RADIO / Physician, heal thy bedside manner

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The Independent Culture
LITTLE DANIEL has a headache and seems very poorly. Afterseveral phone calls, Dr Holmes of Manor Park is persuaded to visit him. 'Daniel's temperature is high,' he says, solemnly. 'He's obviously got a fever.' What a genius. The entire afternoon audience of Radio 4 has known since the first scene that little Daniel has meningitis, and we haven't even seen him. But the senior partner of Doctors is distracted by his new bride: he unplugs his bleeper and allows his diagnostic powers to slip cosily under his bedside manner.

Phil Redmond's new series combines a dash of Casualty with a gossipy whisper of Brookside in a syrupy suspension of Mrs Dale's Diary. It could do with a little distilled essence of Medicine Now to give it some kick. The only two patients to risk trying the Manor Park remedy in this first episode are not looking well. Little Daniel just might make it, but an invalid solicitor has drawn up a Living Will. With this standard of medical care, that's a great idea. The three doctors are at loggerheads, the fierce receptionist is plotting revenge for having been slighted, and the builders are in. There seems to be someone waiting to see a doctor, judging by an occasional hesitant cough, but he could have a long wait. Still, as the cheery Scouse secretary says, that's traditional in waiting- rooms, and there's magazines if you get fed oop. Now read on.

Two real doctors faced each other on Sunday when Professor Bernard Knight was In the Psychiatrist's Chair (R4). He is a forensic pathologist who worked on the Calvi murder and the Gloucester killings. He went with Amnesty to Kuwait just after the Gulf war and to Uganda to see the victims of the Obote regime. He has stomped across muddy fields to inspect rotting corpses in ditches and he has performed nearly 30,000 autopsies. Of all the jobs in medicine, said Anthony Clare, Knight's is the one that he couldn't possibly attempt. How does he do it?

Well, he says, in his modest, chatty Welsh voice, he supposes he does it because he's the sort of chap who can do it. He likes being a 'retrospective doctor' and although he can be very distressed by the grief of relatives, 10 minutes after leaving the body he's wondering about where he's going to plant his delphiniums. Placid, he is (or so he says), to the point of dullness, and never argumentative. Yet, in the same hypnotic sing- song, he defines the human race as a malignancy on the face of the earth, dangerous and unpredictable; he dismisses the 'whole religious malarkey' and admits that he prefers animals to children - it'd break his heart to be a vet.

Clare comes close to being the perfectinterviewer. His natural curiosity about people leads him to ask them exactly what we want to know; his professional skill allows him to go one stage further; an instinctive delicacy of approach maintains his charm. In this case, he was clearly deeply interested in the character of a man who could stay so calm, apparently unaffected by worse sights than most of us would care to imagine, without even the comfort of religion. It transpired that the horror finds its outlet in a recurring dream - also experienced by other pathologists - in which he is performing a post-mortem on a living member of his own family. And he did admit that just now and again he wonders why he didn't become an accountant.

Wavy Gravy is no psychiatrist, but he knows how to handle an acid head. He is an old hippie from the Hog Farm Commune who was called in, like the cavalry, to police the first Woodstock (R1). The professional psycho-people were lying on top of the poor soul to give him body-contact, and exhorting him to look through his third eye. Wavy pushed them aside and said, 'Bob, man, this is a bad trip but you'll get better' - just the kind of copper they needed. He and Duke Devlin, the Hip van Winkle of Woodstock, were the stars in a documentary to mark 25 years since that festival of rain, mud, marijuana and rock, enjoyed by a million revellers in a field in upstate New York. They still see it as a glorious celebration of brotherhood, love and peace.

Pete Townshend struck a refreshing note of dissent: to him it was 'a disgusting, despicable, hypocritical event of the utmost duplicity'. His band, The Who, refused to play a note until they had their money in their hands. This was a balanced look at the Sixties dream, ending with Devlin recalling the two girls who recently arrived weeping at the memorial in the original field. They were carrying the ashes of their father, who'd been there and could think of nowhere better to settle his dust.

In a heavily medical week, the urbane Miles Kington talked to the shade of Nostradamus, who practised for years as a doctor before moving to the more lucrative business of prophesy. Robert Stephens played the old rogue with panache for The Miles Kington Interview (R4). They bickered aimiably about his forecasts while he bewailed the mix of mumbo-jumbo, superstition and guesswork that was medicine in his day. Changing career proved not to be so great, he concluded gloomily. If you're a doctor, people tell you about the pain in their shoulder: soothsayers are expected to predict the whole of their boring lives.

Finally, a doctor on You and Yours (R4) performed areally useful service when he recommended labourers wearing longer shirts to prevent skin cancer. Could this mean the end of the ghastly spectacle of the builder's bum-cleavage?