The Week In Radio

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The Independent Culture
AMERICA AND Britain are divided by a common language, the Atlantic Ocean and guns. A couple of weeks ago, in the first episode of his entertaining series on Conspiracy (Radio 5, Sundays), Paul Vickers visited the Kennedy Conspiracy Museum in Dallas, just down the road from the grassy knoll, where the prize exhibit is the gun Jack Ruby used to shoot Lee Harvey Oswald.

Given the chance to heft the sacred object, Vickers mentioned, by way of conversation, that he had never held a gun before. "Whaaaat?" gasped the curator. Well, Vickers, explained, we don't have them in Britain. "Strange!" the curator said.

Naked without a Gun (Radio 4, Tuesday) ventured into this alien territory, ostensibly to ask how Hollywood would cope without guns. Noah Richler didn't really get that question in his sights, but ricocheting off an impressive cast of Tinseltown dignitaries and starlets, plus assorted pundits and policemen, he at least grazed the issue.

This was Richler's swansong for the BBC, and it showed off his flaws and his unique talents; spendthrift, fussy and often too clever by half, he has still managed to produce some of the most individual, original programmes broadcast over the last decade, including Run Up a Tree and Other Bad Advice, a bizarrely hilarious true account of a Canadian town terrorised by a grizzly.

Naked without a Gun was certainly wasteful - it's common enough to hear a 10-minute idea padded out to fill a 60-minute slot; here, something like three-hours' worth of idea was stuffed into 30 minutes, and the result was fairly rumpled. But it was packed with odd, arresting moments: John Milius on the semiotics of firearms brands (only a fiend would use a broom- handle Mauser, good guys use single-action Colts); Jason Patric disdaining guns as "basically big, shiny dicks"; Michael Douglas asserting that there's no inconsistency between making gun-crazy films and holding a position as UN Ambassador for Peace; Samuel L Jackson saying that if somebody invades his space he wants to do more than just say "Oh God!".

Another scary American cropped up in Resigning Issues (Radio 4, Tuesday). This series is turning out far more satisfactory than most of the other morning interview slots, largely because Fergal Keane's subjects - people who have just quit their jobs - tend to have a lot of bile and vinegar to spread around. This week it was Scott Ritter, a US Marine Corps officer, who was until this summer the UN's longest-serving weapons inspector in Iraq. He resigned because, he said, the US and the UK, his main backers, didn't want the job done properly. Real inspections might demand decisive (and expensive) action. They would rather avoid confrontation and have the illusion of being strong, avoid weapons inspection and have the illusion of disarmament.

Ritter was a typically straightforward American military man, in the Oliver North mould. Like North, he relied heavily on Mom's apple-pie appeal - he missed his honeymoon and every major event in his children's development, he said, in the pursuit of Saddam's weapons: "And I'm glad I missed them, because the job I was doing was that important... I was going to make the world safer for my kids."

This moral simplicity has both sinister and ridiculous sides. But in Ritter's case, it was inflected with self-knowledge.

By the end you weren't left in much doubt that he was a formidable character; and he had raised damning doubts about the honesty and competence of British and American governments. Well, what do you know?

We've got some things in common, after all.

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