RADIO / The moral is only too clear

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The Independent Culture
EVERYTHING gets lost in The Moral Maze (R4): patience, self- control, wits and all sense of direction. It's made from leftovers of You the Jury and Week Ending, the bones of both just visible in the sticky goulash they have become. It involves a resident team of gurus chewing over a topical moral dilemma and spitting it out in disgust having roasted, grilled or lambasted several 'witnesses'. They interrupt each other, bring up ancient personal grudges, get absolutely nowhere. Nominally in charge is an increasingly tetchy Michael Buerk.

This week the subject was race. The parents of Stephen Lawrence, the 18-year-old murdered apparently only because he was black, bravely faced this gang and provided the only moment of dignity before the mayhem that followed. When, God knows why, a cretin from the British National Party was allowed to opine that there was no proof of any Jews having been gassed in the Holocaust, even the normally supercool Rabbi Hugo Gryn was moved to shout 'Bullshit]'. The Rabbi had seen his family killed at Auschwitz. 'I saw it with my own eyes]' he thundered, 'Look at me]'.

After that, all that could be heard against a background of shuddering breaths and enraged hisses was the exasperated Buerk trying to silence the LSE historian, David Starkey: 'One at a time . . . your turn will come . . . shut up David'. They're off the air until July now, probably for therapy.

You might think Gerry Anderson would need therapy. His job necessitates trying to avoid taking sides on a radio station in Northern Ireland. He began calling the place Derry/Londonderry and later that '/' took over. His weekly talks from what they now call Stroke City (R4) have provided therapy. If, or even before, Alistair Cooke hangs up his transatlantic phone, Anderson should be given a regular slot to enlighten the mainland about real life in the province. He is wise, compassionate and extremely funny: he is a welcome reminder that the human spirit is unsquashable.

Bosnia makes Stroke City seem like Stroud. The radio has done what no one else could do this week, provided news from the very heart of battle, as radio hams desperately shouted against the crackles of static and gunfire, before falling silent. On Today (R4), the hope was expressed that they had fled to safety in the mountains, but it sounded slender. After the weary anger of David Owen, the excellent Alan Little, just back, described the collective psychosis of the Bosnian Serbs. It is as if a political party had come to power with the policies of a 14th-century warlord: and Little predicted that nothing would move them.

Can you recall a time when you hadn't heard of Melvyn Bragg? Then you must have lived through the Sixties. Of course the famous paradox is that if you can remember them, you weren't there. Well, Melvyn was, though not many people knew it, and he was high on 'The House of the Rising Sun'. Still is, as he revealed on Radio 3's 1968 Season. The station is looking back 25 years for the next few weeks with the help of those prepared to wallow for 10 minutes in the sharp pangs of nostalgia. Liz Lochhead, that wonderfully wry and ironic poet, calls it 'a sickly sentimental apology for an emotion', but she gave it a good run in her talk on Joni Mitchell's 'Marcie'. At the time she was the author of more love affairs than poems.

Alan Bennett was the author of Forty Years On. His talk was the best of them all. There are very few times in your life when you are happy and know that you are. This was his. 'I felt suddenly,' he said, 'that I wasn't the crabby, censorious, self-righteous creature that I'd imagined myself to be.' This in spite of the manager of the Palace Theatre, Manchester, who had predicted glumly: 'You'll never fill this place. Ken Dodd doesn't fill this place.' May Bennett go on filling theatres, as the School Matron in the play was wont to say, until the duration.