THE CRITICS: RADIO: Where are you when we need you, Tony?

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The Independent Culture
Say what you like about Tony Blair - he doesn't mind making things difficult for himself. That, at least, is the received opinion, as he gets stuck in to the world's most troublesome places: Kosovo, Northern Ireland, the public sector, and the Question Time studio. But I wonder if this frenzied activity is not all a distraction, a way not only of allowing us to forget what his true Achilles' heel is - but of allowing him to forget it, too.

For Tony Blair has a very big headache coming up on the horizon. Namely, the probable impending incarceration of Tommy Archer for trashing a field of genetically modified rape. For those of you who have not been following this gripping saga, the facts are these: 1. David Archer is thumped in the face by someone setting fire to Brian Aldridge's GM rape in the middle of the night. 2. Tommy Archer is arrested for the crime (that's for the arson - thumping David Archer in the face is generally looked on leniently, even in the countryside). 3. He is at first refused bail. 4. His accomplices would appear to be quite happy for him to take the rap - and, as he intends to plea not guilty, ie, claim that he had a legitimate reason for destroying the Frankenstein crop (which, in turn, suggests a wonderfully pettifogging dilemma: is it a "Frankenstein" crop or a "Frankenstein's monster" crop?), the rap is pretty much what he is going to have to take.

Naturally (for The Archers is, as some people have noticed, mere propaganda for polenta-munchers in Islington), our sympathies are so firmly directed towards Tommy Archer that the scriptwriters may as well be using signposts rather than dialogue. Brian Aldridge has been at his most moustache-twirlingly retributive (as in "that'll teach him a lesson"), the family is beginning to rally round - always a bad sign - and everyone is saying What A Marvel Usha Gupta, the lawyer, is. (Incidentally, for a lawyer, her fees seem to be remarkably low. So low that you would think this case is being done pro bono. Well? Is it?) Meanwhile, the bad boys at Genetech, or whatever the GM manufacturers are called, are mustering in the background, ready to take Tommy's pigs away from him.

But if Tommy Archer goes to prison, Tony Blair has a headache. For it is Downing Street policy to issue supportive statements for characters in soap operas who have been unjustly incarcerated. Yet Tommy Archer's position is hardly likely to be one that the Prime Minister endorses. A U-turn on Blair's part would show weakness; and silence will only result in increasing national clamour - articles, perhaps in this very newspaper, demanding that Blair Does Something. And does something, moreover, that we approve of. The important thing is that the scriptwriters stick to their guns and their principles, in the way Tommy Archer so admirably has, and get him banged up something rotten.

Enough politics. If there are any freelance statue-erectors out there looking for work, I suggest they propose fashioning a monument to James L Brooks, who is responsible for the following TV programmes: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, Lou Grant, Taxi, and, to cut the list and bring it up to date, The Simpsons.

He was interviewed by Christopher Cook on Radio 3's new series, Postscript. (Tuesdays, 9.35.) Part of me thought that this was of sufficient general interest to have gone out on Radio 4, but one does not want Radio 3 to be purely a repository for the difficult or unpopular, and, besides, one of the great joys of having this programme go out on Radio 3 is that it offered listeners the chance to hear the name pronounced "Zeinfeld". Cook also favours placing the stress in the phrase "cutting edge" on the first, rather than the third syllable, which makes it seem both more cutting- edge and old-fashioned at the same time.

Anyway, Brooks came across, under Cook's friendly, deceptively acute questioning, as a decent man, full of integrity and courage. (We forgive his early work on an early network sitcom called "My Mother, the Car", in which the protagonist's mother is reincarnated as, um, a car.) Here he is on a certain kind of management style: "It's amazing how an executive can just float through TV and be this ... cretin [pronounced "Cretan"] who really just hurts quality, and no one ever hears from him again; and all he does during his time here is muck up things of real quality and value. And then there are the others you also never hear of, who sit at that desk where decisions are made for a time, and improve everybody's life in terms of reaching for quality." The writer's job was to "slap everybody's hand off the wheel who's trying to influence thought, and just stay true to your job".

One last thing. A few issues back, a parodist on Private Eye had a go at Mark and Lard, the afternoon DJs on Radio 1. The charge was, in short, that they were the yobbish, smirking and dirty-minded vanguard of the truly dumbed-down. As one of Mark Radcliffe's favourite poems is Donne's "The Good-Morrow" ("I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I did,/ till we loved...."), and he invited listeners to comment on Gordon Brown's sale of gold reserves by suggesting appropriate song titles (Winner: "Gordon is a Moron", by Jilted John), I'd say a recantation was in order. At least in time for the thrilling finals of the Anusol Frogging Championships.