The week in radio: Life's a pig, and then they die

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The Independent Culture
The first in a new Inside Track series (R4) came with a warning. "This programme contains the sound of pigs being slaughtered." High-pitched, blood-curdling squeals punctuated Meat; but the ear-on-the-abattoir-wall documentary was bearable because of what was going on elsewhere.

Sammy, a second-generation slaughterman, was explaining why a screeching pig had stopped. It was unconscious, courtesy of an electric stunner, and the knife-wielder had 10 seconds to slit its throat. Meanwhile, drifting across the slaughterhouse was the contented crooning of one of the staff. Later, Sammy was heard anxiously asking the reporter, "are you all right?" "I'll be fine", she said. "You go and have your breakfast and I'll go round the other side." The recording faded out at that point, probably sparing us the sound of an unconscious human hitting the floor.

Sammy's wife spoke softly about slaying pigs. "It's good to watch, you'd enjoy it ... mmm, it's fantastic," she said dreamily, as if recommending a Max Bygraves matinee. His son Stanley described how he had killed his first pig when he was three. His daughter was doing telesales in the office: "We've got some cracking pigs in today." Stanley's own son (whose upbringing must have influenced his attitude to life; "his sense of humour has brightened up many rainy days," said his school report) wanted to be an acrobat.

What emerged was a close family earning an honest, if hard, living. They were proud of their successful operation - they can kill up to 1,000 pigs a day, one every 23 seconds - but fearful of their economic prospects. And they had already received an acid bomb in the post. They spoke passionately about causing the least possible pain to the animals, and have a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig as a pet; Stinky was saved because be was "the ugliest pig you've ever seen". At the end, Sammy said his pigs "die happy"; Stinky, very much alive, was heard chortling along.

Stanley's wife did say that she would rather have fallen in love with someone who had a different job. But she was still the most defensive and forthright. "Everybody wants to eat bacon and pork, but nobody wants to know how it's done or go to where it's done or see where it's done."

The first of three investigations into Conspiracy (R5) began on "the day America stopped trusting its government": the day JFK was shot in Dallas. The presenter, Paul Vickers, didn't have to leave Texas to compile what turned out to be both a guide to the burgeoning JFK industry and a comprehensive analysis of how conspiracy theories get absorbed into the American mainstream.

In Dallas, Vickers joined tourists on the JFK "presidential limousine tour", a reconstruction of his final journey which features a conspiracy- confirmingly indiscernible number of gunshots. In Austin, he met the organiser of an annual UN flag-burning ceremony, and numerous short- wave radio prophets of paranoia. An academic researcher, who inhabits what he himself calls "the twilight zone between sanity and madness", said he could tell the "crazies" from the visionaries: if voices were really being microwaved into people's heads, it wouldn't be to the most frequent claimants - housewives, factory workers and the homeless. But he worked under a pseudonym, paranoid that his "fans" might start targetting him.

The faux-naif Vickers was the perfect foil for the believers he unearthed. At Dallas's Conspiracy Museum, he was allowed to handle the "holy grail": the gun used by Jack Ruby to kill Lee Harvey Oswald. His guide enthused about this momentous opportunity - "it has such a historical background to it, it's earth-shattering" - and Vickers was suitably incredulous. "That's the first time I've ever held a handgun. We don't have guns in Britain." "Whaaaat?," his guide yelped. "Strange ..."

Spangles'n'Tights (R4), Christopher Fitz-Simon's new Irish sitcom, features Father Ted legends Pauline McLynn (Mrs Doyle) and Frank Kelly (Father Jack). Fitz-Simon's main characters are a pair of middle-aged, amateurish theatrical costumiers: Dubliner Dessie, who puts on a thespian voice on the phone, and his sister Violet (McLynn), who says "Hump!" whenever possible. Riddled with terrible jokey nomenclatures - and a dubious "Mr Pong Woo" from the chippy - the plot of the first episode was centre-stage from the start, with some extremely obvious sign-posting. A nun wants costumes for a community school show; the Gaiety Theatre wants a toreador outfit for Carmen. There's no frocking to be had for the toreador's trousers. Dessie shouts "frockin' " a lot, just so we don't forget.

Thirty minutes on, and the firm's delivery man (Kelly) and the young assistant return breathless from their respective errands. Oh, no! The deliveries were mixed up; the toreador made his entrance dressed as a bear. Curtain? Not before Fitz-Simon shoe-horned in the line which possibly "inspired" the whole episode. "It was you who was supposed to log in the friggin' frockin' for the brigand's leggings from the little ledger," Dessie exclaims to the young assistant. Cue Violet. "Ah, hump that."

Sue Gaisford returns next week.

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