Speeches in pursuit of the unspeakable

the week in radio
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Josie Russell doesn't much like being interviewed. Her father tries to sympathise when she announces that she won't be co-operating with the latest invasion of their privacy. "I can understand why you don't want to ..." he begins. But she flashes back: "No you can't. You can't read my mind."

That was the saddest moment of Shaun Russell's audio diary, Living with Josie (R4), though there was plenty of competition for the melancholy distinction. Having to identify his murdered wife and younger daughter in the mortuary, for instance; or waiting for days, in a pulsing flood of adrenalin that kept him constantly trembling, until the jury reached their verdict on Michael Stone; or going to an intensive care unit and recognising the battered, shaven but - astonishingly - living Josie, only by the freckles on her nose.

He vowed at that moment that, whatever state she was in, he would devote his life to her. But the child had suffered such damage to her brain, had been so severely traumatised by her unspeakable experience that she seemed frightened even of him. "I guess," he guessed, "that there was some aversion to contact with a grown man - even her dad." She no longer wants to hug him, "or give me a kiss or do any of the warm, touchy-feely stuff that she used to give freely ..."

Determined to be rigorously honest - and perhaps comforting himself - he remembers that, even before the attack, she had been pulling away a little, growing up and slightly apart from her parents. Perhaps it is natural. But if nine square inches of her skull have had to be replaced by a titanium plate, who can tell what is going on under it? No, he can't read her mind.

But he can use a BBC tape-recorder. Such intimate, autonomous talk speaks straight to the heart, and, you desperately hope, might also help towards recognising glimmers of progress in the surviving Russells' recovery. Radio is the least invasive of the media: Shaun Russell was free to record what and when he wanted, to express and illustrate the slow and tentative return of his daughter to something like normality.

Yet she still won't talk to him about the attack and he doesn't press her, though he yearns both to know and to shun every detail: he believes she is trying to protect him. Sian Parry Hughes narrated and Jeremy Grange produced the sensitive, poignant threnody.

If that was the very best to be heard this week, there is no doubt about the worst. It was Tommy Boyd (Talk). By whatever is the opposite of serendipity, I have heard this man too often lately. He is always stupid and aggressive but on Wednesday he was revolting. Prompted by the suggestion that the football results come a little later on Saturdays because the interval is longer, he concluded that this is because more women go to matches these days and they take longer in the lavatory. He then spent the best part of an hour trying to convince his listeners that women should urinate in stalls, as men do, to save time.

The really awful thing is that people respond to this misogynistic twaddle and try to argue with the moron. One pathetic woman agreed to a "wee-wee race" with Boyd, who left his desk for the purpose. I hesitated before writing about this. Why should you be insulted by such rot? Might the loathsome Boyd even, God help us, be encouraged by such attention? But his show was frequently - provocatively - interrupted by fanfares for "prize-winning Talk Radio". There are good arguments for listening. But this is, definitely, not one of them.

Nicky Horne is better. Suzanne Vega was in London last week and Horne's Access All Areas (Talk) got to her first. The established technique of many of Talk's presenters is to say exactly the same thing several times, like primary school teachers, presumably in the hope of persuading listeners to call in with some relevant conversation. Vega was at first mystified, then audibly amused by this approach, but she co- operated with good-humoured charm. Besides, Horne clearly knew his stuff and was familiar with the landmarks in her career.

She is a mesmeric singer-songwriter, hard to categorise, whose best work tells strong, poetic stories about the isolation of city life. She spoke of her childhood, when she was adopted by a Puerto Rican family. Determined to be part of the culture, she enrolled in an exuberant performance group called "The Alliance of Latin Arts", but she is slight and pale, with a pronounced streak of weltschmerz and didn't quite belong. In photographs taken in those days, she said, she looked like the ghost of Emily Dickinson, beamed in from another planet.

She sang a couple of songs for Horne but they didn't come across too well. You could hear the difference when Suzanne Vega in Concert (R2) came, on Saturday night, from the BBC Radio Theatre. Her lively fingers slid squeakily across the strings of her acoustic guitar and every careful word was audible. Between numbers, she talked about a summer when she was employed as the Folk-Singing and Disco-Dancing Counsellor at a "sleepaway" camp in the Adirondacks. She fell for her Liverpudlian opposite number in the boys' camp - a balding, deaf Dadaist artist who admitted to a passion for Leonard Cohen.

All through those warm nights she would hold her in his arms and rhapsodise about his other passion, the Full English Breakfast. On a whim, as the season ended, she refused to give him her address. He produced a lofty put-down: "Well, I'd like to say I'll never forget you, but you never know about these things." Her song for him, delivered with Baez-like clarity, proved that her own memory, at least, is pretty sharp.