Radio Clever Girls and Lost Boys Radio 4

'The programme had a rather badgering tone, never focused into a proper accusation'
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The Independent Culture
Investigative reporting has never been the same since Roger Cook went on television. That moment when he approaches evil-doers and asks for their comments was potent on radio - surely, you thought, if they have nothing to hide, they'll be happy to speak to him - but lost all its force once you saw this lumbering truth-beast unleashed. Of course, people aren't going to stay and chat with anything as big and fierce as that; they are going to run.

Once you start this line of thinking, it swiftly becomes hard to take the "refusal to comment" approach ("We asked them to reply, but they refused to comment") seriously: why should anybody feel obliged to explain their behaviour to Cook, or John Waite, or whoever, especially with hostile solicitors lurking around the corner? This is particularly tough on Waite, who relies almost entirely on the refusal and on his uniformly serious tone of voice.

Once you've heard him talk with equal gravity about the iniquities of contracts in the Scottish Football League (yesterday's subject on Face the Facts) and, say, cancer patients being killed by massive radiation overdoses, it's hard to share his indignation; these things are both serious, but there are degrees of seriousness which Waite doesn't seem able to grasp, or at any rate to convey.

The "refusal to comment" gag cropped up again yesterday, on Clever Girls and Lost Boys, in which Sarah Dunant picked over the bones of co-education in this country, her thesis being that co-education had not only failed girls, who according to research do far better academically in single- sex schools, but is now failing boys. "It is indeed extraordinary," Dunant pronounced, "that given the importance of this topic, the Government remains silent, and when we asked them to appear on this programme, they refused".

That sentence seemed to encapsulate what was wrong with the programme - a rather badgering, accusatory tone, never focused into a proper accusation. Partly, that's because the programme tried to squeeze too much into a 40-minute slot - what we were getting was a potted history both of post- war education and of changes in feminist thinking in the past 20 years. Partly, it's to do with Dunant's abrasive persona - the combination of an annoying, David Frost-like tendency to slightly over-emphasise every word in a sentence and an inquisitorial mind make it hard for her not to sound as though she's accusing somebody.

That being said, Dunant is also damn sharp, showing here a fine talent for seizing on assumptions behind people's arguments. When a former educational adviser to the Government said, "One's conception of how imperfect a public schoolboy was as a man was a very, very strong incentive to have proper comprehensive schools", she was in there like a she-tiger, pointing out that this didn't seem to involve much thought about what was good for the girls.

The assumptions behind Dunant's own arguments are themselves quite worrying, though. Twice, she talked about women taking over the world. If she really means that, it might not be a bad idea for men to start negotiating terms now.

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