RADIO / Just say no to Yes: Robert Hanks on the lows of Radio 1's 'Undrugged' weekend and the cringemaking piety of Cannon and Ball

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The Independent Culture
Morality is all very well in its place - on Thought for the Day, say, or the Morning Service, when you know it's coming and you can steel yourself against it. But shoehorned into the wrong context, it tends to misfire badly; and Radio 1 is almost always the wrong context.

The best thing that can be said about Lost in Music (Radio 1, Sunday), a feature about the relationship between drugs and music, broadcast as part of Radio 1's 'Undrugged' weekend, is that it knew perfectly well that moralising would backfire on it; and the producers tried hard to avoid it.

In the end, though, all the pussy-footing around was just as frustrating as a straight 'Just say no' slogan, and probably no more effective.

The programme was billed as being presented by John Peel, a good way of injecting moral authority without really trying; but as it turned out, his role was simply to read some short, scripted links, which he did in a rush and without giving the impression that he much cared what he said. On the other hand, he must have got a small kick from lines like 'Annie Nightingale hasn't stopped swinging since the Sixties.' What the programme really consisted of was soundbites from various pop people - singers, DJs, producers - stitched together to present the for and against arguments on drugs. For: an awful lot of good music (Beatles, Rolling Stones). Against: an awful lot of bad music, Yes album sleeves, and a fair number of dead musicians. Assuming that we all know about Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix, and perhaps realising that the element of risk is part of the attraction, the producers took the sensible line, concentrating on the sheer unhipness of drugs - they may give you great cheekbones for a while, but then you'll get fat and spotty, or thin and spotty. Even this strategy soon irritated, though, if only because insisting on the unhipness of anything sounds very much like insisting on your own coolness.

Naturally, the main plank of any case against drugs is the people putting the case for - the musician claiming that 'In the psychedelic mode, first you lose all sense of space and time, so tracks have a timeless quality to them and appear to be going on for ever,' apparently oblivious to the fact that most modern dance tracks do go on for ever. Then again, the case for is hardly harmed by some of the people drafted in against - Jonathan King, for instance, or the man who said, rebutting the argument that drugs enhance creativity, 'If I put enough monkeys on LSD one of them's going to write me a classic album' (presumably if you had enough monkeys, one of them would come up with a classic album whether or not they were on LSD; unless he is suggesting that without LSD they would only come up with a tedious AOR album).

Still, on the whole, Lost in Music did pretty well out of a no-win situation. An example of how not to tackle morality came early on in Cannon and Ball's Gospel Show (Radio 2, Saturday), a show that at least had the decency to warn you what it was going to be about. It started off with a jolly fantasy sequence about the possibilities of being on radio - Tommy and Bobby went horse- riding, took tea and flew home on Concorde courtesy of the special effects department. But, as they realised, this wasn't real.

Fortunately, as Tommy pointed out in what must rank as one of the great linking sequences of all time, 'Now we have found something which is real.'

'That's right, Tom,' said Bobby.

'Our faith in God and the love of Jesus is real, and it's great to share it with all of you at home.' At which point our reporter made his excuses and left.

(Photograph omitted)