RADIO / An Earl-y history of hip-hop and house

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The Independent Culture
THE FIRST Earl of Onslow was described by Walpole as a noisy, indiscreet man. His grandson, Thomas, was a composer who, said an unkind contemporary, 'passed the half of his life searching for a true musical sense'. Undaunted, the seventh Earl has now taken up the quest. He has left his estates for the microphone and all this week has been introducing The Music Machine: Supertunes (R3). 'As usual, I'm Lord Onslow,' one programme began. It's odd, isn't it, to announce yourself by your title, especially as his name is Michael, not anything silly like Peregrine. Was he yielding to peer pressure?

Inevitably, such an emphasis adds a faint air of ridicule to a series devoted to sorting out the trends in rock music. He explains that, just as the first waltzes were seen as the height of immorality and his own grandfather disapproved of Cole Porter, so there is a tendency to view all rock music as a hopeless muddle to 'us gelden eldies'. Heroically, he unravels it. He wonders how the devil you dance to a jungle rhythm that sounds like 'one of those infernal jogging machines at a new-fangled gymnasium'; he grows nostalgic for the evanescent glory of ambient house: 'You could be mistaken for thinking that is what you get when the children have gone to their bed.' What, just the one bed, your Lordship?

Kindly helped by a succession of specialist DJs, the Earl did manage to identify the different elements in each trend. But a very Radio 3 sentence revealed the splendour of his unruffled ermine: 'Isn't it interesting how the pattern of modern music seems to follow that of ancient Greece: archaic, classical, and debased Hellenistic?' Ah, now we understand.

Farmore at home on Radio 3 was Professor T J Reed. His Friday Feature: Goethe - The Fire at the Centre was a jewel, sparkling at the heart of the huge Deutsche Romantik season. It made you long to be an undergraduate again, sitting at the feet of so inspired a lecturer. The exhilaration of the young poet, 'riding through a world of half-serious threat', was illustrated with readings of Reed's own luminous translations. He demonstrated that there was much more to the idea of the Romantic than the pageant of a bleeding heart, and he provided a new definition. Goethe, he said, showed 'imaginative sympathy for another human being grounded in an intense feeling of self that is not shut in on self. Isn't that what we mean by great literature?' In a sense, he said, we are all Romantics, living by 'such inner warmth as we can muster'. If we are, we are helped towards the hearth by such a teacher.

An unmistakable voice provided inner warmth on Radio 4 when extracts from Alan Bennett's Diaries were read by their author each morning - Bennett's sheer humanity is matched only by the acuity of his observation. And his eavesdroppings are the stuff of dreams. Overheard in a market: 'Listen, there's nothing you can't teach me about road- sweeping . . . ' A bookshop assistant in Ilkley: 'Is that Geoffrey Chaucer?' Look out for him at the bus-stop before you let slip an unguarded remark, lest, in a year or two, you hear yourself on the radio.