RADIO / A talent to enrage

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The Independent Culture
THERE ARE certain types you instinctively avoid on the Underground. If I'd been in the carriage when Drif Field got on at Wimbledon, yellow tweed knickerbockers ahoist, tape-machine at the ready, I would have made sure there were three or four seats between us. It's not that he's a nutter. He's a self-styled nutter.

Radio 4 took care to give us a picture of the maverick bookdealer in the announcer's lead-in to Drif's Guide to the Northern Line, a shambolic tour of London's mustiest second-hand bookshops. Embarrassment might otherwise have got the better of curiosity. Mr Field is famous for his ability to enrage the classy end of the trade with his insulting remarks, published in an annual guide. But even in his preferred haunts, where the smell of five-day-old coffee dregs overpowers that of 50-year-old buckram, he manages to upset people.

His first stop was a charity shop for the Schizophrenia Society. 'Hasn't quite the ee-lan of Oxfam, has it?' he quipped, and proceeded to boast about how he'd bought a book for pounds 40 in just such a shop and sold it on for pounds 160. In another, he absently knocked an expensive book to the floor. 'I never did have any respect for prices.' 'No,' grumbled the proprietor, sotto voce, 'but some of us have a living to earn.'

Drif bumbled and burbled, he smirked and corrected his trusting fellow bibliophiles with the manners of an unhappy teenager. If, as suspected, this was a pilot for a series of aural Drif's Guides, the BBC should be told that here is not another Patrick Moore in the making. This edition is spineless and completely foxed.

In Groucho Was My Father (R4, first of two), we saw the unfunny face of one of the funniest men ever. Miriam Marx, daughter of the cork-moustachioed loon, had a 'special relationship' with him - so special that she would rather have been Uncle Harpo's child: 'There was such love and peace at his house.'

During her teens Miriam received hundreds of letters from Da-Da, or Padre, as he signed himself. Frank Ferrante read from them in an uncanny assumption of Groucho's frantic twang. We waited for the wisecracks, but got only wheedling pleas for filial affection, and cackhanded attempts to bring the girl into line. 'I wanna love you,' he wrote, after hearing she had bad-mouthed his new young wife, 'but I don't think you've been a good daughter to me.' This, when the wife was Miriam's ex-best friend.

All her sorry alcoholic life, she told us, she had dragged these deathless epistles around in a laundry bag. Now she's spilt the beans, Duck Soup will never taste so good again.

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