Radio Review

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The Independent Culture
It sounded like a phone sex line. "Hello," this absurdly vampish voice said. "I'm Charlotte Rampling. Welcome to French Connections." Crikey, you thought, she has fallen on hard times - from Visconti's The Damned and Georgie Girl to this - until Rampling revealed that French Connections (Radio 2) was in fact a new series celebrating "the unique contribution to the world's popular music of French chanson". Good to get that straight.

Leaving aside the wisdom of learning about music from the wife of Jean Michel-Jarre, this programme's most troubling feature was that trademark Rampling purr. Her voice could tame wild dogs and charm snakes. Unfortunately, it also has the same hypnotic power over humans. The mind empties. The eyelids twitch. The body feels as if it's floating inches above the ground. Only the explosive presence of Andy Williams singing his version of Charles "The Singing Madman" Trenet's song "Boum" ("Tick a tick a tock goes every clock/ Every little heart goes tick tick tock") could return this listener to normal consciousness.

Rampling wasn't the only one moonlighting yesterday. On Woman's Hour (Radio 4), Sister Wendy, nun turned art historian, came to plug her new TV series. Asked by Jenni Murray how she felt about combining spiritual and secular roles, Wendy declined to quote the Bible, deferring instead to a higher authority: "Well, Alan Yentob put it well. He said working in television is not my day job." Good contacts, sister. That nun could go far in the BBC.

On the subject of going far, this week's Tales from the Back of Beyond (Radio 4 FM) followed three Cambridge University students to Ecuador's Podocarpus National Park. Last refuge of the spectacled bear, the park is now under threat from gold-miners, who dump into the river the mercury used to separate gold from ore. It was this pollution the students were interested in, chasing pigs through shanty towns to get hair samples.

Some of their reporting would have graced an experienced foreign correspondent. "It just looks like a bag of rubbish has been spilled down a mountainside and formed itself into little houses," one said, concisely conjuring up the higgledy-piggledy miners' shacks.

But with just 30 minutes to convey the flavour of the trip and explain the environmental issues, this feature was always fighting an uphill battle: another case of trying to do two jobs at once.

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