RADIO / Hot water, cold comfort: Robert Hanks on Taking the Plunge and the new-look Radio 1

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The rubric for Taking the Plunge (Radio 4, Tuesday) explained that it would be the taped diaries of people facing big decisions. What it didn't say was that, at least for Kath Patterson, the 20-year-old heroine of the first programme, the decisions would all be taken by other people.

In her diary, recorded between December of last year and September of this, Kath recorded how, fresh out of hospital, she kept applying for jobs as a supermarket cashier. She kept getting turned down, for reasons that sounded fairly plausible; but you could forgive her for harbouring the suspicion that, when they said they needed somebody with more flexibility, they were talking about the flexibility to move around without an unsightly crutch. Of course, it's possible that what worried the shop managers wasn't the crutch so much as Kath's history of mental illness. Either way, you had the impression that for Kath, a lot of life was less about taking the plunge than having her head pushed into a bucket.

There were lighter moments - Kath's mother's alarm at the prospect of her daughter sharing a flat with a man ('He's from Argentina . . . I'm just throwing that in'). Eventually, she got a job at a freezer-food shop, and the programme closed with her excited arrival at university in Aberdeen. But there wasn't much uplift to be had, partly because the upbeat ending felt more like an editorial decision than anything real.

That was a mistake. There was a message here, not explicit but still obvious, that the disabled and / or the mentally ill are just like the rest of us really; and since we couldn't see Kath's crutch, that seemed like a reasonable point of view. Once you've noticed the editor's hand, though, you can't help worrying that a point of view is being imposed on you. It will be interesting to see how the difficulty is resolved in the three programmes to come.

Meanwhile, rather less momentous decisions have been taken in the world of radio, with the announcement that independent producers will now take charge of Gardener's Question Time and Feedback. The logic of asking independent producers to submit ideas for new programmes is plain enough; but why established programmes with loyal audiences should be farmed out is less clear. At least the new arrangements for Gardener's Question Time, under which the series will be taken over by a single organisation, are an improvement on the original proposal, in which it was to be broken up and the individual parts sold to separate bidders - one for vegetables, one for alpines, one for hardy perennials, and so forth. As a sop to public opinion, there will be a share issue later in the year, with a chance for the public to buy a stake in Daphne Ledward of Spalding.

Elsewhere, the new-look Radio 1 has now arrived, bearing a strong resemblance to the picture on the right in a spot-the-difference puzzle. The main change from the old-look Radio 1 is an elevated, New Mannish moral tone - Mark Goodier insisting that he'll only eat vegetarian sausages, Simon Mayo telling male callers off for wanting Legs & Co back on Top of the Pops. It is an improvement, but not a vast one.

Fortunately, Danny Baker is settling in nicely on weekends. Sunday's programme featured, crucially, the answer to the perennial question, what is the fourth line of the Top Cat theme tune? It turns out to go: 'Close friends get to call him TC / Providing it's with dignity.' And people worry about what's happening to education on the radio.