RADIO / Return of the prodigal Wogan

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The Independent Culture
'OLD GOLDEN throat is back,' said Radio Times, fanfaring Wake up to Wogan (R2), and perhaps confusing his gullet with his wallet. Wogan hit the air a full five minutes early, at 6.55am, rushing into the studio where Sarah Kennedy was also making a debut, with an extravagant display of actorly congratulation. Taken aback, she responded by confessing: 'I've leapt out of my bra.'

Within minutes Wogan was at work on his own surrealism. 'I haven't been awake this early since God was a boy. The crocodiles are still on the street.' You felt that here was a performer returning home. His television show was sunk by his lack of interest in his guests; incuriosity killed the chat. Now the only person he has to talk to is himself - and the listener, whom he skilfully buttonholes, getting closer to the microphone than most broadcasters. .

Eight years' absence has not altered the act much. His great virtue is that he loves words - unusual for DJs, who are rarely on more than nodding terms with their mother tongue. His links between records are fresh-minted: 'I hate these people who make amash of your affections,' he said, after some bit of slush from Lionel Richie. He clutches at literary allusions the way other presenters slip into tabloidese. It's not that it's particularly well done, but that it's done at all.

He spent much of the week reading out his mail ('suspiciously optimistic, mainly'). The listeners are treating him like the prodigal son. Though one woman did complain: 'I now have another boy because you abandoned me.' (The birth-rate must have soared during Brian Hayes's stony interregnum.) It remains to be seen whether the audience will forgive a broadcaster who has, to borrow Churchill's phrase, ratted and then re-ratted. Will the down-in-the-mouth humour keep its charm now the downtrodden hero is a millionaire?

I think it probably will. He already has his old rival, Jimmy Young CBE, back in his sights: 'Jim's got the second gong - he must be feeling a terrible ringing in the ears.' And the sort of joke Wogan specialises in, the self- deprecating undercut ('By heaven, it's good to be back - he lied') is well suited to the laboured jollity of the hour. If his chuckle sometimes appears forced, then so do all breakfast smiles. He's the sort of ham you want with your eggs.

It was a bumper week for those who harbour conspiracy theories about Irish domination of the BBC. In Wide Awake in Ireland (R4, part one of three), tyro Irish writer John Waters played the conspiracy theorist himself - about Dublin 4, which turned out to be not another bunch of wrongful arrests but the postal district where movers and shakers are found. In faintly comic fashion, we were ushered into the very den of iniquity, the Unicorn Restaurant: 'formica table, imitation leather seats', occupied by a cabinet minister, a barrister, an entrepreneur and a journalist. This didn't seem very exceptional. But from it Waters built to a well-argued vision of a divided state, 'liberal fundamentalism', and a 'crisis in public language'. His exposition tended to the wordy, but his passion and belief in solutions were bracing.

The passionate intensity of Westminster was swapped for the still sad music of humanity by John Cole in the Lakes (R4). Cole started the series by presenting a Down Your Way view of Grasmere, and indulging his love of Wordsworth ('the innovator who began the modern age'). The curator of Dove Cottage gave a bubbling, buffish account of the poet and his sister's cooking ('In the early days they experimented quite a lot . . . but by 1805 it had become just a necessity'). The qualities that made Cole reliable political commentator - caution, fairness, attention to detail - made him a dullish literary critic, though there was no doubting his knowledge or enthusiasm.

Most pasticheurs, tempted by the allure of Oscar Wilde's aphorisms, take the great man's advice and give in. The Miles Kington Interview (R4) with Oscar was one of the better parodies, if not quite in Peter Ackroyd's league. Simon Callow played Wilde with fluting voice and perfumed manner. The aphorisms were elegant, though not as needle-sharp as their models. Bitter experience had made Wilde a rueful critic of our tabloids: 'Public men are still being publicly whipped for what they do privately.' It was both his tragedy and good fortune that he did not live in a truly free society.