RADIO / Anthem for lost youths

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The Independent Culture
'THIS is Large,' said the menacing youth, indicating his looming sidekick. 'He's my muscler - like a minder but less cerebral.' They were out to intimidate Val - named, not as he maintained after Valhalla, but for the Doonican. He and his brother Des (yes, another of their mother's heroes) live in Stagness, a seaside town where boredom is endemic and only one disco is not dominated by pensioners singing 'Viva Espana'. This was the start of Hit the Decks (R5), a marvellously witty serial aimed at just the teenage audience that is about to be dumped by the approaching cocktail of rolling news, Radio Five Live. It seems a shame.

When Frederic Raphael was a boy, his father worked for Shell in New York. In a charming little snippet of a programme, the first of a series called Hits of the Thirties (R3), he remembered those days, when the Gershwins wrote 'Our Love is Here to Stay' and gave the world something to hold onto through the approaching war. In Raphael's case, though he feared sounding sentimental, he celebrated the song as a totem of his subsequent joy in finding his own enduring love. It wasn't sentimental, just heartening.

The 1930s, Auden's 'low, dishonest decade', are the subject of a Radio 3 season which has just begun. The writer Martha Gellhorn has been remembering her own early days in Spain and Czechoslovakia for A Personal View, which was piercing, passionate and lucid. She was followed in the series by Denis Healey, whose disappointingly self-indulgent backwards perspective might have been obstructed by his overpublicised eyebrows.

Best of the season so far was The Red and The Black, Friday's sound-compilation of 10 years that began with depression and ended with war. The chilling voice of Mosley rallying his blackshirted thugs was undercut by the ordinary, kindly Londoners who supported fascism at the beginning because it seemed to offer a way out of unemployment. The Communists, too, had a chance to explain how their dream crumbled under the unimaginable alliance of Hitler and Stalin. I enjoyed an old rogue claiming that his dachshund had begun as a greyhound, but, as they searched for work, he'd walked 'is bloody legs off.

The Reith Lectures (R3, R4) spun and sparkled off the air this week, like the ladies'excuse-me danced under a mirrored ballroom globe. Marina Warner was sensational. Drawing her images, her monsters and her myths from every conceivable source - from Homer, Chinese legends, Montaigne, Bosnia, Churchill's bunker (this list could be very long) - her arguments glanced lightly off virtually every aspect of contemporary life. This week she wove all the silken threads together into a closely reasoned but none the less impassioned plea for tolerance and forgiveness. To summarise them in a tiny space would be worse than trite, but her conclusion was resonant. Our sense of home, of where we belong, should resist both the vengeful dangers of selective history and the sweet seduction of despair. Instead, it must be expansive and grounded in generosity, she said, echoing the words of Derek Walcott: 'I bear my house inside me, everywhere.'

Twelve Widows of Appleby (R4) know where home is. They live, rent free, in 17th-century almshouses in their little Westmoreland town. One of the rules forbids insobriety and immorality, but nothing prevents them enjoying themselves. A Trustee, the bountiful Mrs Washington, came to call one frosty morning but couldn't even persuade them to admit that it was cold. They gaze on her fondly, though, letting her have them to tea and keeping the chat clean in her hearing: 'They're absolutely marvellous, our Trustees,' said one, 'they look after us like a lot of pet rabbits.' The astounding thing was that they were having trouble filling one of the cottages. Hearing this, women all over England will be felling their husbands and heading north. Brace yourself, Appleby.

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