.

Neilsen: First movement, Fifth Symphony.

PDQ Bach: Madrigal, "My bonnie lass she smelleth".

JS Bach: Adagio, Sonata No 1 in G minor.

Berg: Adagio, Violin Concerto.


Was Blair right to back Clinton? Phone now to vote. Your call will cost less than 10 pence. Scott Chisholm


Unless you're going to kill hundreds of thousands of people, you're not going to destroy Saddam's "apparatus".

George Galloway MP ( Lab)

Today (R4)

Don't listen to me. Read Robert Fisk, the doyen of Middle East reporters. Every day he tells us the truth about Iraq in the Independent.

George Galloway

Nicky Campbell (R5)

The Kuwaitis are a very pleasant, reserved people. Privately, they want to see the back of Saddam one way or another. As for Ramadan, it's a moveable feast you know - it may not happen until next week.

Don Mackay

Lorraine Kelly (Talk)

We're conscious of the religious significance of this event and we're sensitive to that. We should not necessarily believe whatever evidence is presented by the Iraqi regime.

George Robertson

Secretary of State for Defence

News (R4)

It isn't a very cheerful conversation at all. It's actually terrifying.

Lorraine Kelly (Talk)

When you threaten a tyranny you strengthen the tyrant. To quote Camus: "The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants."


Nicky Campbell (R5)

Why does Tony Blair do everything Clinton tells him?

Tony Benn

Yesterday (R4)

The safest place you could be in the case of chemical attack, is in bed with the covers over your head and the windows shut.

Wendy Barnley

author of 'The Plague-Makers'

Lorraine Kelly (Talk)

You know, Lorraine, peace is always won at a price. You tell me what else we could have done. Dee

Lorraine Kelly (Talk)

Do you support the bombing? Vote now. Your call will cost no more than 10 pence.

Nicky Campbell