RADIO: Let's hear it for the voice at the end of the line: Robert Hanks on the frank exchange of words on Call Nick Ross and the abuse of words on Wordly Wise

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The Independent Culture
There are people around, strangely, who say they can't stand Nick Ross. They are probably thinking of the rather emollient man who introduces those real-life crime programmes on the television, rather than the shrewd, incorrigibly decent figure, friend of democratic expression, who presents Call Nick Ross (Radio 4, Tuesday). This is an understandable confusion; but in fact, except that they are the same person, there's very little to connect these two Nick Rosses.

Even the Nick Ross you hear on the radio can be annoying - bit of a know-all, weakness for rhetorical questions, tries to manoeuvre callers into making a point he wants to hear instead of one they want to make - but mostly he's a paragon of dogged liberalism. In last week's edition, for instance, which concentrated on the age of consent for homosexuals, he fended off wave after wave of anti-gay bigotry with an unshakeable air of patience and understanding, while Sir Ian McKellen, the studio guest, stood his ground with dignity and occasional flashes of anger.

This was both disheartening, because it's nice to think that this is a tolerant society, and cheering, because toleration came out of this dogfight smelling of roses. On the other hand, the first in a new series of Feedback (Radio 4, Friday) was almost wholly dismaying. Call Nick Ross had attracted the week's biggest post-bag, Chris Dunkley revealed, almost all anti. Partly, people were dismayed by the broadcast over half-term of frank talk about buggery (one dismaying thing was the way that Ross's producer, Nick Utechin, came tantalisingly close to admitting to Dunkley that this was a mistake, without tipping over the edge into apology); and people felt that Ross had been unnecessarily pro- gay, and had given Sir Ian too easy a ride.

Ross is always open to this sort of criticism because he is never content to be a neutral referee - no more is Chris Dunkley, which is why they are both so effective. In this case Ross was more adversarial than usual; but then, he was coping with a particularly barking set of callers - Utechin said that he had allowed a greater number of anti-gay callers, because he thought they would provoke a more interesting response from Ian McKellen. Given this, it's hard to see how Ross could have handled the programme more gently: presumably with follow-up questions along the lines of 'Do you deny the word of God, Sir Ian?' and 'You are unnatural, aren't you?' You just can't say that sort of thing to knights of the realm; this is one of the bonuses of the class system.

Actually, if you really want to hear something unnatural, try Wordly Wise (Radio 4, Monday), a feeble-witted panel game in which third-division celebrities are asked to provide 'Daft Derivations' and 'Deft Definitions', although both these categories could be conflated into one called 'Unfunny Jokes'. The really horrible thing is that it is presented by that nice Peter Hobday, here displaying an unexpected penchant for self-degradation. This is the sort of thing the BBC shouldn't broadcast over half-term. Or ever.