RADIO / How moles mate - or did you feel the earth move?

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The Independent Culture
WHEN IT comes to describing the mating habits of moles, Fergus Keeling gives up. Radio 4's most appealing apologist for the animal kingdom is stumped. He knows nobody will believe it. He calls in an expert who has probably never discussed these things in public before, so unexpected is his pronunciation. According to this chap, the female mole spends all but a few hours a year impersonating the male. Her 'cly-tories' deceptively enlarged, sneakily secreting gallons of 'testy-steerown', she shovels away like a tattooed navvy, chucking up three tons of earth a month, squeezing the grit out of snack-sized earthworms, happy in drag. Suddenly, for no reason anyone understands, she 'becomes receptive'. At this moment, the real male zooms towards the surface, stops just below putting-green level and gallops sideways towards her, turning the grass into passionate, shuddering weals. No wonder they called the programme The Mole Within.

In the background, a ferocious squeak expressed the rage of a frustrated mole; creaking harness and thudding hooves recalled William of Orange's horse falling over a fatal molehill; clinking glasses heralded the subsequent carousing of delighted Jacobites as they drank to the wee gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat; crooners extolled, in close harmony, the tunnel of love. As a final touch, Alan Bennett read from The Wind in the Willows and a surfaced mole progressed in lolloping cartwheels over the land. You can get rid of the creatures, apparently, by burying musical birthday cards in your garden, but it would be a dreadfully Hanoverian trick.

That was a classic Radio 4 treat. Tuesday saw the BBC hunting about for some more, when industrial action shut down many news programmes. Sneakily, the day on Radio 4 began with John Humphrys as usual. I sleepily wondered why Norman Lamont was being given quite such a lengthy interview when the penny dropped and I realised that an old On the Ropes was being trotted out. Things got worse with the dreadful Tea Junction, bad enough late in the day but dire in the extreme at dawn. The next morning, Today, trying to pretend nothing had happened, invited Tony Benn to discuss the Labour leadership and he threw them into blushing confusion by congratulating them on their heroic strike.

A widely welcomed casualty of the strike was Anderson Country, but all was not lost. On I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (R4) there was a new round called 'Lyttelton Country'. With his usual deadpan incredulity, the eponymous Humph, a national treasure, read out the introduction: 'While fiddling with my radio knob one afternoon in search of aural gratification - who writes this stuff? - I came across the new programme Anderson Country and was delighted to double its audience.' There followed a phone-in of glorious irrelevance, featuring Willie Rushton's enquiry about the NHS: 'Ah yes, I wanted to touch on Virginia Bottomley. Could you tell me whether or not, when I reach 65 she will return all my samples to me?' If you laughed at 'The Laughing Policeman' as a child, I'd defy you to sit unmoved through the Rushton rendition of those words to the tune of 'As Time Goes By'.

One day, people will envy us for living through the years when this magnificent half-hour enlivened every Saturday lunchtime. Ours will be known as the Golden Days of Radio. Radio 2's nostalgic programme of that name already goes out on Saturday afternoons and yesterday broadcast a 1966 episode of The Navy Lark. It was still very funny, largely thanks to the performance of Leslie Phillips as the vain, dim, effete and endearing sub-lieutenant. His is an unmistakeable radio voice, heard recently in a tiny guest spot during the pilot run of Skivers (which thoroughly deserves to return to the Thursday night comedy slot, before telly snaps it up). This week he was heard again, sounding uneasy in a short, sentimental weepie called Philip and Rowena (R4) about romance in a hospice. I wish sombody could write a proper new series for him.

The World Service set out to discover the truth about a famous villain who proved to be even worse than we thought. Bluebeard - Fiction and Reality described a serial murderer, a homosexual, necrophiliac paedophile whose horse (un barbe), rather than his beard (une barbe), was caparisoned in blue and who had no interest in women. Immensely wealthy and flamboyant, he fought alongside Joan of Arc before going to the bad, and was executed in 1440. It made a gripping tale, though I was grateful for the fastidiousness that prevented more than a few horrible details of his pastimes emerging. It seems that six litres a day of fortified Chinon wine had something to do with his downfall.

Radio 3 has been to Prague and sent back some treasures. Like last year's Polish season, this trip has saturated listeners with what it feels like to live in a liberated Iron Curtain country: like Poland, the Czech Republic has a tragic history, and a rich cultural and musical heritage to explore. In among the drama, the concerts and the recollections of 1968, I particularly enjoyed Julian Duplain's visit to Vysoka, Dvorak's

Summer Home. Accompanied by the composer's granddaughter he nosed about, asking instantly regrettable questions and being treated with gentle good-humour and kindliness. The old lady sang a snatch of the New World Symphony, pointing out that the tune was directly copied from the song of Dvorak's beloved pigeons. 'Did he eat pigeon pie?' asked Duplain, unfortunately.

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