RADIO / A low blow for women

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IF YOU wanted the perfect man but could only afford 10 words in a lonely hearts column, what words would you choose? Jo Brand was asked this and she was all ready with her answer. 'No such thing as a perfect man,' she said, pretending to concentrate. 'Have you got a big - oh no, that's 11.' This is a sample from Women's Troubles (R4), a new panel game that does for the reputation of witty women what Henry Ford did for trotting ponies. There were worse questions: if you were Milly Molly Mandy all alone with Billy Blunt who invited you to touch his red-hot anvil, what would you do? Only a kind of paralysed incredulity stopped me from hurling the radio into the sink.

It's sad, really, because one woman on this first show was genuinely funny. Guest panellist Lorelei King dealt with another equally ludicrous 'problem' by affectionately sending up the aspirations of Californian women, but she was one tiny star twinkling in a sodden January sky. A combination of dire script, obvious over-rehearsal and desperate outrageousness toppled the rest into a sluice where they seemed glad to wallow. At one point someone was heard to say, 'I'm going to be sick.' I hope she meant it.

A woman who has overcome her troubles started another, much better, new series called The Unfamiliar Family (R4). In the first programme, Happy Families, Glenys Kinnock tackled the topical question of what we really mean by a family. It was interesting to hear her comparing experiences of parenthood in America and Denmark. Bitterly, an American woman described the unsympathetic attitude of employers who expected her back at work 10 days after giving birth. The Danish system, by contrast, encourages fathers as well as mothers to spend weeks at home with their newborn children, and offers genuine equality of opportunity. Even in strictly economic terms, that makes sense. The Danes have come a long way since the old English paid them Danegeld to refrain from rape and pillage.

And so to Byron. Dangerous to Know (R4) began a dramatised biography of the magnificent libertine, based largely on his letters. The first episode took us up to the publication of 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage', whose success made all men jealous of him, and all women of each other. This is a series well worth catching. It pulses with vigour. The curly-headed schoolboy, who refuses to return to Harrow because he is so passionately in love, becomes the profligate undergraduate whose mother surmises, bitterly, that he does nothing but drink, gamble and spend money. He loses weight by strenuously exercising in seven waistcoats and a greatcoat, but admits that he is much given to harlots, and dreams of a glorious harem.

By the time he is 23, 'the best

of life is over and its bitters

double. I have outlived all my appetites and most of my vanities'. Happily, this is only the first of six episodes.

The spirit of furious Byronic energy was reborn in Rudolf Nureyev. On Friday, Nureyev - Dance of Death (R3) offered a poignant portrait of him as a restless Tartar for whom the lure of the stage was irresistible, even when age and infirmity ensured that his performance would be condemned as a bargain-basement rip-off. The illusion of a romantic hero lingered about him, in spite of his homosexuality, until that shocking moment in Paris when his gaunt appearance made the fact of his terminal illness inescapable. Sensitively presented by Francine Stock, the programme used the music from Giselle as a touchingly appropriate motif, whispering, as it does, of love, betrayal and the dance of death.

Over on Radio 1 no such doomy thoughts were allowed. Not Fade Away celebrated 30 years of Top of the Pops, with the help of Sandie Shaw. It was hard to tell, just from her voice, if she wears shoes these days, but she certainly sounded as girlish as ever, and witty with it. After all the stories about cameramen who improvised zoom lenses out of foil-lined loo rolls, Pan's People falling off the stage and Alan Freeman spoonerising the name of a song into 'Cast Your Wind to the Fates', it was interesting to learn that the show's rigid adherence to the pop charts, as opposed to the whim of the producer, has made it a respectable documentary archive. We never guessed that at the time.

The first of those charts was produced in an American magazine in 1936. Michael Aspel has begun the new year with a Sunday series on Radio 2 and he played that first Number One: appropriately enough, it was 'The Music Goes Round and Round'. Aspel's is a relaxed and soothing style, though he got slightly worked up when insisting that he was not Michael Parkinson. As he said, surely there's room for two grey-haired, baggy-eyed broadcasters in the world.

And finally, the very best of a what has been a very full week: Radio 5 has started its five-part dramatisation of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. The most sinister of all his novels, it concerns Pinkie, a ruthless young gang leader, and his attempts to silence the innocent Rose, who might otherwise reveal his part in a murder. At the end of the first episode, Stephen Mackintosh as Pinkie meets Rose (Claire Skinner) on the dark, rainswept pier and shows her the effects of vitriol on a painted bench, while thunder rumbles and her fear and fascination grow. Though the novel first appeared in 1938, this adaptation still sounds relevant, because it deals with the eternal conflict of good and evil. As eternal as Ida, the all-time good- time girl who knows how to handle women's troubles better than any Nineties panellist. 'Life,' she says with incontrovertible conviction, 'is a man in yer arms and a glass of ruby port in yer 'and.' Cheers, Ida.

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