The Week In Radio

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The Independent Culture
HEISENBERG'S UNCERTAINTY Principle, as Michael Frayn explained in relation to his play Copenhagen (Viewing the Century, R3, Sunday), broadly states that, if you determine the precise velocity of a particle, you cannot be equally certain of its location, and vice versa. A paradigm, in fact, for Broadcasting House, where several well-established characters are re-determining their co-ordinates.

Start the Week (R4, Monday) is helmed by the new, reluctantly aggressive Jeremy Paxman. Paxo egged on the redoubtable Carmen Callil over her browbeatingly partial selection of "Best Novels of the last 50 Years". Sveltely bridging the audio gap between Germaine Greer and Tallulah Bankhead, Callil has a voice built for radio - cruel and chocolaty. Her objection to science fiction as a genre was "boredom", and she swept aside the hapless science writer Robin Baker, author of Sex in the Future and apologist for universal IVF, with "nothing will stop people fornicating" - his point exactly, he murmured from beneath the table.

Another dislocated particle, Peter Snow, is battling to restrain his natural bounce as radio's successor to the lugubrious Magnus Magnusson on Mastermind (R4, Monday). Far from Newsnight's meticulously prepared battle sandpits and stats charts, Snow nevertheless manages to invest lists of arcane trivia with a greying pep. To hear him giving the answers to passed questions on The Beach Boys was to hear a grown man refuse to admit that he will never learn to tap-dance; the "n" in "Surfin'" was admirably enunciated, but "Let's Get Away for a While", a recondite title, admittedly, was transformed into a kind of sinister scoutmasters' refrain. Infinitely happier with "Aircraft of 1939-1945", he rattled off the phrases "Operation Bodenplatter" and "Vickers Wildebeest" with nostalgic relish.

For the last word in natural authority, another repackaged veteran, the matriarchal cookery writer Marguerite Patten, surely takes the biscuit, so to speak. Discussing the period 1910-1919 in her Century of British Cooking (R4, Sunday), she noted the availability of pine-nuts long before today's gastro-thug chefs fricasseed them with chorizo, scallops, balsamic vinegar and chard, and announced that with these, "your nut rissoles will be delicious", less a prediction than a command, one felt.