Look back in horror

RADIO

SO THE trial of O J Simpson was the trial of the century? In America, on TV, during the last year, maybe. Not over here, on R4, on New Year's Day. The Monday Play brought it all back: the trial of the century was The Nuremberg Trial. Nothing like it had ever been attempted before - four victorious nations assuming the authority of international law and accusing a fifth not only of war crimes but crimes against peace and humanity. Over 315 days, the surviving Nazi leaders - Goering, Hess, von Ribbentrop, Speer, Doenitz, et al - were individually held to account by the best legal brains the Allies could deploy.

Turning the trial into a drama-documentary was also a herculean task, taking producer-directors Martin Jenkins and John Theocaris more than two years. With great skill, they distilled 11 months of complex proceedings into 160 minutes of lucid radio, and still found room for new material. As well as vividly dramatised transcripts of the cross-examinations, we heard commentary and reminiscence from participants such as the British prosecutor Lord Shawcross and the defence lawyer Otto Krantzbuehler. Survivors told of unimaginable cruelties. Narrators broke in with, alternately, statistics of people killed and artworks hoarded. Shocking exhibits were put before our ears: the shrunken head of a Pole, killed for having a German lover, had been used as a paperweight.

The Allies set out to convict the Nazis by documentary evidence of their crimes. That way, they reckoned, the truth about the Third Reich would be irrefutably proved and the German people would never succumb to myths as they had after the First World War. It's hard now to imagine not knowing about the Final Solution, but this reconstruction successfully stripped away hindsight and captured the sense of shock that shook the courtroom as the dreadful evidence came to light for the first time. We heard the defendants being forced to watch crackly but undeniable 8mm film of Buchenwald. In the aghast silence, one of them sobbed. It made demanding listening.

Before the trial, the Nazis were indignant, even righteous. In the dock, protesting ignorance of the camps and claiming that they were only obeying orders, they floundered. Except Goering, played here by Gerard Murphy, exuding palpable defiance. Under cross-examination, he argued back, cleverly. The British prosecutor Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe (Geoffrey Whitehead) kept his cool, but Goering was hard to break. When Maxwell-Fyfe put it to him that four million Jews had died in camps, Goering spat out the chilling, staccato reply: "I knew only of a policy of emigration. Not liquidation. Of the Jews." As if the bad taste in the mouth was all his.

It was a good moment to make and air this programme. Nuremberg has especial resonance this year, as the War Crimes Commission in The Hague begins proceedings against the alleged perpetrators of atrocities in the former Yugoslavia.

Anyone tuning to R3 and hearing the line "It's absolutely super if a chap and his wife can both enjoy it. Simultaneously!" might have thought they'd overshot the frequency. No, this wasn't the Good Sex Guide transported to radio, but an early edition of Cultural Baggage, in which a military type was advocating the therapeutic benefits of a round of gunfire. This new, 20-part series examines, rather in the style of TV programmes like Signs of the Times,the cultural significance of contemporary objects, institutions and ideas. Each subject gets its own 20-minute anthology, composed of gobbets of interviews, books, films, TV, and music. There's not much attempt at synthesis: the predictable meets the whimsical and erudition is interspliced with the banal. You might expect radio to outwit telly at bashing around a concept, rather than depicting the aesthetics of a physical object, but of the five programmes we heard this week - Museum, Guns, Therapy, Sofa and Bible - the clear winner was Sofa.

Sofas reveal more about the people whose curves they yield to than any other piece of furniture. This was said more as proposition than conclusion, but no matter. In EastEnders, the Fowlers sit on their sofa a lot, which makes them socially different from the Butchers. Sofas can be shorthand for sin: in Mansfield Park, Aunt Norris's moral turpitude is established by the way she lounges on a chaise; and Victorian readers of Adam Bede knew that a rotter does his work on an ottoman. In the high street, two Alan Bennett types told us how they had trawled 17 shops for a two-seater that would fit in their bay window and go with their armchairs. Then Vittorio Radice, director of Habitat, prescribed having two vast sofas and explained the paramount importance of chairs not matching. At least I think it was him - contributors aren't introduced, so you have to wait for the credits to roll to work out who said what. This makes for a seamless vox pop of views, but it's frustratingly uninformative. The cast is eclectic - what other programme would pull together William Burroughs, Mary Whitehouse, Iain Banks and Peter Purves? - and recurrent, so perhaps by episode 20 our ears will have attuned to their cadences. Then we'll know what they had to say about celibates, parrots, jeans and rubber.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project