You assume that what he had in mind was the sort of news-making that involves supplying the war to go with the stories (as in Citizen Kane), which is fair enough. But unless Lewis also wants to see an unreasonably rigid demarcation between news and current affairs, that sort of blanket thinking would rule out programmes like Silence over Lockerbie (Radio 4, Tuesday). Gerry Northam assembled an impressive body of evidence - at any rate, an impressive body of apparently well-informed opinion - for the view that Libya has been scapegoated for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, and the real culprits were the original prime suspects, Syria and Iran. The case was mostly circumstantial - the circumstances including the British government's refusal to comment on the matter in any way whatsoever - and much of its thunder was stolen by newspaper reports. Still, it was a chastening reminder that what you hear in the news isn't always what happens; and that the best antidote to untruth is good reporting.
There is also a more trivial riposte to Lewis - that bad news is simply more interesting than the other kind. This is true not just of reporting, but also of criticism. Reviewers don't enjoy sneering at bad programmes - well, sometimes you can get the odd frisson out of it - but on the whole, while hearing something good is immeasurably satisfying, the interestingly flawed gives you so much more to get to grips with. This is one sense in which bad news offers its own reward.
Sometimes the news is too bad to be bearable - in this category, you can place Turkey Time (Christmas Day, Radio 4), a Ben Travers farce opening a season of Twenties plays which lived up to its title a little too neatly even for the joke to be satisfying. The plot involved a family called Stoatt (many opportunities for hilarity), who live in a house called Cobblers (mirth unbounded), and a chair with broken springs that makes an amusing 'poing' noise (]]]]). A few years ago, there were ominous signs of a Travers revival; a couple more like this ought to nail that one on the head.
On the other hand, it's a positive pleasure to write about plays like The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Radio 4, Monday) and Arcadia (Radio 3, Sunday) - both flawed, but both highly ambitious and clever.
In Stevenson's original, Jekyll created Hyde as a vessel for his more degraded inclinations; Robert Forrest's adaptation clung tightly to this point, giving us several scenes in which Jekyll is consorting with prostitutes (to the sound of an out-of-key pianola); this seemed the knowing, liberated 20th century sneering at Victorian hypocrisy (personally, I blame Lytton Strachey). More satisfyingly, Patrick Rayner's production took the story out of London and rooted it in Stevenson's native Scotland, giving Alexander Forrest an opportunity for a virtuoso double-act as genteel scientist and Gorbals roughneck - Hyde rasping out 'Ma name's Heed. Pleased tae meet ya,' before strangling somebody.
Arcadia, too, offered fine acting, from the original National Theatre cast - Bill Nighy stood out as the performance most prepared to make compromises for radio, underplaying superbly. The flaw was the lack of accommodation for radio, which made it hard to follow the complex chopped time scheme of the final scene, at the same time as following the various plots through to their conclusion.
So, two pieces of bad news: but also, the kind of bad news you'd like to hear all the time.Reuse content