The week in radio: The week according to St Jeremy

Last weekend, I was waiting for a train at a country station. A girl noticed a laden apple-tree just out of reach. She climbed over the fence, picked an apple and offered it to her righteous, disapproving boyfriend, just as the train came in. "The woman tempted me," I commented, getting on. They both looked at me as if I was barking.

I thought of this some 15 minutes into Start the Week (R4). AN Wilson had been talking about his introduction to the Gospel of St Matthew. Quoting Doris Lessing, he said that this generation had become detached from the past - from literature, culture, mythology and shared belief. Lessing may be right. It was certainly the first interesting remark that anyone had made, but it wasn't picked up.

It would have been foolish to expect Jeremy Paxman, the new presenter, to resemble Melvyn Bragg - and it is probably unfair to judge his performance on one edition. Yet he's had a long time to prepare for this and we might reasonably have hoped that he'd do better - and that his guests might have done a little more homework in advance. Martin Amis sounded astonished to be addressed at first, and could then contribute little beyond a silly remark about Jesus being a faith-healer in a pink nightie, a predictable rave about the poetry of the Authorised Version and some undigested, second- hand stuff about the Book of Job.

Marilyn Butler's turn came next. She was there to discuss her lecture on the intellectual revolutions of the late 18th century, when knowledge of major scientific discoveries was disseminated by means of learned journals. Paxman had read it but the others hadn't so we drifted into a pointless ramble about the internet. When it was time to talk about Amis's short stories, Butler remained completely silent and Wilson told a few anecdotes about Kingsley.

There used to be another, well-briefed interviewer to help things along but now everything depends on the host. The trick is to respond to unexpected stimuli while staying with the subject. Paxman hasn't mastered that yet. Maybe he's spent too long haranguing and finds it hard to adjust - after all, he won a prize for repeating the same question 14 times. Or maybe the guests were not of his choosing and he just doesn't care enough about the Bible, academic revolutions or contemporary fiction - quintessentially Braggish themes. He certainly sounded uneasy, even nervous. Under the old dispensation, debate was often so lively that Bragg had scarcely time to round up the show. This one petered out with Andrew Wilson's faint, fastidious voice intoning: "I think we'll all just drift into nothingness." Not a moment too soon.

Enough weedy weltschmerz. Buckle your chaps, slam on your stetson, sharpen your spurs, we're away to Idaho with the Cowgirls (R4). Jennifer Chevalier followed the amazing Jan Youren and her daughter Kristen into the ring at a real rodeo, the last rendezvous of the Old West. Jan has broken her nose (11 times), her cheekbones (eight times), both collar-bones, her arms, her back, lots of fingers, every rib but one, her toes, her hands, her feet and her ankles, and she's had a "c'lapsed lung and a bruised heart - jes' li'l things like that". She's had four husbands, eight children and 21 grandchildren. She's 54 and she's still the champion roughstock girl.

Such women get their kicks clinging to the bare backs of angry bulls and bucking horses. Sometimes a horse can buck 12 times in the six seconds it is ridden and often the riders are trampled. Jan rode even when six months pregnant and she's not ready to quit yet. You could smell the sweat in Nicola Barranger's magnificent production, but you couldn't listen without flinching and wincing at such extraordinary, mad courage. We heard Jan thud to the ground, dislocate her "good" shoulder and order them to push it back, and we went with Kristen to hospital with her crushed ankle. Incidentally, you may not be surprised to learn that real cowgirls don't waste time line-dancing.

Thursday was one of those Days. It was a big Day for independent radio, marked by a documentary - affectionate, nostalgic and defiant - on Talk Radio, Celebrating 25 Years of Commercial Radio and it was National Poetry Day. Classic FM observed this cheerfully, by broadcasting Mike Read's choice of a hundred best humorous poems read by celebrities between records. Radio 4 was more ambitious, commissioning Sean Street to write a sequence especially for the station.

When you get just one shot at the radio audience, you can't risk too much obscurity. These thoughtful poems, read without pretension, were accessible without being banal, striking immediate chords with regular listeners. As Auden once measured out a day in "Horae Canonicae", Street chose to mark a day's listening with the contemplative regularity of the monastic office: from "Tuning In" at primetime to the vesperal "Close- down", each poem reflected the network's different moods and functions.

Regular finger-posts were Thought for the Day "a rock in the rushing stream, to cling to for three minutes... a stasis before the next wave breaks"; the Greenwich time signal and the shipping forecast: other poems concerned the dramatic impact of the unscheduled, like the peremptory command of the news-flash "We interrupt our programmes..." and the desperate, urgent appeal of those SOS messages, broadcast when someone is mortally ill, in a last-ditch attempt to find errant children.

And there was one about the time Street spends sitting in a car outside his home while "the neighbours wonder why can't he face his wife" and he listens, spellbound, to the end of a play. In this, as in all the rest, he might have been spying on me. But then, as he said, "That's radio for you... seducer of the mind."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones