Health warning: boring old gits in a moral maze
Sunday 23 April 1995
Ever the old newshound, Derek Jameson pottered off towards the Harbour Lights (R4) to question the crowd. He found an extraordinary, excitable camaraderie: neighbours actually talking to each other, nipping out to the battle-lines for a daily fix of what they like to call the Dunkirk spirit. He found booming shops, pubs and cafs, and he found Bernard. Bernard has been alone and friendless in Brighton for 24 years but suddenly things have changed. He has a hundred new friends and he has a cause. He is the founder (and possibly, the only member) of BOGALE, Boring Old Gits Against Live Exports.
On the face of it, you'd think Bernard had little in common with Carla Lane who left the picket lines sighing tetchily "Well, I can't be everywhere", to make a fleeting, impassioned and incoherent appearance on The Moral Maze (R4), but she certainly shares his burning zeal to save calves. The moral panellists brought complexity to what is in fact quite a simple issue, viz: 1) is it right to kill animals? 2) if so, should it be done humanely? Their fierce disagreements contrast starkly with Jameson's attitude to the crusaders. He is genial, unreconstructed and a little baffled: "You've got a beard, Bernard", he observed, pleasantly, "Are you a loony Trot?"
This is just the kind of lang-uage he is going to have to eschew. Radio 4 began an important initiative on Tuesday called "States of Mind" featuring large helpings of Dr Anthony Clare. During All in the Mind, lurid tabloid language used to describe the mentally ill was exposed in all its fraudulence. Broadmoor gets a terrible press, yet it is, after all, a hospital where patients are treated and often restored to health. Listening to a montage of screaming headlines, one could imagine it to be a prison whose dangerous inmates should be confined to cells. The "mad axe murderer" syndrome perpetuates an atmosphere of ignorance and fear wherein most news stories routinely and unjustifiably link mental illness with violent crime.
It became abundantly clear in this and subsequent broadcasts that we should be more careful with our vocabulary, and that we know astonishingly little about the causes and treatment of human distress. Michael Palin spoke to five past or current patients who expressed great sadness that such is the stigma attached to their condition that few dare admit to it. Yet they need to "come out". Their unanimous appeal for compassion and companionship was the title of his instructive programme: Don't Fence Me In.
Late that night Dr Anthony Clare's learned professionals failed to answer the question What is Madness? but the fastidious dissension of the experts made an eloquent case for enlightenment. A curious fact emerged: in a controlled study, some patients were treated with drugs while others received social counselling - and both showed equal improvement. Edna Conlan, who had herself suffered severe depression, was not surprised: her contention was that help comes primarily from acknowledging the existence of the problem.
The drama department joined in, shining a bright spotlight on The Prisoner of Papa Stour (WS & R4). This was the true story, subtly told, of a gentle 19th- century schizophrenic exiled to the care of remote Scottish islanders, who was "rescued" by missionaries but left ultimately bewildered and saddened by being isolated from affection. It's far too simple to say, with the Beatles, that all you need is love, but more sensitivity would be a start.
Paul McCartney and Friends put on an Easter Monday concert on Classic FM, to premire McCartney's new piano work, A Leaf, beautifully played by Anya Alexeyev. Though short, it is a strong piece, accessible yet complex, whose filmic melody and syncopated rhythms at first suggested Gershwin and Bernstein. Later, variations on the tune of Au Clair de la Lune were decorated with rapid arpeggios, before the initial theme returned. I'd like to hear it again - and probably will. It was followed by Willard White's enormous voice singing a comically slight ditty beginning "Let's have a drink while we think what to do". Still, not a bad idea for a wet bank holiday.
Radio 1 set out to discover whether or not heaven exists with Simon Mayo's Big Holy Easter. It was, of course, a chance to play all the corny songs they could find that mentioned heaven, but Mayo is an interesting man. There is a strong, intelligent irony in him, distancing him from the drivel he sometimes finds himself saying, and he allowed the Venerable Bede and Samuel Beckett air-time on his show. He interviewed a vicar called, delightfully, Carol Joy, an American physicist and a doctor who spoke about near-death experiences, and these were careful, thoughtful conversations. The only really bad moments came when Catherine Zeta Jones talked to the Bishop of Guildford, for "The Actress and the Bishop". She was frightful - gushy, vague, sentimental and cloyingly flirtatious, and he was not much better. I preferred the clever spoof-advert, which had an Anglican bishop in the back of a London taxi, awkwardly wriggling into her Levi's.
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