Radio: Erasmus and Beatus's excellent adventure

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The Independent Culture
'I WOULD be quite happy to get into bed with you myself,' said the doctor, declaring his patient to be free from infection, 'and even to have sex with you - if you were a woman.' As you can tell from the last bit, we are not discussing the vexed question of the age of consent, nor was the feared infection HIV. This is a line from a letter written by Erasmus to his friend Beatus in 1518, describing the anguish and misadventure of his Autumn Journey (R3) to Louvain. It made Network SouthEast seem like a transport of delight.

He bounced around on a lame horse, suffered agonising boils 'on the left hip', dosed himself with frequent possets, was rubbed down with rosewater by a servant with a calloused finger, kept a nervous record

of his alarmingly irregular bowels, induced regurgitation of undercooked fish and finally recovered from what had not, after all, been bubonic plague. The hypochondriac came dangerously close to ousting the

philosopher in him. But, in the end, the latter triumphed. The worst part of illness is in the mind, he declared, adding that, now he was past 50, he knew that mere length of life is not the true measure of happiness. It was a comic and delightful epistle, read with commendable solemnity by John Moffat in the interval of Wednesday's concert.

The All Shook Up (R4) season dealt with similar themes, beginning last night with 'The Sound of Fury', the sad story of Ron Wycherly, aka Billy Fury. As a boy, he had had rheumatic fever and was told his heart was so weakened he could not hope to live long. In the event, he lasted until he was 40, long enough to make a faltering comeback on the Russell Harty show. But he was exploited all the way, first by a devouring fan called Donna who pounced on him in a doorway, next by an equally rapacious manager, finally by a fickle public. Rory Bremner's impersonation of Russell Harty was immediately, shockingly nostalgic. The one song for which we still half remember 'the only rock-and- roller who was sweet' contains all the irony of his brave, gentle character in its title. It was 'Halfway to Paradise'.

That was where the ghost of Millie lingered in Eyes Down (R4), a ludicrous tale of an East End bingo hall. She it was whose exclusive duty was to anoint with peroxide the greasy roots of Russell Silver, the evil caller and eminence blonde of this seedy establishment. Murdered by a rival, her unquiet spirit lingered to exact a vicious revenge. As tightly constructed as a second-hand 1950s string vest, it was nonsense throughout, featuring botched voodoo, forged cheques and chicken bones. Even by its own 20-watt lights, it was as dim as a broom cupboard.

In the best of the dramatic trio, Stephen Moore stepped from the role of the likeable, hopeless Mayor Vincy of Middlemarch into that of Harry, a likeable, hopeless ex-scriptwriter, engaged in the harmless task of translating Virgil. Whisked away by the shade of a very jaundiced Milton - who would rather have had charge of a decent poet such as Douglas Dunn or Tony Harrison - he was taken on a tour of the Underworld (R4), in a clever, provocative play by Don Taylor.

Harry's Hell was a non- stop party, a dealing-room floor, an Oxford tutorial, his own office. In a swanky suite lounged its genial, successful chairman (Paul Daneman), whose urbane complacency only become terrifying with the last screams of Mozart's Don Giovanni echoing behind him. In Heaven, the saved all wept for the beauties that could be, and the horrors that are. Virgil himself proved more interested in the omission of Gower from the West Indies tour than in poetry. The moral was that living with the consequences of your action is the true definition of eternity.

Elsewhere, life was all beginnings and endings. Gerry Anderson, who presented such compassionate, wise and witty reports from Northern Ireland last year, began his daily, live afternoon show Anderson Country (R4). It was pretty dreadful, probably because the bitty formula allows no room for Anderson to do much more than introduce recorded snippets or take calls from an often irate or inarticulate public, one of whom called him a dickhead. He's not. He's a fine broadcast- er who deserves better.

James Naughtie bade an emotional farewell to The World at One (R4), after allowing Roy Hattersley to do the same to politics: the former will reappear on Today, the latter wants to become George Eliot. Gosh. There must be somebody who could give him a quiet chat about the art of the possible.

Gardeners' Question Time (R4) came back for a last mulching before being transplanted to Classic FM, with panellists pleasingly called Greenwood and Bloom. And the worst quiz of all returned - a big claim, but I can't imagine worse than The Board Game (R4), where complacent company chairmen reveal their vanity, ignorance and xenophobia in equally grotesque proportions.

This week, they enjoyed themselves at the expense of, oh my, Essex girls, impoverished ex-Soviet states, small Japanese people and Italians. Sample joke: Why do Fiats have such small steering wheels? So that you can drive them wearing handcuffs. Even the audience sounded stunned, save for the one obligatory homeless drunk taking shelter and shrieking dementedly.