radio review

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The Independent Culture
What with all the angst over beef and the side effects of the industrialisation of farming, people have tended to overlook one of the great success stories of British agriculture - the massive increase in yields of opinion. The statistics speak for themselves: as recently as the mid-1970s, it took upwards of three to four hectares of concrete fact to grow a ton of the mildest generalisation; now, thanks to the development of new, more tendentious varieties, just a few square yards of unsupported conjecture will bear up to 10 times that quantity of sheer bloody-minded assertion.

To mop up the glut of opinions, the BBC has been forced to create new outlets. On a Saturday night - deadtime, when views can be churned out without disturbing too many listeners - Radio 5 now offers The Treatment, a satirical discussion show chaired by Stuart Maconie and revolving around sketches and monologues of decidedly variable quality. Last week's edition got off to a poor start with a sketch portraying John Major as Neville Chamberlain promising "beef in our time", a joke that was every bit as funny here as on the Rory Bremner show or in any of the cartoons that have used it over the last few days.

What justifies the show's existence is the telephoned contribution of Derek "Robbo" Robson, a man put on this earth to demonstrate just what makes political correctness so attractive and desirable. On Saturday, asked how he felt about Tessa Sanderson's return to international javelin competition, he began on an uncharacteristically cautious note ("This is a difficult one...I don't want to offend anyone, but I don't feel safe when I see a woman carrying a spear"), but hit his stride with the suggestion that, despite her age, Sanderson could still win "if it's her time of the month".

If nothing else, it's a departure from usual chat patterns, unlike Signs of the Times, which stops the week these days over on Radio 3, and feels like lots of old chat programmes recycled. Last week's agenda included such favourites as road rage and the decline of good manners, with comment from luminaries like Tessa Blackstone and Roger Scruton, in bizarrely conciliatory mood. It's all a bit strained, like a dinner party where nobody knows anybody else very well, the food isn't terribly good and there isn't enough alcohol to go around; and frankly, if that was what I was after on a Saturday night I wouldn't be at home with the radio. Still, this is what scientific agriculture gets you: a bland, tasteless diet, but at least there's plenty of it.