RADIO / Polished turn by the secretive Starman

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The Independent Culture
LAST WEEK the boffins of One Step Beyond (R4) thought about colonising Mars, while The David Bowie Story (R1) scooped them with a profile of a man who did it 20 years ago and lived to tell the tale. Actually he didn't tell the tale, at least not the one about how he managed to bring back some spiders, but it was still an accomplished performance.

Bowie last delivered a version of his life-story to Radio 1 in 1976. Veterans tuning in again will know that in the two parts (of six) broadcast so far they haven't been listening to the sound of old ground being retrodden. Two decades on, Bowie is still an inventive, you could say evasive, interviewee.

The beans Bowie has spilled so far are just what the station would have ordered - 'Starman', we learnt, is his version of 'Over the Rainbow', and 'Life on Mars' is a rewrite of 'My Way'. But amid the entertaining natter the worry remains that we're not getting the whole truth and nothing but. We'll have a better idea later, when the biography arrives at shambolic ventures such as the 'Glass Spider' tour (aka the 'White Elephant' tour).

For the moment, most of the truth-telling seems to be coming from the musicians and managers who have passed in and out of Bowie's career. It was great to hear the Oop-Coontry testimony of Woody Woodmansey, who banged the drums for the Spiders from Mars. We got more from Woodmansey in one sentence than we did from any amount from the horse's mouth about the lengths Bowie went to to portray a rock star.

That's not to say that the old drama queen was yakking on autopilot. Bowie spoke more openly than usual about his schizophrenic stepbrother Terry, but the eternally cheery Gambaccini is not the sort to grill. The spry format doesn't even make space for his questions. When Bowie told of dipping into the works of Nietzsche and the underwear of other men, we needed an Anthony Clare to get to the soul of the man. Sadly there is no record of the good doctor psychoanalysing for 1 FM.

By 1972, which is where we've got to, Bowie and the dreaded Angie had spawned Joey (ne Zowie), but the key question of whether you change nappies when you think you're a spaceman still hasn't been asked, let alone answered. Fingers crossed for this week.

However fawning the interview technique deployed by Gambaccini, at least it could be called a technique. In It's My Party (R5), a new series in which the comedian Jo Brand asks guests to describe the shindig of their dreams, the talk was so small you could have transcribed it onto the back of a postage stamp. The first programme offered Sean Hughes, Dublin's comic wunderkind. Guest and host replicated the sort of conversation two stragglers would have in the small hours at a party after everyone else had found something better to do.

It was too self-referential and knowing for anyone's good. 'Don't like parties. Don't know why I'm doing this programme actually,' admitted Brand, who has a talent for candour. For his part, Hughes told a story from the set of Alan Parker's The Commitments of being woken at 3am to do a reaction shot. He sounded just as bleary here as he must have looked then.

Still, Radio 5 is the logical berth for this type of ad hoc fare. If gags about lying in pools of your own vomit belong anywhere, they surely must belong to the after-hours of the sports channel.