RADIO / Coastal host with the most

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The Independent Culture
ABSENTEEISM is a problem most employers have to tackle. But at this time of year, in coastal resorts around Britain, their troubles increase. A strange tornado sweeps seaside towns in the holiday months, sucking thousands of people into the vortex that is the 1 FM Summer Roadshow.

The Roadshow is like a mobile holiday camp, with DJs instead of redcoats. There's Smiley Miley, the travelling circus's chief roadie, who asks members of the audience to guess how long it took the crew to travel the miles from yesterday's site - not a very difficult question for the locals, or for anyone else for that matter. There's Bits and Pieces, a name-that-tune competition with a catchy jingle. And there's an overall tone of self-conscious zaniness which can get the listener down a bit by September. The DJs change but not much else. On the whole, the Roadshow is a bit of a dinosaur; but dinosaurs are all the rage these days.

Realising this, Steve Wright, who played host last week, decided to build some in to the show, taking Jurassic Park as his theme. He came up with the Dinosaur DNA Game, featuring a DNA doctor, fat men in rubber velociraptor suits, and a tankful of Jurassic DNA, actually beans and mash. Wright may not be after the University Challenge audience, but to dismiss the show as an intellectual desert is to miss the point. It may be more hi- de-hi than highbrow, but the aim, after all, is to entertain, and Wright and his posse pulled it off. As the week went by, the jokes got funnier and the crowds got bigger. Well worth bunking off work for, the Roadshow will survive many a summer yet.

Following a BBC announcement last month, this is more than can be said for That's Life. Its presenter, Esther Rantzen, was In the Psychiatrist's Chair (R4) this week, talking to Dr Anthony Clare. Ms Rantzen has lived most of her private life in public and seems to prefer things that way. She joins her viewers in looking at herself from the outside as a rule, and obviously found Clare's scrutiny uncomfortable, so much so that she was unable, at first, to describe herself at all. Gradually, as the questions became harder to evade, a sad picture emerged of a woman happier with her image than the reality behind it.

A 10-stone brunette until the age of 25, Ms Rantzen would have had us believe that she has scarcely cast a glance inwards since she changed from ugly duckling into successful TV presenter, now happily married with three children. But she has suffered from post-natal depression, struggled with the conflicting demands of a 90-hour working week and a family, and taken much of what her critics say about her to heart. She prefers to turn her personal concerns into public crusades and confesses to having barely an unbroadcast thought in her head; but despite this professed openness she revealed little about herself. Dr Clare plumbed the depths of her superficiality, asking all the right questions and showing admirable patience faced with her issue- dodging. But his efforts were in vain; it seems the real Esther Rantzen has all but disappeared.

Getting back to chaos in seaside towns, The Benn Tapes (R4) recalled the strike at Windscale in 1977 when Tony Benn was Secretary of State for Energy. Workers at Windscale, unhappy with their working conditions, and unable to reach a solution with the management of British Nuclear Fuels, voted to strike, refusing to let essential gas supplies through their picket line. Without the gas, plutonium in the plant would ignite, devastating the whole of the North of England. Aware of the safety risk, the management chose to let the strike continue, knowing that before long troops would be called in to cross the lines and deliver the gas. With uncertainty surrounding the amount of gas left in the plant, Benn was torn between his duty to ensure public safety, and his sympathy with the unions. Combining excerpts from his diary with a commentary recorded for the series, Benn described his part in the management of this national crisis, which was averted by a settlement negotiated at the eleventh hour.

Talking into his tape recorder late into the night, Benn injected an immediacy and candour into his diaries which commitment to paper would have destroyed. If James Callaghan was joking in his advice to the man managing the nuclear crisis, Benn is loyal enough not to say so. 'Don't overreact,' counselled the Prime Minister.

Sue Gaisford returns next week.

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