RADIO / Flailing Lawley floored by gentle giant

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The Independent Culture
SOMEONE should have warned Sue Lawley. You need to think on your feet when you take on Frank Bruno. She might have started by imagining that it was her game and she had mastered it, but by the final round her guest had won by seven points and a very strong put-down. His were the last words, accompanied by a deep, reverberating chuckle: 'Nice talking to you. Yeah. Wicked.'

Here is an action replay of Desert Island Discs (R4). Lawley came out confidently, addressing herself to her opponent's famous nice-guy character and huge wealth. He took it on the chin: 'Thanks very much Sue, cheers.' Trying to press home the advantage, Lawley made the first of many unforced errors. Continuing on the wealth theme, she mentioned his big house, with stables, but here she faltered: 'Um, what else has it got?' Sensing a touch of loftiness, Bruno ducked in under her guard, admitting that it also had a toilet, lights and, yes, a garden, where he could pick up a wicked tan. The bell rang.

In Round 2, Lawley wisely remembered the importance of training, asking if there comes a point where you have to 'cut off relationships, you know, personal relationships?' Back Bruno came: 'Are we talking sex now Sue? At the end of the day are you beating about the bush?' No, no, she parried, but her performance had lost conviction. She was on the ropes.

Desperately, in Round 3, she returned to an earlier approach, the niceness of the man. Again, the sparring was level at first. They agreed it was a vicious sport - show business with blood, Bruno called it - and that boxers need to be tough. Again Lawley over-reached herself, and suggested that he had learnt to fight dirty. That was below the belt: it riled him. He was not dirty, no, man, he was clean, he has a wash you know. Phew, time for record number six, Marvin Gaye's 'Sexual Healing'. He advised her to listen carefully and use her imagination. But really it was all over. When she took the offensive, with a suggestion that he was bluffing when he said he could beat Lennox Lewis, he came back strongly, pummelling her repeatedly. No, he didn't have to say that, he didn't have to say anything, he didn't have to come on her programme, he wasn't buttering anybody up. Rapidly backing off, she tried to recover credibility by asking an old question she really should have thought about first: 'Are you good with your hands?'

Even less refined torture featured in the Monday play, Gaveston, by Colin Haydn Evans (R4). The agonised screams of at least three women, hideously and lingeringly done to death, contrasted with fierce, conspiratorial whispers, so that the listener's hand stayed permanently on the volume knob. It might have been better to turn it off. Apart from being worryingly sadistic, it was a pretty silly piece, positing the idea that the lover of Edward II was ritually slaughtered in an ancient earth-worshipping rite one midsummer's day. The dialogue, pastiche Middle English, contained the following exchange: 'We have discourse here, eh, Gaveston?' 'It grows duller by the minute.'

At 7.15 on the most beautiful morning of the summer so far, Radio 3's On Air produced a genuine medieval treasure, playing a six-part unaccompanied version of Sumer is icumen in to send the commuters on their way in a sprightly, vernal frame of mind. Classic FM rounded the day off equally well with a programme in its variable but often interesting late-night series, Platform Live. Conrad Wilkinson, a versatile and gifted young pianist, talked nervously to the gentle Michael Mappin, before giving a glorious recital, including a charmingly wry and hesitant Satie waltz called Je te veux. As part of Lord Menuhin's scheme, he often gives concerts in hospitals and old people's homes, which must be encouraging for them all.

Wilkinson had clearly had time to practise, a luxury not often afforded to David Owen Norris. Every evening this week he has given a five-minute talk in the diary series Sleepless Nights (R3) touching on the everyday anxieties of a travelling pianist. Actually practising the instrument, he said, is viewed as the sort of distasteful activity that should be done in the privacy of your own home, like ironing. Tricky, when you're travelling between small towns in the Mid-west, at least one of which had no piano at all. Stopping off at another, he played in a converted cinema that had still got its popcorn concession, which rather spoilt the quiet bits.

The music he plays tends to be familiar, on Beecham's principal that the Anglo-Saxon races don't like music but they absolutely love the noise it makes. His week was more fun to hear about than to live through. Friday night ended with him recalling, for no apparent reason, that the two newspapers in Chattanooga have combined. They had been called the Free Press and the News. Now, it's the Chattanooga News Free Press.

Lest this be thought a news-free column, here is an item from Farming Today (R4). Nobody knows why, but if your pond is covered in slime, toss in a bale of barley straw and the water will clear. If only life were that simple.