The trial run that spells tribulation RADIO

Talk Radio Importance of Being Earnest / R4 Mouth of a Demagogue / R3
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
At a time when new radio stations have started to breed like fruit- flies having fertility treatment, test broadcasts are becoming a familiar part of listening. There was a time when a new station would blast the airwaves with selections from Mantovani and James Last. Classic FM broke the mould with recordings of birdsong and passing cars, a simple ploy that won the station enormous goodwill before it had even started.

Talk Radio has done something slightly different, replaying clips of its presenters explaining their philosophies of life and broadcasting (not as melodious as birdsong, but with a comparable intellectual content). With one exception, this philosophy can be summarised as "Ooh, I'm so crazy." The exception is Caesar the Geezer, who claims to be normal but comes across asmildly psychotic ("I'm a strict father. I believe in bringing back caning at school. I believe in capital punishment"). The only question that puzzles me is: what are these broadcasts designed to test, apart from your patience?

Possibly it's unfair to prejudge Talk Radio; but on this showing, there is a depressing irony in the fact that it is starting up 100 years to the day after the first performance of The Importance of Being Earnest, an event celebrated in last night's new production on Radio 4. There were no big surprises here; but then with a play like this, in which half the dialogue is glued together with quotation marks, it's hard to know how you can freshen up the lines without alienating the audience. You could hear the effort to make the dialogue sound new-minted in Judi Dench's Lady Bracknell, pausing for breath before pronouncing her big lines, and at times sounding as if she were in the final round of The Generation Game, spelling out unfamiliar fragments of script hidden in Bruce Forsyth's armpit.

Pointing out an irony isn't the same as suggesting that Talk Radio should try to imitate Wilde. Leaving aside the fact that Terry Christian isn't up to it, 24 hours of epigrammatic perfection seven days a week would be wearing. Populism and elegance rarely go hand in hand, and when they do the results can be disastrous. An instance of this was described in Simon Armitage's versified feature Mouth of a Demagogue, Eyes of a Poet (R3, Friday), a study of Victor Grayson, radical socialist MP for the Colne Valley before the First World War, whose rapid rise to political stardom and equally speedy, alcohol-assisted fall from grace were capped by a mysterious disappearance, possibly arranged by the secret service.

You didn't get much of an idea of it from some limply dramatised episodes here, but Grayson was evidently a phenomenal public speaker, with tremendous charm and matine idol looks. If you had to pick a modern political figure to compare him with it would be Robert Kilroy-Silk. These days, unfortunately, the secret service isn't so on the ball.

Robert Hanks