RADIO / These are a few of our favourite things

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'IN VENICE, y'know,' confided Lord Biro in a Victoria plum of a voice, 'we lived with a brine bear. Called it our menagerie a trois, wha, wha.' His companion, the Contessa Sanseverina, moaned in coloratura agony: 'Aiee, aie . . . tonno e fagiolini . . . scherzo ma non troppo.' She was, as Stinking Iris astutely observed, great with child. Though Lord Biro soon had Stinking Iris 'blushing right down to the tarpaulins', he felt himself to be sadly misunderstood: 'Coito ergo sum, it's m'raison d'etre.'

If that sounds like incomprehensible tosh, you probably missed The Wordsmiths of Gorsemere when it was broadcast late at night on Radio 4 some years ago. Sue Limb's everyday story of towering genius was the most inspired and consistently funny series since the heyday of Hancock. Set in Vole Cottage, Gorsemere, against Stephen Oliver's elegant musical background of contemptuous sheep and ribble-ribbling rills, it offered extracts from the diaries of Dorothy Wordsmith, read with touching,

desperate deference by Denise Coffey, as she attempted to manage a household visited not only by Tim Curry's lascivious Biro, but by Simon Callow's melancholy, maudlin Colericke and all those other romantically inclined writers and leech-pedlars who stalked the fells with them.

It is truly joyous to relate - sorry, Dorothy's style is catching - that they are all released to frolic again this month on tape as the newest issue in the BBC Radio Collection, in company with their creator's latest diary jottings. This time, Sue Limb's subject is Dulcie Domum, a very 20th-century diarist trying to juggle the varied demands of her life as wife, mother and aspirant writer of bodice-rippers. Bad Housekeeping is being read this month in the morning slot on Radio 4 where the goings-on in Parliament are usually sampled. It is much funnier and vastly more elevating.

Whether you listen to the spoken word to send you to sleep at night or to keep you awake on the motorway, to dispel the tedium of boring jobs or to mesmerise children, the chances are that you own a few tapes already. A recent phenomenon is the hospital collection. When dire emergency drives a friend into an iron bed with useless wires dangling from a Sixties radio headset, forget about grapes. The kindest thing to do is to borrow a Walkman from the nearest teenager and deliver it with a bagful of tapes. There is an ever-widening choice: the BBC Radio Collection is an accessible archive set to rival the

British Museum.

The market for spoken- word tapes has been developing quietly and impressively. This year it is expected to grow by 20 per cent, and the lion's share belongs to the BBC. The current catalogue, life-work of the energetic Sue Anstruther, really seems to cater for every taste. Besides classic comedy series such as The Goons and The Navy Lark, there are plays, dramatisations and poetry. For those poor souls who only use the radio to hear about sport, there are several athletic gems, including no fewer than eight tapes about cricket.

The children's section alone is phenomenal, though you don't have to be a child to relish Martin Jarvis's reading of the Just William stories. He manages to elicit sympathy not only for poor beleaguered William, wriggling out of impossible positions with gloriously inventive excuses, but also for Violet Elizabeth Bott, just thicth yearth old and wonting a kith. 'I bet you like girls so much you wish you could be one, don't you, William? Don't you, William?'

The collection has recently gone blasting out into sound effects. For a modest outlay, you can fill your house with the noise of a 'dentist polishing, operating theatre - surgery (close perspective)', 'small crowd at garden party (American)', 'electric jigsaw through plywood', three versions of a person falling into water or, if you can bear it, a nail being pulled. On the Essential Sound Effects (Foreign), you can move from an Indian tiger snarling and growling, to a bustling Brazilian market with people playing pandeiros, to goats on a Greek hillside with insects and birdsong. A stern warning on the label prohibits unlicensed public use of these sounds, but my goodness, how they would improve certain private parties.