RADIO / A big break all round

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The Independent Culture
THAT BROKEN leg may be a disaster for Gazza, but it was a shot in the arm for Radio 5. As the network rolled into its second week of strenuously cheerful efforts to make news of sport and sport of news, here it was, ready-mixed. On Friday, R5 gave us the Gazza news every half-hour, with earnest updates through the day. The evening saw the launch of Parkinson on Sport, an hour and a half of 'in- depth sports journalism'. The leg was the answer to Parky's prayers: a big break all round.

Scrutiny of recent schedules of Radios 3 and 4 meanwhile reveals some untrumpeted shifts of perspective. The success of Radio 4's stern and stimulating Moral Maze, in which Rabbi Hugo Gryn, Janet Daley and others debate the gristlier moral issues behind the news (so far a Gazza-free zone), seems to have prompted the network to get serious. What If . . . is another panel discussion between articulate professionals, but based on a hypothesis. It opened with a 1967 news recording of Christiaan Barnard, hopeful that the heart he had transplanted from a dead body would 'take' in its new home. It didn't, and the patient later died. But what if he had lived to a ripe old age? 'Death is part of the human condition,' said one physician crisply, scotching any foolish notions of transplanting bits and pieces ad infinitum. But it wasn't as simple as that.

Chaired by Christopher Andrew, a Cambridge history don, the discussion was soon more moral than medical. Successful major-organ transplants would encourage a trade in organs from live donors, said the man from the Bulletin of Medical Ethics. And cracking the DNA-matching problem would mean it was possible to cross- breed humans and primates. That was only supposing . . . but the way these men talked suggested a certainty that someone would do it sooner or later.

'When women claiming husbands' infidelity come to me, I always give 'em a Latin tag,' said one bumptious rotter of a solicitor on Unwritten Rules (R4). 'Hogimus higimus man is polygamous, higimus hogimus woman's monogamous. I just tell 'em to go home and cool down.' You were only surprised he was still around to tell the tale to David Cook, another don, whose montage of opinions from lawyers on their moral dilemmas made a stimulating 40 minutes.

There was the question of who would take on an alleged rapist (the men on the whole would; the women wouldn't). But the one that really put the cat among the pigeons was the oldest poser in the book: if you know a potential client is guilty of murder, and he claims he didn't do it, do you take him on? To a man, to a woman, the lawyers hedged. And they call it an honourable profession.

While Radio 3 could never be called easy listening, I detect a lighter touch these days. For the new, live Rush Hour Concert they've coaxed Richard 'thinking woman's tea cosy' Baker back from Radio 2, in response no doubt to the drivetime challenge from Classic FM. And last week even Choral Evensong (R3) changed its tune, banishing the notion of high Anglicanism as the preserve of the tea-at-the-vicarage set. It came from St George's, Cape Town, with traditional sacred songs such as 'Kabelo yaka ho wena' richly sung by the Choir for Africa. Suddenly your childhood image of God was all wrong. Their God wasn't white.

And Radio 3 has discovered the small hours. Anyone tuning in after 12.30am last week was in for a surprise. That Was . . . was billed mysteriously as 'relaxing, ambient sound': heartbeat one night, rain on a window pane the next. Relaxing? It was riveting: every nerve strained in expectation of the next minute sound. We were by a fireside . . . armchair springs creaked, logs spat, the draught of the chimney moaned. Then I think a cat started to purr - softly at first, then more loudly, like a great rattling dragon. They said listening would be enhanced by the use of stereo headphones. I switched off and hid under the duvet.

Sue Gaisford returns next week.