radio review

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One of the great difficulties about reviewing, reviewing anything at all, is the need to have opinions about things. For instance, I've been attempting to have an opinion on Lisa I'Anson for months, but nothing happens. It's very hard to feel anything very strongly about a woman who can start a show - as she started yesterday's - by asking the listener "How are you feeling? I'm feeling a bit low. Could do with some sunny weather..." "Innocuous" is the word that trudges reluctantly to mind. But it's easier to have strong views on, say, soap.

Still, there are some things about which it's easy to have forthright views: Top Story, for instance, a new drama series on Radio 4 on Monday afternoons. This is unmitigated drivel, easily the most predictable,two- dimensional, cli-ched drama to hit the radio since - well, since Legal Affairs started about a month ago. Like that series, it comes from the apparently fallow imagination of Vanessa Whitburn, editor of The Archers.

Top Story is set in the offices of a regional news agency run by Gwen Gardiner (Shirley Stelfox). She's only been in the job a month - we know this because she starts sentences by saying "I may have only been here a month" - but she's a hardened pro, who like all hardened news pros says "Zilch" when she means "No" or "Nothing" (as in "Why zilch pictures?"). She knows that being a reporter means having to put aside your finer feelings - "Would you kill your grandmother?" she asks a novice ("Now!" he snaps back: "Just one or both of them?" "Ha ha ha," she replies: "You know, you're the first person who's really made me laugh since I took over here").

The press notes explain that Top Story is "a hard-hitting new series which examines the morality of the news business". It all depends how you define "examine", I suppose. Monday's opening episode revolved around one reporter hounding a vicar to suicide after the mercy-killing of his terminally ill wife, and another paying a young girl to snog a celebrity outside a night-club so he could get pictures. This qualifies as an examination of the morality of news in rather the same way that Carry On Up the Khyber qualifies as an analysis of imperialism. On the other hand, Carry On Up the Khyber was at least funny; the nearest we get to comedy here is a dust-up between neighbours called Batty and Pratt. Add in bored acting, absurdly over-dramatic score and ditchwater dialogue; this is unbroadcastable rubbish. But nobody's going to call it innocuous.