Radio: Never mind the vocab, a violin is all Kennedy needs

The week in radio

In hospital recently, my mother lost her surname. She soon learned to answer to her very first name, though nobody had used it since she left school. She found it harder to remember all the nurses' names. When last she'd been ill, decades previously, she'd been allowed to call them "Nurse". These days we are all, immediately, intimate.

So the artist previously known as Nigel Kennedy was, typically, bucking the trend when he publicly renounced his given name, "much to the annoyance of various critics who want to call me Nige". In his new series, Kennedy and the Violin (R2), he talks about his life. It's a strange, off-the- cuff performance in which he appeals for pity - because he'd have preferred to study piano or cello; because he was sent away, too young, to study at the Menuhin school; because his training was so rigorous.

Just as he makes rather too much of these hardships, Kennedy overdoes his vocabulary. He speaks of Stephane Grapelli being able to play like an angel without going through Yeheudi's strict "regiment" - as if the word "regimen" wasn't quite strong enough. Later, he describes Vernon Handley as one of the foremost "authoritarians" on Elgar. And, curiously, this verbal superfluity restores our flagging sympathy: he is so desperately determined to justify himself.

There are, we learned, musicians and entertainers amongst his forebears whose talents he has inherited but "there's a lot of music I play which involves no entertainment whatsoever". It depends what you mean by entertainment. Quite a lot of Nige's past behaviour has been less than entertaining, but once he touches bow to fiddle he is totally transformed: it is electrifying. Why should he bother with the chat, when all he has to do is play? His violin communicates more effectively than even the best-chosen words because its voice comes from somewhere beyond language. Perhaps young Nigel might have done as well on the cello, or the piano, but it's almost impossible to imagine.

This first edition ended with him making his own continuity announcement, as we have come to expect in the absence of any BBC staff. He gave it an endearing touch: "Kennedy and the Violin is produced for R2 by Kevin Howlett" he said. Then he added, without condescension, "a very cool guy".

Lord Reith was the opposite of cool: few would dare to call him Johnnie. The founder and first Director General of the BBC was a restless, furious Scot whose private life scarcely measured up to values frequently invoked as "Reithian". John Sessions played him admirably straight, in Michael Hastings's compelling play The Reith Affair (R3).

Based on Reith's own compendious, confessional diary, the play dwelt on his love for Charlie Bowser, "my angel and my albatross". In bizarrely comic scenes reminiscent of Lawrence at his most Lawrentian, the two men timidly flirted with the practicalities of riding a bicycle naked, before each grimly married the wrong woman. Then one retired into Highland obscurity while the other failed busily to achieve world domination The only flaw was an unbelievably ham portrayal of Churchill as apparently played by the prophet Ezekiel

Two anthropomorphic comedies this week gave voices to a mouse and a pair of goldfish. Agent 52 (R4) is a gloomy pest-officer, sent to destroy a troublesome rodent. But Geraldine, the little white mouse, tells him of her hardships and persuades him to go salsa-dancing with his wife. Eventually he abducts the mouse, explaining that she is infected with "mousculous muscadet syndrome". He intends to use her to alert all his subsequent victims to their peril and safely evict them. It was silly, but quite fun.

The Goldfish Bowl (R4) is inhabited by two talking fish, some gravel and a little plastic castle. Anton and Liam float about discussing their ambitions, which include visiting the Taj Mahal, playing Hamlet and snorting cocaine from the body of a nubile starlet. This, too, is clearly silly - but it is tipped uneasily into something less amusing by the presence of the fishes' owners who are engaged in an anguished battle about a dead baby. Fish gotta swim and people gotta cry - but you can't mix 'em up, however you try.

Every Saturday, Susannah Simons interviews celebrities with some claim to be Masters of their Art (Classic FM). Last week, neatly timed for the release of the Robert Redford film, her guest was Monty Roberts, a horse- whisperer. This man is clearly a genius at equine communication but worse than a goldfish when it comes to humans. Simons patiently questioned him about how it was done - just roughly, you know, she wasn't about to copy him - but would he tell her? If it had gone on a second longer, he'd have lassoed her and boxed her off to the Calgary stampede.

Since Paul Callan's Celebrity Choice was axed, there is no real CFM equivalent to Private Passions or Desert Island Discs: records are selected on behalf of the guests. So here is the producer's choice of music to accompany the Simons-Roberts interview - though I'd lay a silver dollar to a nickel Roberts wouldn't bother with any of it:

"Appalachian Spring" by Aaron Copland

"Grand Canyon suite" by Ferde Grofe

"A Musical Joke" by Mozart

Opening theme from The Horse Whisperer by Thomas Newman

"Hoe-Down" from Rodeo by Aaron Copland

HEARD ON AIR

Where would you find a proscenium arch? Contestant: On your foot.

ED STEWART

R2

I've had a series of lovers - or was that cirrhosis of the liver?

MILTON JONES

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Here are some chopsticks. They're fan-assisted, in case your noodles are too hot.

The Edge, WS

I'm not by nature a big spender - Richard Branson used to call me the meanest bastard in the house - or maybe in London.

NIK POWELL

On the Ropes, R4

Between us we've got drugs, racist violence, a child out of wedlock and a beaten-up dealer.

ROY TUCKER

The Archers, R4

If Rabbie Burns were alive today, he would probably purchase items from Tommy Hilfiger.

PETER WESTWOOD

You and Yours, R4

Garden gnomes are having a resurgence: we've put them round here, under a shroud.

Garden-centre owner, Talk Radio

There are many loving hearts to be round in a tax-office.

From Classic Romance, CFM

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