Radio Review

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The Independent Culture
Broadcasters must sometimes have very mixed feelings when events conspire to make a programme topical. There's no question of Anna Parkinson and Jenny Cuffe getting any pleasure in the current uproar over the state of children's homes; but they must, surely, derive some slight satisfaction, in some dark, guilty corner of their souls, from the fact that it just happens to coincide with the transmission of their series The Road to Repair, four programmes on Radio 4 about how we provide for "problem children".

Not that this series is an indictment of the system - if anything, the first two programmes have been quite upbeat in their assessment of what is on offer for the problem child (a term that doesn't begin to encompass the range and depth of estrangement from normality that's been encountered so far); it's only downbeat when it looks to the future, and wonders where the money is going to come from a few years down the line.

Yesterday's second part looked at three residential institutions, each offering a different style of care: one home set in the countryside, where the children are deliberately cut off from the potentially hostile outside world; a second where the children are actively encouraged to lead normal lives; and a third where they lock 'em up and make damn sure they stay locked up. What conclusions you were supposed to draw wasn't clear - Jenny Cuffe could afford to editorialise a bit more. The one conclusion you couldn't avoid was how knowing these children were - especially Dawn, who didn't much care for her religiously inclined foster-mother: "I used to say `The devil is my god', and things like that, just to, dunno, wind her up." The relationship did not last long. It was a giant leap from here to the cosy, sanitised and virtually sexless world presented in Bloody Students (Radio 4), a trilogy by Dave Sheasby in which redbrick university graduates look back on their student days. The series opened yesterday with the pioneering generation who started their studies in the decade after the war. They all made you feel terribly young, with their talk of college scarves and blazers, of segregation of the sexes and posting the washing home to mother. One man remembered a woman student being sent down when a used condom was found in her room - whereas in the modern children's home, Dawn's announcement that she might be pregnant was taken in their stride by the authorities - "So she's had a packed week," one of the workers said at a case conference. It all makes you feel terribly old.

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