The Week in Radio: From cabbages to King Henry's head

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The Independent Culture
`I CAN never get it in Tavistock,' said the first caller, Caroline, who lives in the Netherlands but seems to shop, despite the sheer inconvenience of the arrangement, in Devon. She was talking chicory as this was Veg Talk (BBC Radio 4, Fridays 3pm), `a Friday afternoon celebration of British seasonal produce.' With a phone-in.

And it seems there really are people out there with nothing better to do with their Fridays than to phone the fast-talking hosts Gregg Wallace and Charlie Hicks with news of chicory deficiencies in the West Country.

Or it could be gherkins. Jenny from Dorset wanted advice on what to do with hers. You see, she didn't want to pickle them. It was a tense moment. Luckily, a chef (`the very versatile David Eyre') was on hand to suggest a gherkin salad with coriander. Phew. `Wonderful call!' said Charlie.

When they are not bringing their barrow-boy bonhomie and relentless veg- related gagging to the airwaves, Gregg runs a vegetable wholesale company - though we are not told of this possible conflict of interest - and Charlie is one of his employees. As broadcasters they come on like a couple of matey mid-morning local radio DJs who have swapped their chartbusters for chicory. Or gherkins. Vegetables, they would have us believe, are hip and sexy and fun! (I'm sorry, but these guys speak in exclamation marks).

"Okaaaaay!" yelled Gregg. "Veg of the Week!" And this week it was peas. Stop me, won't you, if I've got you teetering on the edge of your seat... Barbara from Cheshire called to say the quality of asparagus in her local greengrocers isn't what it was. I can't recall for you the full details of Gregg and Charlie's explanation for this - something to do with the weather - as I had by now lost the will to live.

"Bless you Barbara! Thank you for a wonderful call," said Charlie. "What can we say about asparagus that hasn't already been said?"Charlie wondered. I don't know and I don't care.

Penny Latin should have announced last Monday's Start The Week (BBC Radio 4, Monday 9am) with a roar of "Let's get ready to rumble!" Topping the bill was the bruising heavyweight encounter between Jeremy Paxman and former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. That Kissinger is treated elsewhere on radio and television as some respected grandee of diplomacy is as grotesque as it is bewildering. It took Paxman to give the fat old bully the thrashing he so richly deserves. Paxman came out of his corner and softened Kissinger up with a bit of flattery and a few short jabs about realpolitik's contempt for human rights. Kissinger ducked as Paxman then put together a series of sharp crosses concerning Chile and China.

Those of us in Paxman's corner could predict what was to come but Kissinger was clearly unfamiliar with his opponent's sudden and unexpected ferocity. Turning to his 1973 Nobel Peace Prize, Paxman walloped him with a real big one: "Was there any part of you that felt a fraud in accepting it?" Kissinger was caught off-balance. "A what?" he growled. "A fraud!" said Paxman, coming forward, sensing blood. "I wonder what you do when you do a hostile interview," whined the engineer of hostilities on four continents.

"This is Mr Paxman being very kind," chirruped Geoffrey Robertson, a fellow guest. You felt Geoffrey was drawing his stool closer to the ringside in anticipation of an almighty Paxman uppercut that would finally humiliate the old warmonger. It came in a Paxman combination on the carpet bombing of Cambodia. Kissinger denied tens of thousands of civilians had been killed. Only North Vietnamese supply bases were targeted, he said. So why, wondered Paxman, was it a secret operation against a neutral country? Blam! Kissinger was winded and spluttering on the ropes.

He accused Paxman of lying. Paxman refused to be intimidated by his bluster and stood his ground. "You are accusing me of a lot of things here that are simply outrageous," growled Kissinger. "What is factually inaccurate about that statement?" demanded the BBC's undisputed heavyweight champion. Whether you agree or not that Kissinger's international antics were tantamount to state terrorism, his arrogance in apparently believing that no one has the right to question him about them is beyond belief.

By now, Geoffrey Robertson had jumped into the ring and was pulling the pugilists apart with a question to Kissinger about human rights violators facing justice in an international court. "The concept of an international court of justice I have no problem with," said Kissinger, shortly before throwing in the towel and walking out of the studio. So that's alright then. Perhaps we might yet see him hauled up on charges of mass murder.

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