RADIO / A pig surprise, if you go down to the woods today

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The Independent Culture
HONESTLY. You'd think you could trust Farming Today (R4) to be serious. For those of us in the 10-mile danger zone south of Tunbridge Wells, it was the most alarming news of the week. But no: Richard Sanders, who generally sounds as if it's been as much of a struggle for him to get out of bed as it is for the rest of us to listen to him, chose dawn on Monday to mock the news that up to 40 wild boar are ravaging the countryside, have uprooted a vineyard, destroyed a Japanese car and taken to the woods. 'Are the police out with helicopters and searchlights?' he chortled. Well, I fervently hoped so, but there's no sign of them.

By Wednesday, the news had moved on to Today (R4) and lovable Jim Naughtie was giggling too. As Edward Barham, a benighted viticulturist, warned that the lightest of this herd weighed 10 stone and that they would soon be farrowing, he began to grasp it. 'And pretty soon, they'll start to breed?' he asked. They're all carefree metropolitan nimbies at Radio 4, but it's my back yard they're talking about and I'm staying indoors with my radio tuned to Invicta, the local Kentish station whose intrepid reporter Stuart Thomas was, last Sunday, the first to alert the nation to the peril of these tusked invaders.

Back in the surreal world, Radio 3 is halfway through The 30s. All week, an enthusiast called Julian Holder has been touring Architectural Icons. It's been a constant production battle. In a tiny lift at Highpoint, a modernist block of flats in Highgate, Holder's voice sounded, well, confined. When he got to the seaside at Blackpool on Tuesday, his odd delivery - or perhaps a heavy cold - had him talking about the hishtry of the shtructure of the reshtaurant shtaircases. It was dishtracting. By Wednesday, he was competing with heavy traffic in suburban Liverpool, looking at three remarkable Bernard Miller churches. Disrespectful parishioners compare them to cinemas, ocean-liners, a milk- bar and an elephant-house. Lord Ramsey raised the tone by likening one to the Opera House at Santa Fe.

As Radio 5 winds down, its Indian summer becomes ever more golden. Siriol Jenkins, a first-class radio actress, performed a monologue called, with fitting poignancy, Over and Out. She was Linda, who ran away from a YTS job in a plug factory in Liverpool to busk with her piccolo in London. She'd had enough of Frank, her boyfriend, who was a yuppie - which, if you didn't know, stands for Young Unemployed Prat, Pretty Irritating and Embarrassing. She ended sleeping rough and not quite daring to phone home, however much we were all willing her to. Christopher Reason's play had everything: it was funny, touching and defiantly clear-sighted.

Meanwhile, Radio 4 is having yet another bash at half-hour comedy. Last time I counted, Week Ending credited 32 writers at the end of a pretty vapid half-hour. The new one, The Skivers, is much funnier with only two. A rapid-fire sketch had a chap going into a delicatessen for a portillo of bottomley with some smoked biffen. They were right out of stuffed brandreth, owing to popular demand; he resisted a heseltine of ashdown, as being neither one thing nor the other, and settled for a mellor of startled rifkind and a nice fresh hurd to go with it, with the boateng left on for the cat. There was also a pleasing item about Lord Hanson having run away with the gypsies and a headline about a sponsored Samaritans parachute jump, which had been cancelled because they'd all talked themselves out of it. If Nick Golson and Tim de Jongh keep up this standard, they'll be popular enough to be stolen away by the television.

Finally, three remarkable individuals. Footnotes (R4) this week shone a spotlight on Mary Seacole, the lady with the lemonade. In her time she was famous, and rightly so. The daughter of a Scottish soldier and a Jamaican 'doctoress', she used her mother's skills to tend sick servicemen in the Caribbean. When news of the war in the Crimea reached her, duty to the Empire sent her to England to join Florence Nightingale's nurses. Rejected, she wondered: 'Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flows beneath a duskier skin than theirs?' But she set off under her own steam and started a kind of Naafi nursing home providing help and comfort for all.

Also touched briefly by stardom was Harry Base, who was Famous for 15 Minutes (R4) one Saturday in 1981. His phone became inadvertently wired up to Radio Bristol's transmitter and he ran his own ad-hoc programme, singing duets with his callers and offering advice to all. The area around his house began to resemble a bedouin encampment as engineers desperately tried to locate the fault, but all over the West Country new listeners tuned in to his afternoon of fame. Jenni Mills, who gets the best from people, clearly had fun with him, as she has with most of her subjects in this series.

And then there was Gertrude Stein, whose play Listen to Me (R3) was the highest point of wild lunacy in the Thirties season so far. Sounding like earnest English-by-radio teachers, three actresses read lines like 'need is not more careful than needles' and 'to forget is not to remember but to remember is not to forget'. She was such a consummate weirdo that I was reminded of the story of her last moments. They say that, on her deathbed, her devoted companion, Alice B Toklas, besought her: 'Gertrude, what is the answer?' Back came the solemn reply: 'What was the question?'

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