The Week In Radio

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The Independent Culture
"A NUMBER of rather dubious B-movies," whispered Simon Callow, author and narrator of Orson Welles - The Storyteller (R4, Saturday), as if to say "a number of sulphurous haemorrhoids". This series has been spellbinding, but generally we have had not enough Callow, and far too much dated archive stuff. Much the best was a Baker Street joust from a 1950s' radio Theatre Royale with John Gielgud as Sherlock Holmes and Orson as Moriarty; silky ascetic versus sepulchral hulk, a masterpiece of arch verbal sparring that almost rendered the windblown coda at the Reichenbach Falls superfluous.

Welles' description of his film F for Fake as an "exquisite melancholy jest" could describe his increasingly Falstaffian twilight. In 1985, at the age of 70, he read from Conrad's The Secret Sharer, his last words on radio. An epitaph of sorts: "a free man, a proud swimmer, striking out for a new destiny."

Though over-illustrated, and with Callow's description of Welles' seductive powers prudishly ignored, this put an offering like David Puttnam's Century of Cinema (R2, Tuesday) in the shade; more tittle-tattle is now needed here, as in earlier editions, and more Puttnam, whose contribution of 90 seconds per show translates as about 300 days out of the 100 years in question.

After deep Welles, a burbling Brook - Peter Brook on Night Waves (R3, Monday) - but what a burble; etiolated and throaty, somewhere between Nelson Mandela and Wilfred Hyde White. Refreshingly suspicious of biographies and their pompous re-evaluations of insecure lives, he enunciated the great truth of the Scientific Age, that "every discovery is a temporary step", paid incongruous tribute to the great impresario Binkie Beaumont, and was Socratic enough to stress the pre-eminence of "doubt" rather than the complacent and fallible answers that re-emerge with every new political crisis. He thus joins the trouble-shooting High Table of past interviewees, along with Orson, Mandela, Charlie Watts, and the Dalai Lama; Betty Boothroyd at the teapot and Radclyffe Hall serving cigars.

They could mull over the legend that a cornered wolf (The Ancient Ark, R4, Thursday) will bite out its tail-hairs, which are considered aphrodisiac, and eat them: a metaphorical feast open to a myriad of interpretations.

By Welles and Brook, via some fluvial leitmotif, to Dr Peter Spillet (sic) and 116 species of fish (Deep River, R4, Tuesday). Smelt, dace, roach, pike, gudgeon, bullhead, mullet, flounder... The Thames's shallow gradient tended in the past to shuffle a subaqueous sludge up and down, and even now, rainstorms and overflowing old sewers can provoke "fishkill" from lack of oxygen. Dr Spillet took us from eels under the M25 bridge, past dolphins dining on whitebait at Greenwich, to sea bass at Chiswick and, doubtless, rows of punters outside The River Cafe clutching fishing rods and bulbs of fennel.

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