RADIO / When the Fab Four were really rather nice

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The Independent Culture
MY SISTER burst into the room. She was distraught, her eyelashes were coming unstuck, her bell-bottoms flapping. 'I can't bear it,' she howled. It must have been about 1968, and she'd just heard a rumour that Paul McCartney had married Jane Asher. The injustice of having lost the battle without ever having had a chance to fight was too much for her: 'He's never even met me]'

It wasn't her on The Story of Pop (R1), but it could have been. A girl was sobbing hopelessly about her consuming passion for Paul. At the same time, she was clearly astonished by her own reaction. She'd gone to a Beatles concert intending to listen dispassionately, not to scream, and here she was, right out of control and unable to believe how she was behaving. Alan Freeman is the presenter of this series. It was strange to hear him sounding exactly as he always used to, relentlessly chirpy, as he described those heady days which seem so innocent now; strange to hear the Fab Four themselves so childishly thrilled by all the attention - 'We ud a Cudilluc each,' marvelled Ringo.

But strangest of all was the anonymous, condescending American voice describing the phenomenon. 'Four young boys from a poor British seaport slum-town,' he intoned, to a background of funereal fog- horns, 'who, confused at times, perhaps a little frightened, have clinged to their identity and grown closer to one another.' You see, it was because they clinged that they did so well. I preferred the explanation given by that same excited girl, now gasping happily: 'It's just light- hearted, it's just - nice]'

You couldn't call the politics of Tower Hamlets just nice at all. With commendable calm, Jolyon Jenkins investigated the story behind last year's election of BNP councillor Derek Beackon for File on Four (R4). He explained that a Liberal- Democrat policy of decentralisation means that the Isle of Dogs, a department of the larger borough, could well be under the exclusive control of three BNP councillors after May. Some residents welcomed the thought, expressing the kind of chilling fascism that defiled the East End in the Thirties, as Radio 3 has been reminding us. They see the housing policy of the council as pro- Asian, which it is not, though sometimes it seems to be.

How mainstream parties can counter a protest vote for a racist party, without straying too far to the right themselves is the real problem, but it might be solved if Derek Beackon grants any more interviews like the one he gave Jenkins in the BBC radio car. Asked about his

party's policy on social services, on environmental health, on planning, he became increasingly flummoxed and incapable of answering. When Jenkins skilfully administered the coup de grace by asking him 'What have you done as a councillor?' there was the sound of scuffling as he scrambled out of the car declaring the interview over. If only the same were true of the party.

Way up west is another tower, on top of which lives another politician. For her Radio 2 series, Joanna Kaye was, last night, At Home with Jeffrey Archer. His penthouse in Lambeth sounds a lot less comfy than Pam Ayres's corner of the Cotswolds, where she went the previous week. Lord Archer's butler let her in. She had to take off her shoes (for goodness sake, what do they know about muddy feet in Lambeth? And hasn't he got a cleaning lady to match his butler?). Everything was painfully, antiseptically tidy. In his gleaming white-and-chrome kitchen, he told a nasty story about getting the better of a friend who asked innocently was it always like this, to which he wittily replied, no, but Mary would clean it up later. 'I know what their kitchen's like, and it's awful,' he added smugly.

Joanna Kaye sounds like too nice a girl for a place like this. She tried really hard to soften up this noble novelist, even saying his flat was so lovely she'd like to stay all day. I suppose he might have been trying to be amusing when he replied: 'Well you can't. Go away.' Gently asked if his home mattered to him, he enthused, 'Yes, I'm a base person'. You said it, Jeffrey.

You'd not catch Tony Benn out like that. The third politician to bare his soul this week was interviewed by Paul Callan on Celebrity Choice (Classic FM). Callan found himself tempted into rhetoric when describing his guest's oratorical skills. He should have resisted. 'Quite literally,' he gushed - always a mistake if you're about to speak quite metaphorically - 'he can mobilise the English language and send it into eloquent battle.' Well, he didn't quite do that, but in comparison with the other two, this monster of the Loony Left sounded reasonable, even wise, and he chose some lovely music.

Staying with words, Frank Delaney's Word of Mouth (R4) reached the dictation final, looking for the best speller in England. This charming, articulate Irishman metamorphosed before your very ears into a Magnusson-clone as he read, in doom-laden tones I hope never to hear again before encountering the recording angel, a 'poem' that included every pothole and pitfall of the dictionary. A casual listener would have been confused, as Delaney sonorously described sashaying blithely with his glitzy terpsichorean niece before disembowelling an exotic cockatoo. Beryl Bainbridge, our celebrity finalist, had 29 mistakes. The rest of us gave thanks for spell-check.

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