RADIO / Hot tips from a broad

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The Independent Culture
KATHLEEN TURNER returned to radio this week with a smouldering quote and a mouldering script. 'I enjoy doing it on the radio. I can close my eyes and get a better performance,' she told Radio Times. In Deadlock (R4, first of six) her performance seemed the same as ever: husky yet high-class, like Lauren Bacall with more profanity and less style. This is her second radio series as Sara Paretsky's female 'tec, V I Warshawski (she also starred in a lamentable screen adaptation). Radio 4 must be both delighted and baffled by her enthusiasm. It's the sort of part you might cross the Hollywood lot for but not the Atlantic.

So far Turner has carried the show. V I has returned to Chicago for the funeral of her ice-hockey-star cousin, Boom-Boom. It's an indication of the leaden pace that Boom-Boom's death is yet to turn mysterious. Everything feels tepid and piecemeal, loosely held together by V I's dime-novel commentary: 'Cross a gangway to a narrow ledge overlooking the water. Gulp in the cold April air.'

It's the Turner voice - a wonderful concoction of all imaginable feminine wiles - that keeps you listening. Ranging between light and rough, by turns stroking and barking, it can switch within a line from babydoll ingenue (with all 'r's dropped) to grande dame. The ensemble acting may be shaky, the ambience more Shepherd's Bush than Chicago, but you can believe in Turner as a broad who would be cautioned not to spend her share of Boom-Boom's legacy on liquor.

Attractive and self-willed, V I would definitely make an unsuitable au pair. The first in a new series of the documentary Soundtrack (R4) revealed that what most women look for in an au pair is someone compliant and dowdy enough not to turn on their husbands. 'All my friends told me that I must go for a Norwegian or a Swede because they're more efficient,' brayed one lady. 'What I got was the Volvo of the au pair market.'

The programme followed the progress of one such model, Suzanne, from airplane to nursery. Her mission was to work 30 hours a week (for pounds 35) for a family in Clapham, looking after the daughter (Amber) and not crashing the Golf GTi. She had landed a hard task-mistress in the materfamilias, who sounded like a cross between an irate adjutant and Joyce Grenfell. Her assessment of the charming Suzanne seemed a shade uncharitable: slow but methodical, 'she hasn't got a lot of common sense'.

It seemed to be a successful arrangement, which was good news for everyone except the listener. In an opening montage, a man told of the Swedish stunner - not at all like her homely photograph - who'd stayed out late her first night, dropping a porn magazine on the landing when she returned. 'I'm afraid we had to ask her to leave,' he admitted ruefully. She might have made a livelier subject.

Desperate attempts were made to jive up the material. Suzanne was given her own recorder in which to confide her thoughts. These proved to be in the Agent Dale Cooper league of surreal inconsequence: 'OK, it's another day tomorrow and I have to be prepared before Amby gets home.' There was an artful intercut of an evening when Suzanne was at home reading Mr Jelly stories to her charge, and the parents were soaking up offensive au pair reminiscences at a dinner party ('She was certainly no sex-bomb'). The matron of an au pair agency was wheeled on to provide spicy stories of husbands jumping into girls' beds. But it was all rather safe and efficient. The Volvo of documentaries.

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