RADIO / Ambitious aggro fails to floor Mellor

JOHN HUMPHRYS has a new series, On the Ropes (R4), in which he talks to public figures who have fallen from grace. I took the title to refer to the subjects' experiences before they had reached the studio. But after the pummelling Humphrys gave David Mellor in the first programme, I am not so sure.

Interviewers should be able to pack a punch, but Humphrys has a severe, sardonic streak. It may serve a purpose in the cut-and- thrust of the Today programme, but it's counter-productive over longer stretches.

Humphrys's first aim seemed to be to get the former minister to admit that he was ambitious. Mellor wouldn't do so, arguing his case with torrents of articulacy. You could believe him or not - but what you couldn't dispute was the thoroughness of his self-analysis. It wasn't good enough for Humphrys - Mellor hadn't said what he wanted him to, and he pursued the point long after it was clear that it would not be conceded.

Interviewees as skilled as David Mellor need subtler handling if they are to be drawn out. This was more naturally the territory of Anthony Clare or Sue Lawley than Humphrys, whose provocative, journalistic approach - the need to put the subject on the spot - made for unsatisfactory listening. By the end we knew little more about Mellor than we did already.

For the self-revelation that radio does so well, there has been a remarkable voice to listen to this past fortnight - that of Brian Keenan, in A Book at Bedtime (R4). His account of life - if you could call it that - as a Beirut hostage caressed the ear and stole the heart.

When it came out last autumn, An Evil Cradling (or An Anvil Cradling as one Radio 4 announcer called it) astonished the critics with its fluency, deftness, and power to express the inexpressible. Hearing this most acutely personal of stories told by the author himself has given it another dimension altogether.

Keenan's diction is soft, his delivery tender and lilting: a lovely contrast with the story he had to tell. But there was no trace of a 'performance'. In their prison cell, Keenan may, as he put it, have 'laid on my Irishness thick and creamy' for John McCarthy's benefit, but the listener wasn't being manipulated - just gripped by this glimpse of the universe that can be contained within a man's mind.

Keenan added a couple of accents - a guttural harshness for his guards, exaggerated English public school for McCarthy - but these were merely touching in their amateurishness. Of many memorable scenes, the passage describing his first meeting with McCarthy - the sports-jacketed journalist, sitting on the cell floor, uncertainly removing his blindfold as a bemused Keenan peers down at him - stood out as a piece of sustained tension.

Keenan's more Proustian reflections worked just as well in a medium made for turning thoughts into pictures. He peels an egg, pondering the word 'albumen'. He is given an orange, the first fruit he has seen for months, and wants not to eat it, just to touch it. And then there were the moments of pure Samuel Beckett, as Keenan and McCarthy - in an extraordinary echo of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot - stood in the darkness absurdly trying to out-hurl insults at each other.

This was a memorable 10 nights of radio. One was left marvelling at the man, and wondering what else could be found for him to write and talk about. Both voice and sensibility are too good to vanish into thin airwaves.

The person I felt sorriest for last week (not including Brian Keenan) was Gill Pyrah, presenter of Tuesday's Kaleidoscope (R4) in which it fell to her to interview Eddi Reader, former lead singer with Fairground Attraction, and a couple of fellow musicians. This was a throwback to the much-parodied encounter you used to get on The Old Grey Whistle Test on BBC2. Interviewer asks sensible question, interviewee giggles. Interviewer asks another sensible question, interviewee says nothing. Interviewer asks third sensible question, and interviewee and friends all start blathering incoherently.

It comes as a surprise when a pop singer turns out to be as articulate as the stereotypical footballer. And all the more so when they turn up on Kaleidoscope. The programme may be much more relaxed and middle-brow than it was, and there's nothing wrong with that. But this was taking things too far. Ms Reader should stick to singing. Perhaps the problem was that someone had already told her that.

Radio men who upped and left the homestead and discovered the big city of television are returning to their roots, or at least are visiting again. First Terry Wogan, now Desmond Lynam.

To be both smooth and nice is a rare combination, but this is Lynam's great gift, and it's there to enjoy again in a new series of They Think It's All Over (R5), the sports quiz whose spirit is closer to Have I Got News For You than A Question of Sport. The sporting guests - in this case Steve Davis and Roger Black - seem to thrive on the format, too. It must be such a bore to be taken seriously all the time, but with Lynam there's no chance of that.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all