RADIO / Beware the bloodhound: this one soundbites

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The Independent Culture
HE WAS a large and pasty person in powder-blue; she was a bulimic hippie, selling lavender in the Pyrenees. They met, fell in love, had three children and moved to Cornwall to live happily every after. Why on earth did they let Michael O'Donnell come visiting?

Perhaps they thought they had nothing to hide, but Dr O'Donnell is a bloodhound on the trail of self-deception in Relative Values (R4), even when his subjects, this time the Guinness Taylors, seem transparently frank. Jonathan Guinness, Lord Moyne, is a stout, vague-sounding peer, veteran of a couple of marriages and father of eight children. 'Shoe' Taylor is a butcher's daughter from Lancashire - a loud, committed fruitarian. She has, in her time, been an apprentice butcher, a hairdresser, a circus elephant-rider and an inmate of Holloway. She's not remotely fussed about his wives: 'They've strings of wifeys and wifelets,

the Guinnesses,' she chortled.

As so often in this series, it was the children who spilt the beans. Warm, motherly Shoe was praising her 13-year-old daughter's art: 'Diana, this is lovely work,' she gushed, as Diana muttered 'Did it in the first year'. 'No really,' she continued, not listening, 'I'm so proud of you.' Diana is not a Mitford granddaughter for nothing. 'I did it in the first year,' she insisted, so that everyone could hear. Her brother picked up the theme. Sometimes his mother really gets on his nerves. That's just what O'Donnell wants to hear. When pressed, he said that she had been known to give him shepherd's pie for supper when he'd already had it for lunch. Dear oh dear, and her a fruitarian.

The old butcher was roped in for a comment. His daughter has come a long way, probably, from selling tripe. Anyway, she clearly baffled him. 'Our children went to chapel and our Susan was in plays . . . but, there you are. No accounting for affairs of the heart.' Nor for welcoming Dr O'Donnell into your life. He's probably on the look- out for more families for his next series. Don't let him near your children. He'll make riveting radio of them.

Affairs of the heart dominated two more programmes this week, both re-tellings of old stories. Tony Robinson tackled A Midsummer Night's Dream for Musical Tales (R3). The 17- year-old Mendelssohn's music shimmered behind his unravelling of the intricate, amorous plot, which he described as worse than Neighbours. His Puck was a tribute to Baldric and his Bottom to Eddie Grundy, and his cheerfulness was irresistible. After a brief warbling interlude of fairies singing 'Ye spotted snakes', he sighed appreciatively 'Lovely voices, fairies'.

To complement the Classic Serial (R4), Classic Storyline (R4) investigated Jane Eyre, the novel behind a thousand Mills and Boons. Cherished by readers from Japan to Zambia, it has every element of a romantic bestseller: a wronged child who becomes a plain, virtuous heroine, a craggy, suffering hero and a mad woman in the attic. Peggy Reynolds put together a dazzling half-hour of literary genealogy showing that Charlotte Bronte's inspiration is born of ancient myths (Beauty and the Beast and Snow White) and that its descendants range from Rebecca to The Wide Sargasso Sea.

Jean Rhys, author of that marvellous fantasy about the first Mrs Rochester, was a feisty woman who knew the value of cosmetics. When she was old and dying, she commanded the ambulance men carting her off to return to her flat. She insisted on fetching her mascara. It's potent stuff, mascara. The very name, used by Job for one of his beauteous daughters, carries an exotic charge. It was the subject of an item on Woman's Hour (R4), but they didn't mention Rhys or Job. Instead, they invited Joan Price for her views. She is the Mrs Beeton of make-up experts: brisk, practical and well aware of her pre-eminence. Essentially, her advice was not to spend too much on it and to do your top lashes last. Always start with the bottom. Ah, so that's the trick.

The 100th season of BBC Proms (R3) has just ended. It's always a sad autumnal moment, the ending of that nightly feast, and this year has been a particularly nostalgic one. Henry Wood was the inspiration behind several interval reminiscences - I particularly enjoyed learning that his wife always took a novel to concerts, hiding it under a fox-stole on her lap - but during Wednesday's interval, it was Beecham's turn.

Sir Thomas Armstrong remembered how the old conductor-showman answered a young, nervous violinist. The boy was anxious about performing Brahms's Second Symphony for a Prom without a run- through, as he'd never played it before. Beecham had no intention of bothering with a rehearsal. 'Oh you'll love it,' he said airily, 'it's a charming piece.'

Finally, The Breakfast Programme (R5) broke some inspiring news. Hapless refugees from Rwanda frequently snatch up their radios when they flee from their homes and these sets provide focal points of attention in their grim refugee camps. The World Service has had the clever idea of devoting 15 minutes of every day to reading out, in the Kinyarwanda language, Red Cross lists of people who are searching for their families. It is yet more evidence of the World Service living right up to its name.

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